The 2023 longlist for the Booker Prize – the world’s most influential prize for a single work of fiction – is announced today
The 13 books explore universal and topical themes: from deeply moving personal dramas to tragicomic family sagas; from the effects of climate change to the oppression of minorities; from scientific breakthroughs to competitive sport.
The longlist – the ‘Booker Dozen’ – has been chosen by the 2023 judging panel, which is chaired by twice-shortlisted novelist Esi Edugyan. She is joined by actor, writer and director Adjoa Andoh; poet, lecturer, editor and critic Mary Jean Chan; author and professor James Shapiro; and actor and writer Robert Webb.
Their selection was made from 163 books published between October 1, 2022, and September 30, 2023, and submitted to the prize by publishers. The Booker Prize is open to works of long-form fiction by writers of any nationality, written in English and published in the UK or Ireland.
The list includes:
• 10 writers longlisted for the first time, including four debut novelists
• Three writers with seven previous nominations between them
• Writers from seven countries across four continents
• Four Irish writers, making up a third of the longlist for the first time
• A novel featuring a neurodiverse protagonist, written from personal experience
• According to Esi Edugyan, Chair of the judges, ‘The list is defined by its freshness – by the irreverence of new voices, by the iconoclasm of established ones’
‘We read 163 novels across seven months, and in that time whole worlds opened to us. We were transported to early 20th century Maine and Penang, to the vibrant streets of Lagos and the blackest depths of the Atlantic, and into a dystopic Ireland where the terrifying loss of rights comes as a hard warning.
‘The list is defined by its freshness – by the irreverence of new voices, by the iconoclasm of established ones. All 13 novels cast new light on what it means to exist in our time, and they do so in original and thrilling ways. Their range is vast, both in subject and form: they shocked us, made us laugh, filled us with anguish, but above all they stayed with us. This is a list to excite, challenge, delight, a list to bring wonder. The novels are small revolutions, each seeking to energise and awaken the language. Together – whether historical or contemporary – they offer startling portraits of the current.’
‘The range of experience, expertise and sensibility among this year’s judges led them to seek novels that both advanced the form and allowed the reader to understand something about the world; books that would have impact and longevity; books that moved them – and above all, books of such excellence and subtlety that the judges looked forward to re-reading them.
‘It’s a pleasure to add to the Booker Library this selection of debut novels, new work from established Booker authors, and books by other writers at the peak of their practice who are new to the prize. We hope every reader finds something to love on this year’s list.’
The four debut novelists are: Jonathan Escoffery, Siân Hughes, Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow and Chetna Maroo.
Paul Murray was longlisted in 2010 for Skippy Dies.
Including this year’s longlistees, 37 Irish writers have been recognised by the Booker Prize, making Ireland the country that has produced the most nominees, relative to population size, in the prize’s history.
Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ is the sixth Nigerian novelist to be nominated for the Booker and would be the second Nigerian-born winner, after Ben Okri.
Sarah Bernstein, who was born in Canada and lives in Scotland, was recently named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists.
Seven of the longlisted books come from independently-owned publishers. Oneworld, publishers of Prophet Song, have a strong Booker pedigree, having won the prize in 2015 and 2016 for Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings and Paul Beatty’s The Sellout.
Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow has extensive personal, professional and academic experience relating to autism, and, like her character Sunday in All the Little Bird-Hearts, is autistic.
Some of the novels are rooted in true events and literary history. Pearl is inspired by an anonymous 14th century poem of the same name, while W. Somerset Maugham features in The House of Doors. This Other Eden, which takes its title from John of Gaunt’s speech in Shakespeare’s play Richard II, is based on the true story of Malaga Island in Maine, USA.
Three of the authors on the longlist are also published poets: Elaine Feeney, Sarah Bernstein and Siân Hughes.
A Spell of Good Things, Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀
A Spell of Good Things is an examination of class and desire in modern-day Nigeria. While Eniola’s poverty prevents him from getting the education he desperately wants, Wuraola finds that wealth is no barrier against life’s harsher realities. A powerful, staggering read.
Old God’s Time, Sebastian Barry
A murder investigation leads a retired policeman to confront the loss and sorrow of his past. Barry brilliantly evokes the distorting effect of trauma on memory as we enter an easy companionship with his gentle, funny protagonist. Both the legacy of historic child abuse in Ireland and the enduring power of love are sensitively explored in this compassionate and quietly furious book.
Study for Obedience, Sarah Bernstein
Study for Obedience is an absurdist, darkly funny novel about the rise of xenophobia, as seen through the eyes of a stranger in an unnamed town – or is it? Bernstein’s urgent, limpid prose upsets all our expectations, and what transpires is a meditation on survival itself.
