The Booker Prize, the UK’s most prestigious literary award, is open to any novel written in English by an author of any nationality. Last year, Margaret Atwood and Bernadine Evaristo won the prize to share the £50,000 award, in a controversial decision that broke the Booker’s own 1992 rule of awarding it to only one author. And this year, new writers have been hailed – despite two-time winner Hilary Mantel being tipped to win once again.
Mantel was expected to make the list this year for The Mirror and the Light.
But the author has missed out on The Booker Prize shortlist, which this year is being hailed as the most diverse yet.
Margaret Busby, chair of this year’s judges, said: “The shortlist of six came together unexpectedly, voices and characters resonating with us all even when very different.
“We are delighted to help disseminate these chronicles of creative humanity to a global audience.”
Booker Prize shortlist 2020: Full list – the six shortlisted titles revealed
What’s on The 2020 Booker Prize shortlist?
Diane Cook (USA), The New Wilderness (Oneworld Publications)
Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe), This Mournable Body (Faber & Faber)
Avni Doshi (USA), Burnt Sugar (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House)
Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia/USA), The Shadow King (Canongate Books)
Douglas Stuart (Scotland/USA), Shuggie Bain (Picador, Pan Macmillan)
Brandon Taylor (USA), Real Life (Originals, Daunt Books Publishing)
Booker Prize shortlist 2020: Avni Doshi reacted to her book Burnt Sugar making the cut
Booker Prize shortlist 2020: Brandon Taylor was thrilled to see Real Life on the list
Four of the six shortlisted books came from first-time writers.
And aside from the acclaimed Zimbabwean writer Tsitsi Dangarembga, who was recently arrested in Harare during a protest against government corruption, all on the list are from the US.
The Booker Prize changed the rules in 2014, meaning any writer whose text is in English and is published in the UK to compete for the award.
Prior to this, the award went solely to UK authors.
Booker Prize shortlist 2020: Tsitsi Dangarembga was recently arrested in Harare in a protest over Government corruption
Last year’s winner Bernardine Evaristo, perhaps best known for her 2019 book Girl, Woman, Other, said she was “excited by this groundbreaking shortlist for the 21st century”.
She wrote on Twitter: “If you’re looking for fresh perspectives and narratives, surely you’re going to find it among the most underrepresented voices?” she wrote.
The winner will be announced on November 17 at the Guildhall in London.
Have you read the books? No? Well here’s a quick description of all six to whet your appetite.
Booker Prize shortlist 2020: Shuggie Bain is set in Glasgow in the 1980’s
The Shadow King
SYNOPSIS: With the threat of Mussolini’s army looming, recently orphaned Hirut struggles to adapt to her new life as a maid. Her new employer, Kidane, an officer in Emperor Haile Selassie’s army, rushes to mobilise his strongest men before the Italians invade. Hirut and the other women long to do more than care for the wounded and bury the dead.
When Emperor Haile Selassie goes into exile and Ethiopia quickly loses hope, it is Hirut who offers a plan to maintain morale. She helps disguise a gentle peasant as the emperor and soon becomes his guard, inspiring other women to take up arms. But how could she have predicted her own personal war, still to come, as a prisoner of one of Italy’s most vicious officers?
SYNOPSIS: Wallace has spent his summer in the lab breeding a strain of microscopic worms. He is four years into a biochemistry degree at a lakeside Midwestern university, a life that’s a world away from his childhood in Alabama. His father died a few weeks ago, but Wallace didn’t go back for the funeral, and he hasn’t told his friends – Miller, Yngve, Cole and Emma. For reasons of self-preservation, he has become used to keeping a wary distance even from those closest to him.
But, over the course of one blustery end-of-summer weekend, the destruction of his work and a series of intense confrontations force Wallace to grapple with both the trauma of the past, and the question of the future
SYNOPSIS: In her youth, Tara was wild. She abandoned her loveless marriage to join an ashram, endured a brief stint as a beggar (mostly to spite her affluent parents), and spent years chasing after a dishevelled, homeless ‘artist’ – all with her young child in tow.
Now she is forgetting things, mixing up her maid’s wages and leaving the gas on all night, and her grown-up daughter is faced with the task of caring for a woman who never cared for her.
This Mournable Body
SYNOPSIS: Here we meet Tambudzai, living in a run-down youth hostel in downtown Harare and anxious about her prospects after leaving a stagnant job. At every turn in her attempt to make a life for herself, she is faced with a fresh humiliation, until the painful contrast between the future she imagined and her daily reality ultimately drives her to a breaking point.
The New Wilderness
SYNOPSIS: Bea’s five-year-old daughter, Agnes, is slowly wasting away. The smog and pollution of the overdeveloped, overpopulated metropolis they call home is ravaging her lungs. Bea knows she cannot stay in the City, but there is only one alternative: The Wilderness State. Mankind has never been allowed to venture into this vast expanse of untamed land. Until now.
Bea and Agnes join eighteen other volunteers who agree to take part in a radical experiment. They must slowly learn how to live in the unpredictable, often dangerous Wilderness, leaving no trace on their surroundings in their quest to survive. But as Agnes embraces this new existence, Bea realises that saving her daughter’s life might mean losing her in ways she hadn’t foreseen.
SYNOPSIS: It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life. She dreams of greater things: a house with its own front door and a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect, but false, teeth). But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and soon she and her three children find themselves trapped in a decimated mining town. As she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest.
Shuggie is different. Fastidious and fussy, he shares his mother’s sense of snobbish propriety. The miners’ children pick on him and adults condemn him as no’ right. But Shuggie believes that if he tries his hardest, he can be normal like the other boys and help his mother escape this hopeless place.