The shortlist has been announced! It features six books by authors never previously shortlisted, including two debuts
Novelist Esi Edugyan, twice-shortlisted for the Booker Prize, is the chair of the 2023 judging panel and is joined by actor, writer and director Adjoa Andoh; poet, lecturer, editor and critic Mary Jean Chan; Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and Shakespeare specialist James Shapiro; and actor and writer Robert Webb.
The judges are looking for the best work of long-form fiction, written in English, selected from entries published in the UK and Ireland between October 1 2022 and September 30 2023.
The shortlist of six books was announced on September 21, 2023, at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The winner of the £50,000 prize will be announced at an event at Old Billingsgate, London, on November 26, 2023.
None of the six authors has previously been shortlisted for the prize. There are two debuts on the shortlist; there is one British, one Canadian, two Irish and two American authors. Although full of hope, humour and humanity, the books address many of 2023’s most pressing concerns: climate change, immigration, financial hardship, the persecution of minorities, political extremism and the erosion of personal freedoms. They feature characters in search of peace and belonging or lamenting lost loves. There are books that are grounded in modern reality, that shed light on shameful episodes in history and which imagine a terrifying future.
‘The best novels invoke a sense of timelessness even while saying something about how we live now. Our six finalists are marvels of form. Some look unflinchingly at the ways in which trauma can be absorbed and passed down through the generations, as much an inheritance as a well-worn object or an unwanted talent. Some turn a gleeful, dissecting eye on everyday encounters. Some paint visceral portraits of societies pushed to the edge of tolerance. All are fuelled by a kind of relentless truth-telling, even when that honesty forces us to confront dark acts. And yet however long we may pause in the shadows, humour, decency, and grace are never far from hand.
‘Together these works showcase the breadth of what world literature can do, while gesturing at the unease of our moment. From Bernstein and Harding’s outsiders attempting to establish lives in societies that reject them, to the often-funny struggles of Escoffery and Murray’s adolescents as they carve out identities for themselves beyond their parents’ mistakes, to Maroo and Lynch’s elegant evocations of family grief – each speaks distinctly about our shared journeys while refusing to be defined as any one thing. These are supple stories with many strands, many moods, in whose complications we come to recognise ourselves. They are vibrant, nervy, electric. In these novelists’ hands, form is pushed hard to see what it yields, and it is always something astonishing. Language – indeed, life itself – is thrust to its outer limits.’
In these novelists’ hands, form is pushed hard to see what it yields, and it is always something astonishing
This is truly a list without borders. It includes a Briton of Indian descent, an American of Jamaican descent, a Canadian recently named one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists, and two Irish authors.
Though new to the Booker shortlist, all of these writers have been lauded elsewhere or in other ways. One has been longlisted for the Booker with a previous novel. One has won the Pulitzer. A third has just been longlisted for Canada’s Giller Prize. Another has been nominated, in translation, for the two most prestigious French prizes. The two debut authors have both won the Plimpton Prize, awarded by the Paris Review.
It’s a pleasure to be bringing their extraordinary talents and vastly varied styles to Booker Prize readers – and we can’t wait to hear what the thousands of members of the new Booker Prize Book Club on Facebook have to say about them.
Though new to the Booker shortlist, all of these writers have been lauded elsewhere or in other ways— Gaby Wood, Chief Executive of the Booker Prize Foundation
Real events and experiences inspired the shortlistees. This Other Eden uses the true story of Malaga Island as a springboard for a story in which an isolated community faces an existential crisis when white outsiders arrive to educate, study and eventually destroy them. Prophet Song takes Syria’s tyranny, unrest and refugee crisis and places it in a reimagined Ireland.
Questions about identity and belonging appear throughout the shortlist. Study for Obedience places its central character in an unnamed country where her ancestors have been persecuted and where the locals are fearful of her. In If I Survive You, Trelawny, born in America to Jamaican parents, struggles to work out how he fits into his own family and to society in general.
Several books on the shortlist feature families in crisis. In Western Lane, three British-Indian sisters are coming to terms with the death of their mother. In The Bee Sting, financial problems and dark secrets threaten to shatter an entire family. In Prophet Song, a mother struggles to hold her family together as Ireland slides into totalitarianism and her husband is imprisoned by repressive government forces. Two of the books, The Bee Sting and If I Survive You, shift between the perspectives of different family members.
The shortest book on the list is Western Lane, at 161 pages, while the longest is The Bee Sting, at 640 pages. The longest winner in the prize’s history is Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries (832 pages, 2013), while the shortest is Penelope Fitzgerald’s Offshore (132 pages, 1979).
There have been plenty of accolades for this year’s shortlistees. Sarah Bernstein was named on Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists 2023 list earlier this year. Paul Harding won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his first novel, Tinkers. Paul Lynch’s awards include the 2022 Gens de Mer Prize, the 2020 Ireland Francophonie Ambassadors’ Literary Award and the 2018 Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award. Paul Murray’s novel, Skippy Dies, was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2010 and his novel The Mark and the Void, won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize in 2016. Chetna Maroo (2022) and Jonathan Escoffery (2020) have been awarded the Paris Review’s Plimpton Prize for Fiction.
Esi Edugyan (Chair) is the internationally bestselling author of Washington Black, which was shortlisted for the 2018 Booker Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and the Carnegie Medal for Literary Excellence, among others – and won the Scotiabank Giller Prize. It was chosen by both the New York Times and Barack Obama as one of the best books of 2018. The epic Hulu/Disney TV series of Washington Black, starring Sterling K Brown and co-produced by Edugyan, is slated for release in Spring 2023.
Edugyan’s other novels include The Second Life of Samuel Tyne and Half-Blood Blues, shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2011, as well as for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Governor General’s Literary Award. Half-Blood Blues won the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award.
Edugyan is also the author of Dreaming of Elsewhere: Observations on Home and more recently Out of the Sun: Essays at the Crossroads of Race, delivered in Canada as the Massey Lectures. Her first children’s book, Garden of Lost Socks, will be published next year by HarperCollins Canada.
Born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Edygyan is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the University of Victoria, where she now lives. She has held fellowships in the US, Scotland, Iceland, Germany, Hungary, Finland, Spain, and Belgium, and judged prizes including the Giller Prize with Margaret Atwood and Jonathan Lethem.
Adjoa Andoh is one of Britain’s leading actors, who won global acclaim as Lady Danbury in the hit Netflix series Bridgerton - a role that saw her nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actress at the 2021 NAACP Image Awards. Elsewhere on the small screen in 2020 she played Dr Isaacs in the psychological thriller Fractured, as well as DI Nina Rosen in BBC1’s Silent Witness. In 2021 she starred as Nenneke in the Netflix blockbuster fantasy drama, The Witcher. Her many other television appearances include regulars in Dr Who, Casualty and Law & Order UK.
A renowned stage actor, Andoh has been celebrated for lead roles at the National Theatre - including Condoleezza Rice in Stuff Happens and Serafina Pekkala in His Dark Materials - and the Royal Shakespeare Company, where she played Portia in Julius Caesar, Ulysses in Troilus & Cressida and Helen of Troy in The Odyssey. In 2019 she conceived, co-directed, and played Richard II at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, in the UK’s first all women-of-colour production.
She made her Hollywood debut in 2009, starring alongside Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon in Clint Eastwood’s biographical sports film Invictus. Other film appearances include Adulthood, Brotherhood, and I Is A Long Memoried Woman.
She has been a BBC radio actor for over 30 years and is an award-winning narrator of over 150 audiobooks, including Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Naomi Alderman’s The Power and all of the No. 1 Ladies Detectives Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. She judged the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing in 2016 and was elected an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature earlier this year.
Andoh is an Associate Artist at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Senior Associate Artist at The Bush Theatre. She was recently appointed as the Cameron Mackintosh Visiting Professor of Contemporary Theatre at the University of Oxford, joining a distinguished list of past professors that includes Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Miller and Sir Ian McKellen. In 2023 she will direct and star in a production of Richard III at the Liverpool Playhouse and Rose Theatre Kingston.
Mary Jean Chan is one of British poetry’s fastest rising stars. Flèche, a debut collection ingeniously organised around the sport of fencing, was published by Faber & Faber in 2019 and Faber USA in 2020. It won the Costa Book Award for Poetry and was shortlisted for numerous awards, including the International Dylan Thomas Prize, the John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize, the Jhalak Prize, the Seamus Heaney Centre First Collection Poetry Prize and a Lambda Literary Award. In 2018, Chan’s title poem from Flèche won the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, awarded annually by the Poetry Society. Chan has twice been shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem and received a Society of Authors Eric Gregory Award for a collection by a poet under the age of 30 in 2019. That year, Chan was chosen by Jackie Kay as one of Kay’s ten best BAME writers in Britain.
