Football’s global showpiece tournament is in full swing. And it has got us thinking: who would win a head-to-head knockout competition between Booker-winning authors? There’s only one way to find out…   

Publication date and time: Published

We’ve selected, entirely arbitrarily, 16 winning books from the Booker Prize’s 53-year history, with each author representing a different footballing nation. In each case, the author is playing for their country of birth (which is more than you can say for the Qatar football team), and not necessarily the country with which they are best associated or where they live. 

We have drawn books against one another at random and in each ‘match’ - which will be posted on our Instagram and Twitter channels each day - we would like you to vote for the best book via a poll. The winning book will then progress to the next round. 

After the first round, there’ll be a quarter-final, semi-final and grand final.

There are no prizes for anyone taking part. It’s just a bit of fun. Like football used to be.

The Booker Prize World Cup draw: first round

First round, match 1

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee (South Africa) vs The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka (Sri Lanka)

J.M. Coetzee became the first author to win the Booker a second time with Disgrace, winner of the 1999 prize. In post-apartheid South Africa, a professor’s complacency contributes to his utter downfall.

The most recent Booker winner, Shehan Karunatilaka’s second novel is a searing, mordantly funny satire set amid the murderous mayhem of a Sri Lanka beset by civil war.

WINNER: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee v The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

First round, match 2

The Bone People by Keri Hulme (New Zealand) vs The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (Japan)

Winner of the 1985 Booker Prize, New Zealander Keri Hulme’s novel focusses on the mysterious relationships between three unorthodox outsiders of mixed Maori and European heritage.

Nagasaki-born British author Kazuo Ishiguro’s moving portrait of the perfect English butler, his loyalty and his fading, insular world in post-war England won the Booker in 1989.

WINNER: The Remains of the Day
 

The Bone People by Keri Hulme v The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

First round, match 3

The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch (Republic of Ireland) vs A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (Jamaica)

Iris Murdoch turned her microscopic gaze on vanity and obsession in her 19th novel, which won the Booker Prize in 1978.

In a dazzling display of masterful storytelling, Kingston-born Marlon James explores the extraordinary backstory to the attempted assassination of Bob Marley. His novel won the 2015 Booker Prize.

WINNER: The Sea, The Sea

The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch v A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

First round, match 4

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Scotland) vs In a Free State by V.S. Naipaul (Trinidad and Tobago)

Douglas Stuart’s blistering and heartbreaking debut is an exploration of the unsinkable love that only children can have for their damaged parents. It won the Booker in 2020.

Through five connected tales, V.S. Naipaul’s 1971 Booker winner explores alienation, disruption and racial tension in a perilously unpredictable world.

WINNER: Shuggie Bain

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart v In A Free State by V.S. Naipaul

First round, match 5

The Famished Road by Ben Okri (Nigeria) vs Milkman by Anna Burns (Northern Ireland)

Winner of the 1991 Booker, Nigeria-born British author Ben Okri’s epic follows Azaro, a spirit child who exists between life and death.

Belfast-born Anna Burns offers a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences, and won the Booker in 2018.

WINNER: Milkman

The Famished Road by Ben Okri v Milkman by Anna Burns

First round, match 6

The Sellout by Paul Beatty (USA) vs The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (India)

Paul Beatty’s biting satire, winner of the 2016 Booker Prize, is about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court.

Arundhati Roy’s poetic debut novel, winner of the 1997 prize, tells the story of twins Estha and Rahel, and the shocking consequences of a pivotal event in their young lives.

WINNER: The God of Small Things

The Sellout by Paul Beatty v The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

First round, match 7

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey (Australia) vs Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (England)

Peter Carey’s rich and endlessly inventive tale about two unusual characters in 19th-century Australia won the Booker Prize in 1988.

Hilary Mantel’s masterpiece, winner of the 2009 Booker Prize, peels back history to explore the rich intersection of individual psychology and wider politics in Tudor England.

WINNER: Wolf Hall

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey v Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

First round, match 8

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (Canada) vs The Elected Member by Bernice Rubens (Wales)

Margaret Atwood’s 2000 Booker winner is a multi-layered drama that weaves its narrative threads across past and present, fiction and reality.

Winner of the 1970 prize, Bernice Rubens explores what happens to a respectable, close-knit Jewish family when the apple of his parents’ eyes becomes a middle-aged drug addict.

WINNER: The Blind Assassin

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood v The Elected Member by Bernice Rubens

Quarter Final 1

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka (Sri Lanka) v The Remains of the Day Kazuo Ishiguro (Japan)

Did you know that Shehan Karunatilaka always wanted to be a rock star? He still paints the fingernails on one hand black ‘so that they look good when I’m playing guitar’.

Did you know that Kazuo Ishiguro wrote The Remains of the Day in just four weeks? Find out how he did it here, and how the Tom Waits song Ruby’s Arms inspired him.

WINNER: The Remains of the Day
 

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka v The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Quarter Final 2

The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch (Republic of Ireland) v Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Scotland)

Did you know that the title of Iris Murdoch’s 19th novel comes from Xenophon’s Anabasis, according to Murdoch’s biographer Peter Conradi? In 401 BC, 10,000 Greek soldiers shouted ‘Thalatta! Thalatta’ (‘The Sea! The Sea!’) when they saw the Black Sea from Mount Theches.

Did you know that the accolade that means the most to Douglas Stuart, despite winning the Booker Prize, is the mural celebrating Shuggie Bain that has been painted on the side of the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow?

WINNER: Shuggie Bain

The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch v Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Quarter Final 3

Milkman by Anna Burns (Northern Ireland) vs The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (India)

Did you know that as well as winning the Booker Prize, Milkman also won the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction and the International Dublin Literary Award?

Did you know that The God of Small Things was described by the Telegraph as one of the 10 all-time greatest Asian novels and by BBC News as one of its 100 most influential novels of all time?

WINNER: The God of Small Things

Milkman by Anna Burns v The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy

Quarter Final 4

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (England) v The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (Canada)

Did you know that Hilary Mantel and Margaret Atwood are the only women to have won the Booker Prize twice? Mantel won in 2009 and 2012, for Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, while Atwood won in 2000 and 2019, for The Blind Assassin and The Testaments.

WINNER: Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall v The Blind Assassin

Semi Final 1

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (Japan) v Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Scotland)

Did you know that the screenplay of the 1993 film adaptation of The Remains of the Day was written by another Booker winner, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, whose novel Heat and Dust won the prize in 1975? Her screenplay was nominated for a Bafta, Golden Globe and Oscar. 

Did you know that a TV adaptation of Shuggie Bain is in the pipeline? Douglas Stuart is adapting his book for a BBC One series, in collaboration with New York-based independent production company A24.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro v Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Semi Final 2

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (India) v Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (England)

Did you that although The God of Small Things, Roy’s debut novel, was an international bestseller, it was another two decades before she released her next work of long-form fiction? The Ministry of Utmost Happiness was published in 2017.

Did you know that Mantel was supposed to be writing a different book when she started writing Wolf Hall? She had been contracted to write a novel set in Botswana in the 1970s, where she herself had lived, but the experience brought back such painful memories that she abandoned the project to write about the rise of Thomas Cromwell instead.

 The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy v Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel