Wondering which of the International Booker Prize 2023 longlisted titles to read first? We asked our judges to summarise each book - and say what they loved about them
Boulder by Eva Baltasar, translated by Julia Sanches
Boulder is a sensuous, sexy, intense book. Baltasar condenses the sensations and experiences of a dozen more ordinary novels into just over one hundred pages of exhilarating prose. An incisive story of queer love and motherhood that slices open the dilemmas of exchanging independence for intimacy.
Whale by Cheon Myeong-kwan, translated by Chi-Young Kim
A carnivalesque fairytale that celebrates independence and enterprise, a picaresque quest through Korea’s landscapes and history, Whale is a riot of a book. Cheon Myeong-Kwan’s vivid characters are foolish but wise, awful but endearing, and always irrepressible. This is a hymn to restlessness and self-transformation.
The Gospel According to the New World by Maryse Condé, translated by Richard Philcox
Maryse Condé is one of the greatest Francophone authors and the great voice of the Caribbean. In this book she proves again what a gifted storyteller she is. The narration is lively and fluid, and we feel carried away by this story as we do by the fables of our childhood. She takes liberties, finding references in the Bible as well as in Caribbean myths. The book borrows from the tradition of magic realism and draws us into a world full of colour and life. This is a book that succeeds in mixing humour with poetry, and depth with lightness.
Standing Heavy by GauZ’, translated by Frank Wynne
A sharp and satirical take on the legacies of French colonial history and life in Paris today. Told in a fast-paced, and fluently translated, style of shifting perspectives, Standing Heavy carries us through the decades - from the youthful optimism of the decolonisation of the 1960s to the banal realities of daily shift work on the margins of contemporary consumer society - to deliver a fresh perspective on France that is critical, funny and human.
Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov, translated by Angela Rodel
A wide-ranging, thought-provoking, macabre and humorous novel about nationality, identity and ageing, and about the healing and destructive power of memory. It asks the question: what is our place in 20th century history, when that history seems to be constantly shifting? ‘Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be,’ they say, and this book shows us – in moving, funny and disturbing ways – how and why.
Is Mother Dead by Vigdis Hjorth, translated by Charlotte Barslund
This is a dark, chilling book. One of its tricks is to rely on a narrator who is an anti-heroine, and who can be annoying because of her narcissism and her malice. That’s what makes her real and what makes us care about her. This novel provides a very fine and cruel understanding of family relationships: the violence of the mother-daughter dynamic, which reminds us of Marguerite Duras; the impossibility of getting to know each other within the same family; family life as a prison of secrets and silence. Vigdis Hjorth manages to create a lot of suspense - a thriller-like tension - and what is amazing is that you never really know whose side you are on.
Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv by Andrey Kurkov, translated by Reuben Woolley
The escapades of Kurkov’s loveable eccentrics provide a frame for an intriguing portrait of Lviv in the 2000s, a melancholy borderland city that finds itself recalling a troubled past as it sits on the cusp of an uncertain future. This is a book full of magic that is always grounded, cosiness that is always on the edge of being unsettled, and dark humour that is always affectionate.
The Birthday Party by Laurent Mauvignier, translated by Daniel Levin Becker
This impressive and fascinating book reconciles two primal feelings: empathy and dread. It is a very scary book, rooted in the traditions of horror. It is as scary as when we listened to stories about ogres and wolves as children. The writing is formidable. The slow rhythm of the sentences creates tension as much as the situation itself. Mauvignier also describes brilliantly an abandoned rural France where there is a sense of marginalisation and humiliation.
While We Were Dreaming by Clemens Meyer, translated by Katy Derbyshire
As walls fall and political systems collapse, a group of youngsters in Leipzig are pitched into a helter-skelter world of partying, violence, drugs, crime and techno music. Energetic, blunt and hard-charging, While We Were Dreaming skillfully captures with pathos and anger the sense of what happens when all the certainties of the grown-up world evaporate and the future is up for grabs. The story of German unification as it did not appear on your TV screen.
Pyre by Perumal Murugan, translated by Aniruddhan Vasudevan
An intercaste couple elopes, setting in motion a story of terrifying foreboding. Perumal Murugan is a great anatomist of power and, in particular, of the deep, deforming rot of caste hatred and violence. With flashes of fable, his novel tells a story specific and universal: how flammable are fear and the distrust of others.
Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel, translated by Rosalind Harvey
Two best friends share an aversion to ‘the human shackles’ of motherhood, only to discover that life has other plans. With a twisty, enveloping plot, the novel poses some of the knottiest questions about freedom, disability, and dependence - all in language so blunt it burns.
A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding by Amanda Svensson, translated by Nichola Smalley
When a set of adult triplets learn that one of them might have been switched in the hospital after their birth, each of them become convinced that they are the changeling. Amanda Svensson’s raucous, sprawling debut takes on the enigmas of our origins, riddles of human consciousness and animal cognition, doomsday cults, and the most bedeviling of mysteries - the minds and choices of our closest intimates.
Ninth Building by Zou Jingzhi, translated by Jeremy Tiang
A kaleidoscopic and understated collection of interlocking tales of life in an apartment building under the Cultural Revolution - the daily tedium of its inhabitants, lit by brief and tenuous moments of shared humanity.