Two-time Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel and US novelist Anne Tyler are up against eight debut novelists, including Kiley Reid and Avni Doshi, on this year's longlist for the £50,000 award.
Other debuts on the 13-strong longlist, announced this morning (28th July), come from Gabriel Krauze, Diane Cook, Douglas Stuart, Brandon Taylor, Sophie Ward and C Pam Zhang. The judging panel, which features thriller writer Lee Child, also picked out works from Tsitsi Dangarembga, Colum McCann and Maaza Mengiste.
Four of the books come from indie presses—Faber, Canongate, Daunt Books and Oneworld—while there are two titles each from 4th Estate, Bloomsbury, Little, Brown and Penguin Random House imprints. Only three authors on the longlist are from the UK alone with six American authors and three of dual-US nationality.
Mantel is nominated for The Mirror & the Light (4th Estate), the final part of a Cromwell trilogy that has already seen her win the award with its first two instalments. The book has sold comfortably more than the rest of the longlist combined, shifting 181,733 copies via Nielsen BookScan's UK TCM, though Nielsen does not have figures for the lockdown period. Mantel, who could become the first triple Booker winner were she to win again, was praised by judges for its “masterful exhibition of sly dialogue and exquisite description”.
Tyler, previously shortlisted in 2015 for A Spool of Blue Thread (Vintage), was chosen this time for Redhead by The Side of The Road (Chatto & Windus), her 22nd novel. The “beautifully written” tale of redemption has sold 2,812 copies so far via Nielsen BookScan's UK TCM.
American author Reid gets the nod for Such A Fun Age (Bloomsbury Circus), her story about a babysitter's experience of race and privilege. The book, which has sold 20,885 copies via Nielsen, was described as “a gripping first novel, peopled by wholly believable and engaging characters”. Doshi's “utterly compelling” Burnt Sugar (Hamish Hamilton) is also in the mix for its “emotionally wrenching but also cathartic” portrayal of a mother and daughter relationship.
Burnt Sugar will be published on 30th July, and three other books on the longlist have not been released in the UK yet, including Cook's The New Wilderness (Oneworld Publications), out on 11th August, and described as “a tense future-shock novel that's also a tender exploration of a mother-daughter relationship under extreme pressure”.
Also still to be published are Krauze's Who They Was (4th Estate), scheduled for 3rd September, described as “magnificent in its relentless intensity and searing honesty”, and Stuart's Shuggie Bain (Picador), due out in the UK on 6th August. Judges said they were “bowled over” by the latter, described as “an amazingly intimate, compassionate, gripping portrait of addiction, courage and love”.
Meanwhile Zimbabwean author Dangarembga is longlisted with the third novel in a trilogy, This Mournable Body (Faber), a sequel to Nervous Conditions (Ayebia Clarke). The book “drew an immediate reaction like a sharp intake of breath” from the judges.
McCann is picked for Apeirogon (Bloomsbury), “a gripping novel about two bereaved parents and a moving reflection on what it might mean to make peace between two warring sides.” The book has sold 3,630 copies through the TCM.
There is also a listing for Mengiste's The Shadow King (Canongate), described as “a brave, noble, gripping book that would not have been written at any other point in history”.
US author Taylor's Real Life (Daunt Originals) is also in the running. The panel described it as “a fresh take on the age-old ‘campus novel’ tradition, providing a deeply painful, nuanced account of microaggressions, abuse, racism, homophobia, trauma, grief and alienation”.
Ward's Love and Other Thought Experiments (Corsair) also gets a nomination. The panel described it as “an extremely original, genre-bending novel that melds Anglo-American analytical philosophy with realist social drama and futuristic science fiction, featuring travel across time, space and multiple dimensions."
Finally, Zhang joins the list with How Much of These Hills is Gold (Virago), a “haunting and heartbreaking” story of two immigrant children coping alone amid the fading leftovers of the Gold Rush in 19th-century California.
This year's judging panel is helmed by editor and critic Margaret Busby and features Child, Sameer Rahim, Lemn Sissay and classicist Emily Watson.
