2019 Booker Prize Longlist announced
The longlist for this year’s Booker Prize has been announced.
Chair of the 2019 judges, Peter Florence, says: “…Read all 13 of these. There are Nobel candidates and debutants on this list. There are no favourites; they are all credible winners. They imagine our world, familiar from news cycle disaster and grievance, with wild humour, deep insight and a keen humanity. These writers offer joy and hope. They celebrate the rich complexity of English as a global language. They are exacting, enlightening and entertaining. Really – read all of them.”
Here are the longlisted titles, with a brief description and comment from the judges.
The Testaments, Margaret Atwood (Vintage, Chatto & Windus)
Judges’ comment: “Spoiler discretion and a ferocious non-disclosure agreement prevent any description of who, how, why and even where. So this: it’s terrifying and exhilarating.”
Synopsis: The Testaments is set 15 years after Offred’s final scene in The Handmaid’s Tale and is narrated by three female characters.
Night Boat to Tangier, Kevin Barry (Canongate Books)
Judges’ comment: “A rogue gem of a novel, Night Boat to Tangier is a work of crime fiction not quite like any other. The seedy underbelly of a Spanish port and a stony Irish town are the backdrop for a story of misdeeds, madness and loss that swells with poetry and pathos.”
Synopsis: It’s late one night at the Spanish port of Algeciras and two fading Irish gangsters are waiting on the boat from Tangier. A lover has been lost, a daughter has gone missing, their world has come asunder. Can it be put together again?
This is a novel drenched in sex and death and narcotics, in sudden violence and old magic, but it is obsessed, above all, with the mysteries of love. A tragicomic masterwork from a multi-award-winning writer, Night Boat to Tangier is both mordant and hilarious, lyrical yet laden with menace.
My Sister, The Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite (Atlantic Books)
Judges’ comment: “My Sister, The Serial Killer is as skilful, sharp and engaging a debut as any first novelist can produce. The prose is as pointed as a lethal weapon in this funny, tragic and wildly entertaining book.”
Synopsis: When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the fit doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…
Ducks, Newburyport, Lucy Ellmann (Galley Beggar Press)
Judges’ comment: “The unstoppable monologue of an Ohio housewife in Lucy Ellmann’s extraordinary Ducks, Newburyport is like nothing you’ve ever read before. A cacophony of humour, violence, and Joycean word play, it engages – furiously – with the detritus of domesticity as well as Trump’s America. This audacious and epic novel is brilliantly conceived, and challenges the reader with its virtuosity and originality.”
Synopsis: Latticing one cherry pie after another, an Ohio housewife tries to bridge the gaps between reality and the torrent of meaningless info that is the United States of America. She worries about her children, her dead parents, African elephants, the bedroom rituals of “happy couples”, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and how to hatch an abandoned wood pigeon egg. Is there some trick to surviving survivalists? School shootings? Medical debts? Franks ’n’ beans? A scorching indictment of America’s barbarity, past and present, and a lament for the way we are sleepwalking into environmental disaster, Ducks, Newburyport is a heresy, a wonder—and a revolution in the novel.
Girl, Woman, Other,Bernardine Evaristo (Penguin General, Hamish Hamilton)
Judges’ comment: “A wonderful verse novel about the lives of black British women, their struggles, laughter, longings and loves. Evaristo manages to depict a vast collective of intergenerational stories moving through different spaces with a dazzling rhythm. Her prose is passionate, poetic, brimming with energy and humour. It is a great novel about womanhood and modern Britain.”
Synopsis: Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of 12 very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years. Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible.
The Wall, John Lanchester (Faber & Faber)
Judges’ comment: “A thriller that takes the definitive political issues of our time – climate change, populism and immigration – and crafts them into a compelling story that is chillingly familiar and imaginatively dystopian.”