In 2022, Chan co-edited with Andrew McMillan the landmark Vintage anthology 100 Queer Poems, which was recently selected as a Guardian Best Poetry Book of the Year and shortlisted for the Books Are My Bag Readers Awards. Chan’s poetry, essays and reviews have been featured in or are forthcoming from the New Republic, the New Statesman, the London Review of Books, Granta, the Poetry Review and the White Review, with their reviews appearing regularly in the Guardian. As an early career academic, Chan has written for the Review of English Studies, the Journal of American Studies and the Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry.
Born and raised in Hong Kong, Chan currently lives in Oxford and is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing (Poetry) at Oxford Brookes University while also serving as a supervisor on the MSt in Creative Writing at the University of Oxford. In 2022, Chan was a Visiting Writer at the NTU Asia Creative Writing Programme in Singapore. Chan is a Rathbones Folio Prize Academy member, having judged the 2019 and 2020 Stephen Spender Prize for Poetry in Translation, the 2022 Jhalak Prize and the 2022 Queen Mary Wasafiri New Writing Prize. Chan’s second book, Bright Fear, is forthcoming from Faber in August 2023.
James Shapiro is Professor of English at Columbia University, where he has taught since 1985. Among his books are: 1599: A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare (2005), which was awarded the Samuel Johnson Prize; 1606: The Year of Lear (2015), awarded the James Tait Black Prize for Biography; and most recently Shakespeare in a Divided America (2020), selected as one of the ten best books of the year by the New York Times. He is currently at work on two books: Playbook: Politics, Theatre, and the Origins of America’s Culture Wars and Othello: An American Life.
His writing has appeared in the London Review of Books, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the New Statesman, the Financial Times, the Times Literary Supplement, the New York Times, the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic. He has also co-written and presented a pair of BBC documentaries: The King and the Playwright: A Jacobean History (2012) and The Mysterious Mr. Webster (2014).
He has been awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Cullman Center of the New York Public Library, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Bogliasco Foundation, and in 2011 was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the Authors Guild. He works with several theatre companies and is currently Shakespeare Scholar in Residence at New York’s Public Theater.
Robert Webb was born in Lincolnshire in 1972 and attended Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Horncastle. He studied English at Cambridge, where he joined Footlights and met David Mitchell, forming the comedy partnership Mitchell and Webb. They went on to make five series of their Sony Award-winning BBC Radio 4 sketch show, That Mitchell and Webb Sound, and for television, four series of the Bafta-winning That Mitchell and Webb Look for BBC2.
As an actor, Webb is best known for playing Jeremy Usborne in Peep Show, which ran for nine series, making it Channel 4’s longest-running sitcom. The programme won another two Baftas, two British Comedy awards and in 2004 was awarded the prestigious Rose D’Or for Best Comedy. In the theatre, Webb has played numerous roles in London’s West End, most notably in the Olivier Award-winning Jeeves and Wooster: Perfect Nonsense, in which he gave a performance described by the critic Frank Cottrell-Boyce as ‘the definitive Bertie Wooster of his generation’.
In 2009 he won the BBC1 charity dance competition, Let’s Dance for Comic Relief, giving a memorable interpretation of the audition scene from the movie Flashdance. In 2021 he competed for three weeks in BBC1’s Strictly Come Dancing before having to withdraw due to health issues (from which he has now fully recovered).
Webb’s documentary My Life In Verse focussed on the work of T S Eliot and featured Andrew Motion and Clive James among others. His 2017 memoir How Not To Be a Boy entered The Sunday Times non-fiction chart at number one, was serialised in the Guardian and was abridged for Radio 4’s Book of the Week. The audiobook, narrated by Webb himself, was Audible’s bestselling memoir of 2017. His debut novel Come Again was published in 2020, with the audiobook read by Olivia Colman.
He has written a weekly column for The Daily Telegraph, been an occasional contributor to The New Statesman and judged the BBC Young Writers’ Award. He holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Lincoln.
The Booker Prize is the leading literary award in the English-speaking world, and has brought recognition, reward and readership to outstanding fiction for over five decades. It is sponsored by Crankstart, a charitable foundation.
