Kevin Barry longlisted for 2019 Booker Prize
Former winners Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie longlisted for prize won last year by Anna Burns
Kevin Barry: winner of the Rooney Prize; the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Prize; the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for City of Bohane; and the Goldsmiths Prize for Beatlebone. Photograph: Roberto Ricciuti/Getty Images
Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry has been longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize, which was won last year by Belfast author Anna Burns for Milkman. Her novel, about a young woman preyed upon by a paramilitary in Troubles-era Belfast, has since sold more than half a million copies.
Former winners Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie have also been longlisted for the £50,000 prize, even though their respective novels, a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale and a reworking of Don Quixote, have not yet been published. To be eligible, books must be published in Britain or Ireland between October 1st, 2018 and September 30th, 2019.
Of the 13 longlisted authors, eight are women and five are men. Well-known names include Jeanette Winterson for Frankissstein and John Lanchester for The Wall. Max Porter, whose debut Grief is a Thing with Feathers, was adapted for a successful stage play, has been longlisted for his follow-up, Lanny. Deborah Levy, previously shortlisted for Hot Milk (2016) and Swimming Home (2011), is longlisted for The Man Who Saw Everything, which comes out next month.
Authors with Nigerian connections are a strong presence on this year’s longlist. Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, The Serial Killer is the only debut to make the cut, having already been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Anglo-Nigerian author Bernardine Evaristo is listed for Girl, Woman, Other and Chigozie Obioma for An Orchestra of Minorities. Mexican-Italian Valeria Luiselli makes the list with her first novel written in English; bestselling Turkish author Elif Shafak for 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World; and Anglo-US writer Lucy Ellmann for her one-sentence, 1,000 page epic Ducks, Newburyport.
Peter Florence, founder and director of Hay Festival and chair of the 2019 judges, said: “If you only read one book this year, make a leap. Read all 13 of these. There are Nobel candidates and debutants on this list. There are no favourites; they are all credible winners. They imagine our world, familiar from news cycle disaster and grievance, with wild humour, deep insight and a keen humanity. These writers offer joy and hope. They celebrate the rich complexity of English as a global language. They are exacting, enlightening and entertaining. Really – read all of them.”
His fellow judges are judges are former fiction publisher and editor Liz Calder; novelist, essayist and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo; writer, broadcaster and former barrister Afua Hirsch; and concert pianist, conductor and composer Joanna MacGregor.
Barry is one of Ireland’s most successful and influential contemporary writers. He has won the Rooney Prize; the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Prize; the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for City of Bohane; and the Goldsmiths Prize for Beatlebone. He also co-edits Winter Papers, an annual cultural anthology.
The judges said of Barry’s tragicomic tale of two fading Irish gangsters looking for a lost daughter: “A rogue gem of a novel, Night Boat to Tangier is a work of crime fiction not quite like any other. The seedy underbelly of a Spanish port and a stony Irish town are the backdrop for a story of misdeeds, madness and loss that swells with poetry and pathos.”
Prof Michael Cronin, reviewing it in The Irish Times, drew parallels with Waiting for Godot and called it “a fascinating hybrid of poetry, prose and drama ... a remarkably achieved novel which shows a writer in full command of the possibilities of the form”.
Gaby Wood, literary director of the Booker Prize Foundation, added: “Watching the 2019 Booker Prize judges arrive at this wonderful list has been an invigorating experience. Firstly because they deemed the calibre of the submissions to be extremely high overall. Secondly because they reached far and wide in their search for the best fiction of the year, calling in (among others) Young Adult novels and books that are sometimes dismissed as commercial. Thirdly because they effortlessly absorbed the quality of the writing without ever considering the passport of its author. And lastly because, exercising their sharp minds and varied tastes, the judges weighed up each book individually yet produced a collection that shows the incredible range of what’s being written today. There are familiar names here writing at the height of their powers, there are young writers of exceptional imagination and daring, there is wit, incisive political thought, stillness and thrill. And there is a plurality that shows the making of literature in English to be a global endeavour. The 2019 longlist is a testament to its extremely good health.”
Five of the 13 longlisted books come from independent publishers including Faber & Faber (with two titles), Atlantic Books, Canongate Books and Galley Beggar Press. They are joined by Penguin Random House imprints Chatto & Windus, Hamish Hamilton (with two titles), Jonathan Cape and Viking; Harper Collins imprint 4th Estate; and Hachette imprint Little Brown.
The shortlist of six books will be announced on September 3rd and the winner will be revealed on October 14th.
Longlisted books: judges’ comments, synopses and author biographies
The Testaments, Margaret Atwood (Vintage, Chatto & Windus)
Judges’ comment: “Spoiler discretion and a ferocious non-disclosure agreement prevent any description of who, how, why and even where. So this: it’s terrifying and exhilarating.”
Synopsis: The Testaments is set 15 years after Offred’s final scene in The Handmaid’s Tale and is narrated by three female characters.