Busby said: “Each of these books carries an impact that has earned it a place on the longlist, deserving of wide readership. Included are novels carried by the sweep of history with memorable characters brought to life and given visibility, novels that represent a moment of cultural change, or the pressures an individual faces in pre- and post-dystopian society. Some of the books focus on interpersonal relationships that are complex, nuanced, emotionally charged.
“There are voices from minorities often unheard, stories that are fresh, bold and absorbing. The best fiction enables the reader to relate to other people’s lives; sharing experiences that we could not ourselves have imagined is as powerful as being able to identify with characters. As judges we connected with these writers’ well-crafted prose, the mastery of detail, the arresting sentence, the credibility of the narrative arc, the ability to use to the full, the resources of storytelling. Unplanned, our final selection encompasses both seasoned favourites and debut talents—a truly satisfying outcome.”
Speaking about the number of first-time authors on the list, Gaby Wood, literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation, said: “When the judges had drawn up their longlist of 13 books, one of them said: ‘Out of interest, how many debuts are there?’ We counted. It was half the list. That’s 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. It is perhaps obvious that powerful stories can come from unexpected places and in unfamiliar forms; nevertheless, this kaleidoscopic list serves as a reminder.
“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.”
Bea Carvalho, Waterstones fiction buyer, said: “The announcement of the Booker Prize is always an exciting moment in the year for booksellers, as we reflect over significant recent releases and look ahead to our busiest time of year. At the beginning of 2020, the literary landscape of the year ahead looked extremely robust: booksellers everywhere were planning for the release of The Mirror & the Light, which many felt to be a certainty for this year’s list, and the breadth of new titles from established favourites and electrifying new voices alike seemed better than ever. Publishing and bookselling has seen many challenges in the intervening months: a trepidatious time for an author, particularly a debut author, to release a new novel. We’re thrilled then, that this year’s list includes so many new voices alongside the likes of Hilary Mantel, Colum McCann and Anne Tyler: a fact which reflects the health and vitality of the genre, and a hugely encouraging sign for its future.
"Brandon Taylor’s debut lends an illuminating voice to this year’s necessary conversations, as it distils a lifetime of everyday racism into one weekend, and scrutinises the responsibility of bystanders: we are thrilled that the Booker Prize’s recognition of this important book will help it to reach as wide an audience as it deserves. Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age has been another real highlight for us this year: its skewering of race and class divisions in contemporary America, and the damage done by well-meaning individuals, makes it essential reading for today’s times and we’re delighted that this longlisting will give it a new platform.
"The judges certainly have their work cut out in whittling down this excellent and varied list of the genre’s giants and most promising new talents: we can’t wait to share the lot of them with our customers, and look forward to seeing which titles make the next cut!”
The Bookseller's books editor Alice O’Keeffe said she was pleased with some of the choices, but pointed out some hotly-tipped titles had missed out this year. She said: "The Booker longlist announcement is always a heart-in-mouth moment for anyone who writes about books. I’m very happy to note that New Titles: Fiction identified six of the Booker longlisted titles as either a Book of the Month, Editor’s Choice or One to Watch. Of these, my favourites are Kiley Reid’s pin-sharp observation of race and privilege in contemporary America, Such a Fun Age; the peerless Anne Tyler’s Redhead by the Side of the Road, a short masterpiece about the fragility and wonder of truly connecting with another person, and of course Hilary Mantel’s magisterial The Mirror & the Light.
"As ever, there are some surprising omissions. I was expecting to see former Booker winners Anne Enright's Actress and Aravind Adiga's Amnesty make an appearance, and thought there might have been room for Ta-Nehisi Coates’ celebrated debut The Water Dancer. Ben Lerner’s The Topeka School was an exceptionally good novel, as was Jenny Offill’s Weather and I would have loved to see Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet recognised too.”
The shortlist of six books will be announced on 15th September, with the overall winner to be named in November. Last year's prize, supported for the first time by charitable foundation Crankstart, was controversially shared between two novels—Margaret Atwood's The Testaments and Bernardine Evaristo's Girl, Woman, Other (Hamish Hamilton).