Synopsis: The Wall is a thrilling and hypnotic work of fiction: a mystery story, a love story, a war story and a story about a voyage. Kavanagh begins his life patrolling the Wall. If he’s lucky, if nothing goes wrong, he has only two years of this: 729 more nights. The best thing that can happen is that he survives and gets off the Wall and never has to spend another day of his life anywhere near it. He longs for this to be over; longs to be somewhere else. The Wall is a novel about why the young are right to distrust the old. It’s about a broken world you will recognise as your own – and about what might be found when all is lost.
The Man Who Saw Everything,Deborah Levy (Penguin General, Hamish Hamilton)
Judges’ comment: “A masterfully controlled novel about old and new Europe and how people move through political landscapes, personal histories and memories. In a playful and complex structure, the characters breathe an atmosphere of pop culture and post-Marxist ideology. Levy offers a mesmerising and often surreal slice of reality, and her commentary on history is subtle, humorous, and deeply reflective.”
Synopsis: In 1989, Saul is hit by a car on the Abbey Rd crossing. He is fine; he gets up and goes to see his girlfriend, Jennifer. They have sex and then break up. He leaves for the GDR, where he will have more sex (with several members of the same family), harvest mushrooms in the rain, bury his dead father in a matchbox and get on the wrong side of the Stasi.
In 2016, Saul is hit by a car on the Abbey Rd crossing. He is not fine at all; he is rushed to hospital and spends the following days in and out of consciousness, in and out of history. Jennifer is sitting by his bedside. His very-much-not-dead father is sitting by his bedside. Someone important is missing.
Deborah Levy presents an ambitious, playful and totally electrifying novel about what we see and what we fail to see, about carelessness and the harm we do to others, about the weight of history and our ruinous attempts to shrug it off.
Lost Children Archive, Valeria Luiselli (Harper Collins, 4th Estate)
Judges’ comment: “In this intriguing and innovative novel, a recently assembled family of two adults and two children pack up their belongings and drive from New York City towards Arizona. The adults’ relationship is clearly fraying and the children are soon bored in the back seat so they run away and get lost. Meanwhile a group of Mexican children is trying to cross the border into the US. Wildly imaginative, bold and mysterious, this novel of painful truths is also full of compassion, humour and love.”
Synopsis: A family in New York packs the car and sets out on a road trip. A mother, a father, a boy and a girl, they head south west, to the Apacheria, the regions of the US which used to be Mexico. They drive for hours through desert and mountains. They stop at diners when they’re hungry and sleep in motels when it gets dark.
Meanwhile, thousands of children are journeying north, travelling to the US border from Central America and Mexico. Not all of them will make it to the border.
In a breathtaking feat of literary virtuosity, Lost Children Archives intertwines these two journeys to create a masterful novel full of echoes and reflections – a moving, powerful, urgent story about what it is to be human in an inhuman world.
An Orchestra of Minorities, Chigozie Obioma (Hachette, Little Brown)
Judges’ comment: “Told in the wise and watchful, sometimes mischievous voice of the “chi” or Igbo spirit guardian of Chinonso, a poor poultry farmer, this is a profoundly humane epic love story. Loosely based on the Odyssey, the trials and joys of Chinonso’s journey exert a powerful hold on the reader’s imagination, head and heart. A magnificent, original and revelatory novel.”
Synopsis: Umuahia, Nigeria. Chinonso, a young poultry farmer, sees a woman attempting to jump to her death from a highway bridge. Horrified by her recklessness, Chinonso joins her on the roadside and hurls two of his most prized chickens into the water below to demonstrate the severity of the fall. The woman, Ndali, is moved by his sacrifice.
Bonded by this strange night on the bridge, Chinonso and Ndali fall in love. But Ndali is from a wealthy family, and when they officially object to the union because he is uneducated, Chinonso sells most of his possessions to attend a small college in Cyprus. Once in Cyprus, he discovers that all is not what it seems. Furious at a world that continues to relegate him to the sidelines, Chinonso gets further and further away from his dream, from Ndali and the place he called home. Partly based on a true story, An Orchestra of Minorities is also a contemporary twist on Homer’s Odyssey. In the mythic style of the Igbo literary tradition, Chigozie Obioma weaves a heart-wrenching epic about the tension between destiny and determination.