Margaret Atwood was born in Ottawa, Canada on 18 November 1939. She is the author of more than 50 books of fiction, poetry and critical essays. She won the 2000 Booker Prize for The Blind Assassin and was shortlisted for the Prize with The Handmaid’s Tale (1986), Cat’s Eye (1989), Alias Grace (1996) and Oryx and Crake (2003). The Handmaid’s Tale went back into the bestseller charts with the election of Donald Trump and the 2017 transmission of the award-winning TV series. Sales of the English language edition have now topped eight million copies worldwide. Atwood’s further awards include the Arthur C. Clarke Award for Imagination in Service to Society, the Franz Kafka Prize, the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade and the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award. She lives in Toronto.
Night Boat to Tangier, Kevin Barry (Canongate Books)
The Irish Times review
Judges’ comment: “A rogue gem of a novel, Night Boat to Tangier is a work of crime fiction not quite like any other. The seedy underbelly of a Spanish port and a stony Irish town are the backdrop for a story of misdeeds, madness and loss that swells with poetry and pathos.”
Synopsis: It’s late one night at the Spanish port of Algeciras and two fading Irish gangsters are waiting on the boat from Tangier. A lover has been lost, a daughter has gone missing, their world has come asunder. Can it be put together again?
This is a novel drenched in sex and death and narcotics, in sudden violence and old magic, but it is obsessed, above all, with the mysteries of love. A tragicomic masterwork from a multi-award-winning writer, Night Boat to Tangier is both mordant and hilarious, lyrical yet laden with menace.
Kevin Barry was born in Limerick on June 25th, 1969. He is the author of the novels Beatlebone and City of Bohane and two short story collections. He was awarded the Rooney Prize in 2007 and won the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Prize in 2012. For City of Bohane he won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the European Prize for Literature and the Authors’ Club First Novel Prize, and was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and the Irish Book Awards. His second novel Beatlebone was the winner of the Goldsmiths Prize and was shortlisted for the Irish Book Awards. He lives in the west of Ireland.
My Sister, The Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite (Atlantic Books)
The Irish Times review
Judges’ comment: “My Sister, The Serial Killer is as skilful, sharp and engaging a debut as any first novelist can produce. The prose is as pointed as a lethal weapon in this funny, tragic and wildly entertaining book.”
Synopsis: When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach. This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the fit doctor where Korede works as a nurse. Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other...
Oyinkan Braithwaite was born in Lagos, Nigeria on 21 March 1988. She is a graduate of Creative Writing and Law from Kingston University London. Following her degree, she worked as an assistant editor at the Nigerian publishing house Kachifo and has been freelancing as a writer and editor since. She has had short stories published in anthologies and has also self-published work. In 2014, she was shortlisted as a top ten spoken word artist in the Eko Poetry Slam. Her debut novel, My Sister, The Serial Killer was shortlisted for the 2019 Women’s Prize for Fiction. She lives in Nigeria.
Ducks, Newburyport, Lucy Ellmann (Galley Beggar Press)
The Irish Times review
Judges’ comment: “The unstoppable monologue of an Ohio housewife in Lucy Ellmann’s extraordinary Ducks, Newburyport is like nothing you’ve ever read before. A cacophony of humour, violence, and Joycean word play, it engages - furiously - with the detritus of domesticity as well as Trump’s America. This audacious and epic novel is brilliantly conceived, and challenges the reader with its virtuosity and originality.”
Synopsis: Latticing one cherry pie after another, an Ohio housewife tries to bridge the gaps between reality and the torrent of meaningless info that is the United States of America. She worries about her children, her dead parents, African elephants, the bedroom rituals of “happy couples”, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and how to hatch an abandoned wood pigeon egg. Is there some trick to surviving survivalists? School shootings? Medical debts? Franks ‘n’ beans? A scorching indictment of America’s barbarity, past and present, and a lament for the way we are sleepwalking into environmental disaster, Ducks, Newburyport is a heresy, a wonder-and a revolution in the novel.
Lucy Ellmann was born in Illinois on 18 October 1956, and moved to England as a teenager. Her first novel, Sweet Desserts, won the Guardian Fiction Prize. It was followed by Man or Mango?: A Lament, Orange Prize-longlisted Dot in the Universe and Doctors & Nurses. She lives in Edinburgh.
Girl, Woman, Other, Bernardine Evaristo (Penguin General, Hamish Hamilton)
Judges’ comment: “A wonderful verse novel about the lives of black British women, their struggles, laughter, longings and loves. Evaristo manages to depict a vast collective of intergenerational stories moving through different spaces with a dazzling rhythm. Her prose is passionate, poetic, brimming with energy and humour. It is a great novel about womanhood and modern Britain.”
Synopsis: Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of 12 very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years. Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible.
Bernardine Evaristo was born in London in 1959. She is the Anglo-Nigerian author of seven other books of fiction and verse that explore aspects of the African diaspora: past, present, real, imagined. Her writing also spans short fiction, reviews, essays, drama and writing for BBC radio. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Brunel University London and Vice Chair of the Royal Society of Literature. As a literary activist for inclusion she has founded several successful initiatives including Spread the Word writer development agency (1995 - ongoing); The Complete Works mentoring scheme for poets of colour (2007-2017) and the Brunel International African Poetry Prize (2012 - ongoing). She was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2009. She lives in London.
