This year, the Booker Prize judges are blowing up readers’ complacency, challenging our conception of the kind of book that wins awards. As one comical book vlogger said on BookTube as she went through the titles: “Haven’t heard of it,” “Never heard of it,” “Okay, I’ve got one!”
My husband and I had similar reactions. “Haven’t heard of it” and “Who is this?” I have heard of Tan Twan Eng’s The House of Doors, which sounds fascinating but has not been published yet in the U.S.; the Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Harding’s This Other Eden, which is widely available in the U.S.; and Sebastian Barry’s Old God’s Time, also available at bookstores and libraries. My husband is interested in Paul Murray’s The Bee Sting, because he enjoyed Skippy Dies, which made the 2010 Booker longlist.
The remarkable thing about this longlist is the absence of star power. I mean, there is no star power! And so all the vloggers mourn the absence of Barbara Kingsolver’s Demon Copperhead, because that is a great favorite. I haven’t read it, but I, too, thought it would make the list. It seemed headed for a book prize trifecta, having already won the Pulitzer and the Women’s Prize.
I don’t read much contemporary fiction, though I know there is good stuff out there. I have admired three new books this year: Charles Frazier’s novel about public art and hoboes, Trackers, which I reviewed here; Margaret Atwood’s stellar collection of short stories, Old Babes in the Woods; and Victoria Mackenize’s For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy on My Little Pain, a graceful novella about Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe.
Am I disappointed at their absence from the list? Not really. Atwood has won the Booker twice, as well as many other awards; Frazier won the 1997 National Book Award and the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Cold Mountain; and debut novelist Victoria Mackenzie would have been a long shot with her fictional portraits of Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe.
So here is the 2023 longlist for the Booker Prize. Tell me what you think. Perhaps you can convince me to break my Booker drought: I was not a fan last year of Alan Garner or even the highly-praised Claire Keegan. And I cannot remember the winner, always a bad sign.
The Booker Longlist 2023
Tan Twan Eng, The House of Doors
Paul Murray, The Bee Sting
Chetna Maroo, Western Lane
Martin MacInnes, In Ascension
Paul Lynch, Prophet Song
Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow, All the Little Bird-Hearts
Siân Hughes, Pearl
Paul Harding, This Other Eden
Elaine Feeney, How to Build a Boat
Jonathan Escoffery, If I Survive You
Sarah Bernstein, Study for Obedience
Sebastian Barry, Old God’s Time
Ayobam Adebayo, A Spell of Good Things