Booker Prize: Top picks from the longlist you need to read

This year’s Booker Prize longlist has been announced.

While there are some familiar names on there – like Hilary Mantel, who could become a triple Booker Prize winner if her book The Mirror & the Light wins – the list is overwhelmingly fresh.

Eight out of the 13 novels on the longlist are debuts, which Gaby Wood, literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation,  called “an unusually high proportion, and especially surprising to the judges themselves, who had admired many books by more established authors, and regretted having to let them go”.

Wood went on to say: “In this year of seismic change, visibility for new books published in the UK has been drastically low. So, however unintended the ratio, it’s especially heartening to know that some authors who have launched their careers in the midst of Covid-19 may now have a chance to reach the readers they deserve.”

Last year the Booker Prize made headlines for choosing a joint winner instead of just one. Bernardine Evaristo became the first black woman to win the accolade with her book Girl, Woman, Other, sharing the prize with Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments.

This year’s longlist will be whittled down to six on September 15th, with the winner being announced in November. Here are the top picks from the potential Booker Prize-winning novels…

Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Kiley Reid’s debut proved extremely popular when it was released last year, and has recently seen another surge in interest after being included in many Black Lives Matter related reading lists.

The story follows Emira, a young black woman who is accused of kidnapping when out shopping with the white child she is babysitting. The baby’s mother – a feminist blogger – is shocked by what happened and tries to help Emira. She might have the best intentions, but it makes for a thought-provoking look at racial bias, privilege, and misplaced ‘wokeness’. Not only is it a real page turner, its examination of racism and bias feels particularly necessary in 2020.

This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Similar to Hilary Mantel, Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga is nominated for the third novel in a trilogy. This Mournable Body follows up from 1988’s Nervous Conditions and 2006’s The Book of Not.

It examines the struggles of being a woman in Zimbabwe, following Tambudzai – who fights for survival, encountering obstacles with everything she tries to do. Not only is it a look at the lives of women and the prospects they face, it also explores themes of colonialism, capitalism and psychology.

Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

Avni Doshi’s debut is all about a mother-daughter relationship. Tara lived a wild life of doing as she pleased, bringing her child along with her when she gives birth. Now Tara is older and forgetting things, her grown-up daughter is forced to look after her.

It’s a look into an intense and toxic relationship, tracking the shifting power dynamics between the mother and daughter as they switch between parent and carer.

How Much Of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang

C Pam Zhang’s memorable debut novel is set in the aftermath of the American Gold Rush. After their parents die, 12- and 13-year-old Lucy and Sam suddenly find themselves crossing the country on their own. As the children of immigrants, it’s a skewering look at the American Dream as the siblings struggle to find somewhere to bury their parents, ultimately hunting for somewhere they belong.

Apeirogon by Colum McCann

Irish author Colum McCann is nominated for his novel Apeirogon, which is set on the West Bank. It highlights the difference between how two men are treated, as Rami is Israeli and Bassam is Palestinian. They live close to each other yet lead different lives, although when both of their young daughters are killed they form an unexpected friendship. It’s a hugely ambitious book, and covers politics as well as themes of friendship and love.

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