Two Irish novels that address the burning issues of the climate emergency and the increasing threat to our democratic values have made this year’s Booker Prize shortlist.
Paul Murray, author of The Bee Sting, a gothic, tragicomic family saga set in the midlands, and Paul Lynch, author of Prophet Song, a nightmarish account of one family’s plight as Ireland descends into totalitarianism, will find out on November 26th whether they have won this year’s £50,000 prize, which also guarantees a huge increase in sales.
Murray said he was “thrilled and honoured to be included on the Booker shortlist with these five singularly talented writers, including my friend and compatriot Paul Lynch”.
“It’s been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember so this is a moment I will never forget. I have discovered so many wonderful books over the years thanks to the Booker Prize and I’m so humbled that the judges have selected me for their shortlist today. My thanks to them for this recognition and to my publishers for their faith and support.”
Lynch said he was “incredulous” at making the 2023 shortlist.
“The Booker Prize has brought recognition to so many great books and writers over the past 50 years and I am honoured, and almost incredulous, that I have made it to the shortlist alongside the wonderful Paul Murray. What an extraordinary amount of books the judges are asked to read. I don’t know how they’ve done it but they have, and I am so very grateful to them and to my publisher Oneworld for believing in this book and in my writing.”
The other shortlisted titles are:
- Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein – which the judges called “a stirring meditation on survival and a pointed critique of the demonisation of the outsider”;
- If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery – “All of life is here in unflinching detail: the fragility of existence, the American dream and the road not taken”;
- This Other Eden by Paul Harding – “It’s rare to encounter a work of historical fiction that is at once so lyrical and so empathetic”;
- Western Lane by Chetna Maroo – “A mesmerising novel about how silence can reverberate within a family in the aftermath of grief”.
Remarkably, two of the six shortlisted titles were among the 13 specifically requested by the judges, while the other four were among the 150 submitted by publishers.
Esi Edugyan, chair of the judges, said: “The best novels invoke a sense of timelessness even while saying something about how we live now. Our six finalists are marvels of form. Some look unflinchingly at the ways in which trauma can be absorbed and passed down through the generations. Some turn a gleeful, dissecting eye on everyday encounters. Some paint visceral portraits of societies pushed to the edge of tolerance. All are fuelled by a kind of relentless truth-telling, even when that honesty forces us to confront dark acts.
“Together these works showcase the breadth of what world literature can do, while gesturing at the unease of our moment. In these novelists’ hands, form is pushed hard to see what it yields, and it is always something astonishing. Language – indeed, life itself – is thrust to its outer limits.”
Asked to comment on the striking Irish presence on both shortlist and longlist – which featured How to Build a Boat by Elaine Feeney and Old God’s Time by Sebastian Barry – fellow judge James Shapiro said: “Return on investment! Certain countries invest more in the arts. It’s no accident that the arts are flourishing in Ireland and that is reflected on longlist and shortlist.”
Edugyan added: “There is a very deep literary tradition coming out of Ireland that continues to shape writing today.”
In an Irish Times interview, Lynch said his book’s origins lay in the Syrian refugee crisis. “I was obsessing over the fact that a modern country could collapse like that ... We are all in the West just two or three governments away from democratic collapse.” In a Booker Prize interview, he asked: “Why are we in the West so short on empathy for the refugees flooding towards our borders? Prophet Song is partly an attempt at radical empathy.”
Lynch also revealed that he had been diagnosed with cancer last year and has only recently received the all clear.
Murray told The Irish Times: “Terrible things happen in Ireland, and we are so good as a people at masking ourselves and disguising ourselves. I wanted to write about people who were trying to be the good people that everyone approved of, while knowing or feeling, sensing, that they weren’t.” He said in a Booker interview: “More than anything, I wanted to write about climate change. That sense of impending doom is something that feels different to the nuclear threat and gives a tone to the present that is new.”
Gaby Wood of the Booker Prize Foundation said: “This is truly a list without borders. It includes a Briton of Indian descent [Maroo], an American of Jamaican descent [Escoffery], a Canadian recently named one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists [Bernstein], and two Irish authors.”
The shortest book on the list is Western Lane, at 161 pages, while the longest is The Bee Sting, at 640 pages. Harding won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his first novel, Tinkers. Lynch won the 2018 Irish Novel of the Year Award for Grace. Murray’s Skippy Dies was longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2010 and his novel The Mark and the Void won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize in 2016. The 2022 Booker Prize was won by Shehan Karunatilaka with The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida.
Booker Prize 2023 shortlist
- Sarah Bernstein (Canadian), Study for Obedience (Granta Books)
- Jonathan Escoffery (American), If I Survive You (4th Estate)
- Paul Harding (American), This Other Eden (Hutchinson Heinemann)
- Paul Lynch (Irish), Prophet Song (Oneworld)
- Chetna Maroo (British), Western Lane (Picador)
- Paul Murray (Irish), The Bee Sting (Hamish Hamilton)