If I Survive You, Jonathan Escoffery
An astonishingly assured debut novel from Jonathan Escoffery, lauded by the panel for its clarity, variety and fizzing prose. Jamaican husband and wife Topper and Santa flee from the troubles of their 1970s Caribbean home to make a new life in Miami with their sons Delano and Trelawney. In the remorseless, laugh-out-loud code switching of the recently arrived, they attempt to survive America and each other, as the reader is confronted with the immigrants’ eternal questions: who am I now and where do I belong?
How to Build a Boat, Elaine Feeney
The interweaving stories of Jamie, a teenage boy trying to make sense of the world, and Tess, a teacher at his school, make up this humorous and insightful novel about family and the need for connection. Feeney has written an absorbing coming-of-age story which also explores the restrictions of class and education in a small community. A complex and genuinely moving novel.
This Other Eden, Paul Harding
Based on a relatively unknown true story, Paul Harding’s heartbreakingly beautiful paean to Apple Island, off the coast of Maine, transports us to the unique tiny community scrabbling a living there – descended from trafficked Africans, immigrant Irish and indigenous Penobscot. The arrival of a well-intentioned though racist preacher brings with it the unwelcome attention of 19th century America, with inevitably disastrous results. The judges were moved by the delicate symphony of language, land and narrative that Harding brings to bear on the story of the islanders.
Pearl, Siân Hughes
Pearl, by Siân Hughes, an exceptional debut novel, is both a mystery story and a meditation on grief, abandonment and consolation, evoking the profundities of the haunting medieval poem, ‘Pearl’. The degree of difficulty in writing a book of this sort—at once quiet and hugely ambitious—is very high. It’s a book that will be passed from hand to hand for a long time to come.
All the Little Bird-Hearts, Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow
Written from the perspective of an autistic mother, All the Little Bird-Hearts is a poetic debut which masterfully intertwines themes of familial love, friendship, class, prejudice and trauma with psychological acuity and wit.
Prophet Song, Paul Lynch
Paul Lynch’s harrowing and dystopian Prophet Song vividly renders a mother’s determination to protect her family as Ireland’s liberal democracy slides inexorably and terrifyingly into totalitarianism. Readers will find it timely and unforgettable. It’s a remarkable accomplishment for a novelist to capture the social and political anxieties of our moment so compellingly.
In Ascension, Martin MacInnes
In this strange and wonderful world, every outward journey – whether to space or the depths of the ocean – is an inward one, as Leigh seeks to move beyond her troubled childhood. In Ascension is a Solaris for the climate-change age.
Western Lane, Chetna Maroo
Skilfully deploying the sport of squash as both context and metaphor, Western Lane is a deeply evocative debut about a family grappling with grief, conveyed through crystalline language which reverberates like the sound ‘of a ball hit clean and hard…with a close echo’.
The Bee Sting, Paul Murray
Paul Murray’s saga, The Bee Sting, set in the Irish Midlands, brilliantly explores how our secrets and self-deceptions ultimately catch up with us. This family drama, told from multiple perspectives, is at once hilarious and heartbreaking, personal and epic. It’s an addictive read.
The House of Doors, Tan Twan Eng
Drawing on the life and writing of Somerset Maugham, The House of Doors is a magisterial and haunting tale of forbidden love and loss in the shadow of revolution and empire. This is historical fiction at its finest.
The shortlist of six books will be announced on Thursday, September 21 at an evening event at the newly re-opened National Portrait Gallery in London. It will be livestreamed across all the Booker Prizes’ social platforms. The shortlisted authors each receive £2,500 and a specially bound edition of their book.
On Saturday, October 7, the new Booker Prize Podcast co-host James Walton will be at the Cheltenham Literary Festival to introduce readers to the shortlisted authors and books, and to present the world premiere of this year’s shortlist films.
The shortlisted authors will also take part in the annual readings at the Southbank Centre in London on Thursday, November 23. Tickets will be on sale from the Southbank Centre’s website later this year.
The 2023 winner will be announced on Sunday, November 26 at an award ceremony held at Old Billingsgate. The winner receives £50,000 and a trophy designed by the late Jan Pieńkowski. In a recent public vote, the trophy was named ‘Iris’ in honour of the 1978 Booker winner Iris Murdoch.
They can also expect international recognition and a dramatic increase in global book sales. The 2022 Booker Prize was won by Shehan Karunatilaka with The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida. According to its publisher Sort of Books, there had been a sprinkling of pre-publication media interest, which increased threefold with its publication four days after its Booker Prize longlisting and tripled again on shortlisting. With the announcement that it was the Booker Prize winner, sales soared to over 100,000 across all formats. It has now been translated into 19 languages with another 10 in process. The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida has massively outsold – by 2,000% – Karunatilaka’s previously acclaimed and prizewinning novel, The Chinaman (Jonathan Cape, 2012).
Ahead of the shortlist announcement, the Booker Prizes will be launching a Booker Prize Book Club, inviting readers around the world to explore the shortlist together, sharing their views and comments in a community forum and even helping to interview the shortlisted authors. Selected members of the Book Club will be invited to join the winner ceremony in November.