The Irish public should expect to see two novel covers displayed prominently in the window of every book shop across the country ahead of the announcement of the 2023 Booker Prize winner in November.
Life is likely to change for both, and if they win, it could change dramatically: previous winner Anne Enright told The Irish Times it brought a “real change” to her material circumstances, while for Roddy Doyle, winning made him “public property” in a small country.
Average weekly sales of Anna Burns’s Milkman, set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, increased by 4,700 per cent across the chain of Dubray Books stores after it won the Booker in 2018, Susan Walsh, marketing manager at the bookseller, said.
The Booker is the most famous book award in the world, she said, and getting the nod does not just affect the winning title, but boosts the profile and sales of all subsequent books by the author, Walsh added.
Irish customers always support local authors, and Dubray stores saw sales “double and more” for the four Irish titles longlisted this year.
Doyle, who already had a high profile by the time of his first Man Booker shortlisting in 1991 with his novel The Van, found making the list “great fun”, and when Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha won the top prize two years later, it “certainly changed the way people look at me, that is for sure”.
The 1993 story, about a boy living in Barrytown, north Dublin, was already the number one bestseller for the months preceding its shortlisting and subsequent win. He did not notice a particular jump in sales for either of his books upon being shortlisted.
Speaking only about his personal experience, he said: “There is a huge difference between being shortlisted and winning; there is no doubt about that at all.”
He found that winning the prestigious prize caused him to become “public property”, to a degree, in Ireland, and he wanted to protect his private life. As a small country, the award is a big thing for the world of Irish books, he said.
The fawning was short lived, though. Interview and ribbon-cutting requests “stopped completely” when Family, a mini TV series he scripted, aired in 1994, he says. The show tackled the issue of domestic abuse, and “caused a storm” in Ireland.
“I went from golden boy to the devil . . . Times have changed,” he said.
Enright told The Irish Times her world became “suddenly bigger” when her fourth novel, The Gathering, won the Booker in 2007.
It was a “fantasy that came true” but also “stressful”, attracting “slightly hyped up admiration and also ire from people you never met”.
“Like all fantasies, it was hard to understand, not as enjoyable as you might think and also indelibly great . . . You do actually get tired talking about yourself,” she said.
When the noise settled down she was grateful, she says, for the “real change it brought to my material circumstances” and the new readers she met.
She recalls, when in Cartagena, Colombia, asking her interviewer of the day about FARC hostilities in the area. The woman said she lost five people to the violence, but “then insisted I was a much more interesting subject of conversation”.
“‘What was it like to win the Booker?’ she said. These encounters make you feel unreal and a little sad,” Enright said.
There are “many truly great writers” who have never won a prize, she added.
Penguin Random House Ireland ordered additional prints of Murray’s The Bee Sting when it was included in the Booker longlist and again when it was announced on Thursday that it made the final six.
The Irish publisher’s managing director, Michael McLoughlin, says the longlist provided a definite boost to sales.
Interest in the novel has also been assisted by glowing international reviews, including from the Times of London, the New York Times and the Washington Post, he says. The latter heralded the read as a candidate for one of this century’s greatest novels.
And the Irish-heavy longlist provided Galway-based Kennys Bookshop with an “immediate” and “dramatic” sales increase, says general manager Tomás Kenny.
There were “substantially more” purchases of the four Irish authors’ books at the Kenny’s store and online than had been sold before the longlist was announced, he adds.