The 2022 winner, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka – described by the TLS as ‘a rollicking magic-realist take on a recent bloody period in Sri Lankan history’, written with ‘with tinder-dry wit’, was hailed by booksellers, critics and readers. The book has experienced a huge global sales boost with the UK independent publisher Sort of Books reprinting 70,000 hardback copies, 30,000 trade paperbacks for export and airports, and 30,000 copies for the Australian market since the win on October 17. There have also been 70,000 reprints in the US and the same number again in India.
Translation rights have been sold by David Godwin and PFD in 26 languages, 24 of those since the Booker Prize win, with an audiobook released by Bolinda. The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is released in paperback in March 2023.
In the UK, the hardback went to No 3 in the Sunday Times bestseller list and No 3 in the Amazon chart after the prize announcement, and has remained in the Sunday Times Top 20 hardback fiction charts since. It was chosen as a Guardian, Times, Sunday Times, Telegraph and Financial Times Book of the Year and a New York Times Notable Book of 2022.
Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein
What the author said: ‘I was trying to think through what it might look like if certain (usually feminised) characteristics associated with passivity could take on a kind of power, especially over the people reinforcing those sorts of gendered norms. That idea comes from the painter Paula Rego – that obedience can, in a sense, also be murderous – it can be harmful to the person demanding obedience. I was also interested in the question of innocence and the really bizarre expectation that, in order for someone’s suffering to be recognised as legitimate, that person needs also to be innocent – whatever that means.’
What the judges said: ‘A stirring meditation on survival and a pointed critique of the demonisation of the outsider.’
If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery
What the author said: ‘I’m interested in what models we have for being good men, and in what potentially damaging messages we send men about how to be in the world, and in how those messages get passed from one generation to the next. I also wanted to explore the question of whether fraught relationships between fathers and sons can ever be repaired, and the associated costs of attempting to repair them.’
What the judges said: ‘All of life is here in unflinching detail: the fragility of existence, the American dream and the road not taken.’
This Other Eden by Paul Harding
What the author said: ‘The line I tried as best I could to draw between fact and fiction was the maybe couple of dozen factual details that most struck me in the limited reading I did about Malaga Island and what they subsequently led to when I imagined my way beyond them. From the moment the historical events began to suggest connections with stories like Noah’s Ark, the Garden of Eden, The Tempest, Sarah Orne Jewett’s Country of the Pointed Firs, Moby Dick, Harriet Jacob’s memoir, and so forth, I moved toward the purely fictional because I wanted a kind of poetic licence to intermingle the material with those influences.’
What the judges said: ‘It’s rare to encounter a work of historical fiction that is at once so lyrical and so empathetic.’
Prophet Song by Paul Lynch
What the author said: ‘I was aware while writing this book that I was addressing, in part, a modern problem: why are we in the West so short on empathy for the refugees flooding towards our borders? Prophet Song is partly an attempt at radical empathy. To understand better, we must first experience the problem for ourselves. And so I sought to deepen the dystopian by bringing to it a high degree of realism. I wanted to deepen the reader’s immersion to such a degree that by the end of the book, they would not just know, but feel this problem for themselves.’
What the judges said: ‘Propulsive, unsparing and terribly moving, the book warns of the precarity of democratic ideals’.
Western Lane by Chetna Maroo
What the author said: ‘It’s fair to call it a sports novel. It’s also been called a coming-of-age novel, a domestic novel, a novel about grief, a novel about the immigrant experience. Recently a friend asked me if the book has something of the detective story about it, with Gopi trying to find her way, piecing together the clues of small gestures, actions and fragments of overheard conversations; she has little to go on and since she’s dealing with the mysteries of loss, there are no answers for her.’
What the judges said: ‘A mesmerising novel about how silence can reverberate within a family in the aftermath of grief’.
The Bee Sting by Paul Murray
What the author said: ‘More than anything, I wanted to write about climate change. That sense of impending doom is something that feels different to the nuclear threat and gives a tone to the present that is new. Climate change relates to the past, obviously, but dwelling on its origins aren’t going to help us. We really need to find a new way of being to get through it and we haven’t found a way yet of doing that. In short, what I’m interested is in not so much the past coming back, but the ways it obscures the present and stops us from embracing the future.’
What the judges said: ‘Funny, sad and truthful. The characters, with their myriad flaws and problems, are unforgettable’.