14 of the best wintry reads from the Booker Library, chosen by you
From Dickensian tales to novels that explore the passing of time, these are your favourite Booker-nominated books to return to during the colder, darker months
From haunting sci-fi to best-in-class historical fiction and modern classics, here’s what the team at the Booker Prizes recommends putting under the tree for your nearest and dearest this Christmas
The solitary, ambitious scientist who is the heroine of In Ascension sets out to plumb the cracked depths of the Atlantic floor and then the far reaches of outer space. Part physical quest, part philosophical journey, In Ascension is at heart a novel about humanity and its need for connection. Martin McInnes is as good writing about the dead boring as he is writing about the never-ending mysteries of the world we live in. In this 2023 Booker Prize-longlisted novel, he has created a wholly fulfilling read with an absolutely brilliant ending.
Fiammetta Rocco, Administrator of the International Booker Prize
Laurent Mauvignier’s The Birthday Party was longlisted for the International Booker Prize earlier this year, and was my personal winner. Reading Daniel Levin Becker’s elegant and nail-bitingly tense translation is like watching a home-invasion horror film in slow motion. Over the course of two days in a sleepy French hamlet, long-buried secrets slowly bubble to the surface, first in a gentle simmer, then finally boiling over into shocking violence. Few books draw comparisons with both Stephen King and Marcel Proust, but The Birthday Party shows that high-brow fiction has the power to jangle the nerves as effectively as the best Hollywood thriller.
Paul Davies, Head of editorial
In Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel establishes the sprawling cast of characters at Henry VIII’s court with extraordinary depth and psychological plausibility. With that job already done, Bring Up the Bodies – 243 pages shorter than its predecessor – is able to hit the ground running. How Mantel marches the reader breathlessly through these events, charting the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell, the king’s chief minister, is nothing short of thrilling. We all know (don’t we? Spoiler alert if not…) that Anne Boleyn loses her head, as do a handful of allegedly treasonous courtly gentlemen. However, Mantel’s celebrated use of the present tense in her Tudor novels places us in the room as these tragic events unfold, allowing us to feel the humiliations, personal shortcomings, and brutal betrayals underlying the historical record. The novel, which won the Booker in 2012, reads as a historical political thriller, full of intrigue, back-stabbing and gossip. It is meticulously researched and hugely entertaining.
Jonathan Davenport, Executive producer, podcast and video
The Trees by Percival Everett is a fast-paced rollercoaster, full of laugh-out-loud moments, gruesome murders, a bizarre storyline and big, big characters. Deputy Delroy Digby, Junior Junior, Doctor Reverend Fondle, Braden Brady and the two wise-cracking detectives from the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation all romp along in a jovial way but the undercurrent of something sinister becomes a far stronger theme later in the book, leading to a devastating reveal. It’s a book that I’ve been recommending to everyone, since it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2022, who likes a good murder mystery but with plenty of depth behind it. Just don’t let the silly names, liberally-sprinkled bad language and cheesy one-liners throw you off – it’s a hugely worthwhile read. Possibly the perfect mix of humour and sadness in a book that you could easily read in one weekend.
Sinéad Sillars, Digital producer
Longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2003, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is an insightful and poignant novel that explores the protagonist Christopher’s unique outlook and how he experiences the world. The book uniquely uses a mix of formats including diagrams, maps and drawings as Christopher seeks out clues to the death of his neighbour’s dog. It’s a rarity that a book can appeal to both children and adults, but I feel like this novel broaches topics and is written in a way that can be appreciated by all readers. I loved the different style of The Curious Incident and reading Christopher’s take on the world.
Emily Facoory, Digital content executive
Tom Birkin arrives in the village of Oxgodby in 1920, tasked with uncovering an old mural in the local church. We’re led through an odd but friendly cast of local characters over Tom’s summer there, with musings on the Yorkshire countryside and the effects of the First World War on the national psyche. The Penguin Modern Classics edition also has an introduction from fellow Booker Prize author Penelope Lively, and although a small volume, it resonates with the reader long after finishing. This is a slim and gentle book, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1980.
Zoe Sanders, Executive assistant
If, like me, you’re a sucker for the odd soul-shattering read, look no further than Shuggie Bain, which took home the Booker trophy in 2020. It’s the unflinching story of a neglected boy – cruelly dismissed as ‘no right’ by those around him – and his doomed attempt to save his alcoholic mother from her addiction. Stuart takes us to the underbelly of Glasgow during the 1980s, a place where almost everyone is battling a demon in communities blighted by Thatcher’s policies of the time. Writing in his native Glaswegian dialect, the prose is warm, often blackly funny. And if it feels all too real, that’s because it probably is: the novel was inspired by Stuart’s own childhood in the west coast of Scotland. While, at times, agonising, it’s also a story of hope – hope that there’s a way out of the darkest of circumstances; hope that we all can be loved. Don’t expect a happy ending here, but the lasting impact of Shuggie’s story is well worth the pain on every page.
Donna Mackay-Smith, Content editor