Everything you need to know about the Booker Prize 2023 shortlist
As the Booker Prize 2023 shortlist is announced, we’ve pulled together the most interesting facts and trends that have emerged in this year’s selection
We have once again asked our friends at MUBI to recommend six great movies to complement this year’s Booker shortlist – plus, join us for a live Q&A with the winner and a special film screening
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Each year the Booker Prize celebrates the best long-form fiction, written English and published in the UK or Ireland. We also believe there is a natural symbiosis between fiction and film, and between the readers and viewers of both. We therefore want to encourage people who love great fiction to explore more great cinema, and vice versa, expanding their cultural horizons.
That’s why, for the second time, we have asked our friends at MUBI – the global streaming service, production company and film distributor – to recommend six films from its roster of international movies to complement each of the books on this year’s Booker Prize shortlist, with each film reflecting the themes or tone of the relevant book.
We have also teamed up with HOME in Manchester for a special live event on Tuesday 28 November at 5.45pm. HOME will host the first in-person Q&A with the winner of the Booker Prize 2023 (which is announced on Sunday 26 November), followed by a screening of the film that MUBI has paired with this year’s winning novel. There will be signed books available to buy from Blackwell’s after the event. Tickets are available here. The six films that MUBI has matched to this year’s shortlist can be found below.
In both Sarah Bernstein’s Study for Obedience and Claude Chabrol’s La Cérémonie, a woman takes a job as a housekeeper at an isolated house in an unfamiliar rural setting. Both macabre stories head towards their disturbing climaxes in very different ways, as the female protagonists transform from passive to powerful.
An unnamed woman moves from the place of her birth to a ‘remote northern country’ to care for her brother. Soon after she arrives, a series of unfortunate natural events occurs and she notices that the community is deeply and increasingly suspicious of her. As she tends to her brother and his home with the utmost care and attention, he begins to fall ill.
La Cérémonie, directed by Claude Chabrol (France/Germany, 1995)
Isabelle Huppert chills as a cunning outsider in this classic psychological thriller. Characteristic of Claude Chabrol’s fascination with macabre stories of cold-blooded murders performed by practical women, this brutal look at cruel class conflict is a full-frontal attack on the French bourgeoisie.
In Jonathan Escoffery’s If I Survive You, a Jamaican family struggles to find a sense of identity after emigrating to Florida. Youngest son Trelawny is preoccupied by the question ‘Where do I belong?’ – a question that Jamaican-born activist Stuart Hall, the subject of John Akomfrah’s absorbing documentary, addressed throughout his career.
In 1979, Topper and Sanya flee the political violence of Jamaica for a new life in Miami. But they soon learn that the welcome in America will be far from warm. Trelawny, their youngest son, comes of age in a society that regards him with suspicion and confusion, as his elder brother Delano recklessly searches for a better future for his family. As both brothers navigate the obstacles littered in their path, they find themselves pitted against one another. Will their rivalry tear their family apart?
The Stuart Hall Project, directed by John Akomfrah (UK, 2013)
Throughout his career as a broadcaster and academic, Stuart Hall dissected notions of British identity like no one else. In this remarkable film, John Akomfrah couples archive footage with the music of Miles Davis for a riveting examination of history, selfhood, and the immigrant experience.
Fragile island communities are at the heart of Paul Harding’s This Other Eden and Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust. In the former, an enclave of outcasts and their descendents, off the coast of Maine, is threatened with annihilation by white mainlanders. In the latter, the Gullah women of a South Carolina island prepare to leave behind their old ways.
Inspired by historical events, This Other Eden tells the story of Apple Island: an enclave off the coast of the United States where castaways – in flight from society and its judgement – have landed and built a home. Then comes the intrusion of ‘civilisation’: officials determined to ‘cleanse’ the island. A missionary schoolteacher selects one light-skinned boy to save. The rest will succumb to the authorities’ institutions – or cast themselves on the waters in a new Noah’s Ark.
Daughters of the Dust, directed by Julie Dash (USA, 1991)
Daughters rapidly engulfs you with the lush, matriarchal world of the Peazant family, residing in South Carolina’s Sea Islands at the turn of the 20th century. The fundamental crisis takes shape as the women-centred family is split between migrating north or staying in the South Carolina low country.
What happens to our humanity when the world falls apart? Prophet Song and In My Room approach this question from different angles – in Paul Lynch’s novel, a scientist clings to her family as Ireland slides into totalitarianism. In Ulrich Köhler’s film, a cameraman discovers he’s the only survivor of the apocalypse, but still can’t shake his bad habits.
On a dark, wet evening in Dublin, scientist and mother-of-four Eilish Stack answers her front door to find officers from Ireland’s newly formed secret police on her doorstep, wanting to speak with her husband. Ireland is in the grip of a government that is taking a turn towards tyranny. And as the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, Eilish finds herself caught within the nightmare of a collapsing society and forced to do whatever it takes to keep her family together.
In My Room, directed by Ulrich Köhler, (Germany, 2008)
Recalibrating the end of the world as an apocalypse of identity, In My Room is a profound spin on Robinson Crusoe from Berlin School director Ulrich Köhler. With welcome appearances from both Pet Shop Boys and Clint Eastwood, this wry gem is an ingenious portrait of a bourgeois life in ruins.
The relationship between adolescent girls and their fathers are front and centre of Chetna Maroo’s Western Lane and Charlotte Wells’ Aftersun, two deeply personal, understated and emotionally powerful meditations on grief, where what’s left unsaid matters just as much as what’s spoken.
Eleven-year-old Gopi has been playing squash since she was old enough to hold a racket. When her mother dies, her father enlists her in a quietly brutal training regimen, and the game becomes her world. Slowly, she grows apart from her sisters as her life is reduced to the sport. But on the court, she is not alone. She is with her pa. She is with Ged, a 13-year-old boy with his own formidable talent.
Aftersun, directed by Charlotte Wells (UK/USA, 2022)
Oscar-nominated Paul Mescal and newcomer Frankie Corio are unforgettable as a dad and daughter abroad in Charlotte Wells’s moving debut. Revealing the laughs, heartache and tenderness of a trip that means more with each passing moment, Aftersun captures a family snapshot of astonishing poignancy.
If gripping family melodramas are your thing, Paul Murray’s The Bee Sting and Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead deliver the goods. In both, siblings and parents, burdened by financial woes and dark secrets, manipulate and deceive one another as they spiral towards mutually assured destruction.
Dickie’s car business is going under – but rather than face the music, he’s spending his days in the woods, building an apocalypse-proof bunker. His exasperated wife Imelda is selling off her jewellery on eBay while dodging the attentions of cattle farmer Big Mike. Meanwhile, teenage daughter Cass, formerly top of her class, seems determined to binge-drink her way to her final exams. And 12-year-old PJ, in debt to local sociopath ‘Ears’ Moran, is putting the final touches to his grand plan to run away.
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Sidney Lumet (USA, 2007)
After Sidney Lumet made one of the definitive robbery-gone-wrong films in Dog Day Afternoon, he returned to the electrifying genre for his final feature. Starring Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman, this heist thriller sees morals and familial ties disintegrate as fast as the tension boils.