Lanny, Max Porter (Faber & Faber)
Judges’ comment: “Max Porter’s poetic and beautifully-crafted book explores the dark violence of folk mythology, creating a haunting parable of contemporary England. The tenderness and purity of the young boy Lanny, the counterpoint of village dialogue and dangerous magic all create an urgent dreamscape. A visual delight as well as a compelling read, Lanny is thought-provoking, innovative and moving.”
Synopsis: There is a village outside London, no different from many others. Everyday lives conjure a tapestry of fabulism and domesticity. This village belongs to the people who live in it and to the people who lived in it hundreds of years ago. It belongs to England’s mysterious past and its confounding present. But it also belongs to Dead Papa Toothwort who has woken from his slumber and is listening, and watching. He is watching Mad Pete the village artist. He is listening to ancient Peggy gossiping at her gate, to families recently moved here and to families dead for generations. Dead Papa Toothwort hears them all as he searches, intently, for his favourite. Looking for the boy. Lanny.
Quichotte, Salman Rushdie (Vintage, Jonathan Cape)
Judges’ comment: “A picaresque tour-de-force of contemporary America, with all its alarms and craziness. Rushdie conjures a celebration of storytelling and language that will delight lovers of Cervantes, lovers of daytime television and lovers of life.”
Synopsis: Inspired by the classic Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, Quichotte is the story of an aging travelling salesman who falls in love with a TV star and sets off to drive across America on a quest to prove himself worthy of her hand. Quichotte’s tragicomic tale is one of a deranged time, and deals, along the way, with father-son relationships, sibling quarrels, racism, the opioid crisis, cyber-spies, and the end of the world.
10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World, Elif Shafak (Penguin General, Viking)
Judges’ comment: “Elif Shafak’s audacious, dazzlingly original storytelling brings Istanbul’s seething underworld vividly to life via the haunting and tender memories of sex worker Tequila Leila, recently dumped for dead in a rubbish bin. A work of fearless imagination, the story takes the reader into the vertiginous world of its irresistible heroine, whose bloody-minded determination and fierce optimism make her an unforgettable character. Courageous and utterly captivating, this is a telling novel of our inglorious times.”
Synopsis: For Leila, each minute after her death brings a sensuous memory: the taste of spiced goat stew, sacrificed by her father to celebrate the long-awaited birth of a son; the sight of bubbling vats of lemon and sugar which the women use to wax their legs while the men attend mosque; the scent of cardamom coffee that Leila shares with a handsome student in the brothel where she works. Each memory, too, recalls the friends she made at each key moment in her life – friends who are now desperately trying to find her. . .
Frankissstein, Jeanette Winterson (Vintage, Jonathan Cape)
Judges’ comment: “Winterson plays with hybridity, gender, sex, technology and Romantic literature in a joyful comedy that examines the artifice of intelligence and how we get to redesign and reimagine the future of humanity.”
Synopsis: In Brexit Britain, a young transgender doctor called Ry is falling in love – against their better judgement – with Victor Stein, a celebrated professor leading the public debate around AI.
Meanwhile, Ron Lord, just divorced and living with Mum again, is set to make his fortune launching a new generation of sex dolls for lonely men everywhere.
Across the Atlantic, in Phoenix, Arizona, a cryonics facility houses dozens of bodies of men and women who are medically and legally dead… but waiting to return to life.
But the scene is set in 1816, when 19-year-old Mary Shelley writes a story about creating a non-biological life-form. ‘Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful.’
Spanning multiple timeframes, Frankissstein is funny and furious, bold and clear-sighted, exploring gender identity and the far-reaching consequences of the AI revolution we are already living through. What will happen when homo sapiens are no longer the smartest being on the planet? Jeanette Winterson shows us how much closer we are to that future than we realise.