The Wall, John Lanchester (Faber & Faber)
The Irish Times review
Judges’ comment: “A thriller that takes the definitive political issues of our time - climate change, populism and immigration - and crafts them into a compelling story that is chillingly familiar and imaginatively dystopian.”
Synopsis: The Wall is a thrilling and hypnotic work of fiction: a mystery story, a love story, a war story and a story about a voyage. Kavanagh begins his life patrolling the Wall. If he’s lucky, if nothing goes wrong, he has only two years of this: 729 more nights. The best thing that can happen is that he survives and gets off the Wall and never has to spend another day of his life anywhere near it. He longs for this to be over; longs to be somewhere else.
The Wall is a novel about why the young are right to distrust the old. It’s about a broken world you will recognise as your own - and about what might be found when all is lost.
John Lanchester was born in Hamburg, Germany on 25 February 1962. He is a contributing editor to the London Review of Books and a regular contributor to the New Yorker. He has written four novels, including The Booker Prize 1996-longlisted The Debt to Pleasure and three works of non-fiction. His books have won the Hawthornden Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Prize, the E. M. Forster Award and the Premi Llibreter, and been translated into twenty-five languages. He lives in London.
The Man Who Saw Everything, Deborah Levy (Penguin General, Hamish Hamilton)
Judges’ comment: “A masterfully controlled novel about old and new Europe and how people move through political landscapes, personal histories and memories. In a playful and complex structure, the characters breathe an atmosphere of pop culture and post-Marxist ideology. Levy offers a mesmerising and often surreal slice of reality, and her commentary on history is subtle, humorous, and deeply reflective.”
Synopsis: In 1989, Saul is hit by a car on the Abbey Rd crossing. He is fine; he gets up and goes to see his girlfriend, Jennifer. They have sex and then break up. He leaves for the GDR, where he will have more sex (with several members of the same family), harvest mushrooms in the rain, bury his dead father in a matchbox and get on the wrong side of the Stasi.
In 2016, Saul is hit by a car on the Abbey Rd crossing. He is not fine at all; he is rushed to hospital and spends the following days in and out of consciousness, in and out of history. Jennifer is sitting by his bedside. His very-much-not-dead father is sitting by his bedside. Someone important is missing.
Deborah Levy presents an ambitious, playful and totally electrifying novel about what we see and what we fail to see, about carelessness and the harm we do to others, about the weight of history and our ruinous attempts to shrug it off.
Deborah Levy was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1959. She is a British playwright, novelist and poet. She is the author of two Man Booker shortlisted novels: Hot Milk (2016) and Swimming Home (2011). She has also written five further novels, an acclaimed collection of short stories, Black Vodka (2013), and two ‘living autobiographies’, Things I Don’t Want To Know and The Cost of Living. She has written for the Royal Shakespeare Company and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She lives in London.
Lost Children Archive, Valeria Luiselli (Harper Collins, 4th Estate)
Judges’ comment: “In this intriguing and innovative novel, a recently assembled family of two adults and two children pack up their belongings and drive from New York City towards Arizona. The adults’ relationship is clearly fraying and the children are soon bored in the back seat so they run away and get lost. Meanwhile a group of Mexican children is trying to cross the border into the US. Wildly imaginative, bold and mysterious, this novel of painful truths is also full of compassion, humour and love.”
Synopsis: A family in New York packs the car and sets out on a road trip. A mother, a father, a boy and a girl, they head south west, to the Apacheria, the regions of the US which used to be Mexico. They drive for hours through desert and mountains. They stop at diners when they’re hungry and sleep in motels when it gets dark.
Meanwhile, thousands of children are journeying north, travelling to the US border from Central America and Mexico. Not all of them will make it to the border.
In a breathtaking feat of literary virtuosity, Lost Children Archives intertwines these two journeys to create a masterful novel full of echoes and reflections - a moving, powerful, urgent story about what it is to be human in an inhuman world.
Valeria Luiselli was born in Mexico City on 16 August 1983. She is the author of the novels Faces in the Crowd and The Story of My Teeth, which won the 2016 LA Times’ Art Seidenbaum Prize for First Fiction; the essay collection Sidewalks; and Tell Me How It Ends, an essay about the situation faced by children arriving at the US-Mexico border without papers. Lost Children Archive is her first novel written in English. Her previous novels were translated into English from Spanish. She lives in New York.
An Orchestra of Minorities, Chigozie Obioma (Hachette, Little Brown)
The Irish Times review
Judges’ comment: “Told in the wise and watchful, sometimes mischievous voice of the “chi” or Igbo spirit guardian of Chinonso, a poor poultry farmer, this is a profoundly humane epic love story. Loosely based on the Odyssey, the trials and joys of Chinonso’s journey exert a powerful hold on the reader’s imagination, head and heart. A magnificent, original and revelatory novel.”
Synopsis: Umuahia, Nigeria. Chinonso, a young poultry farmer, sees a woman attempting to jump to her death from a highway bridge. Horrified by her recklessness, Chinonso joins her on the roadside and hurls two of his most prized chickens into the water below to demonstrate the severity of the fall. The woman, Ndali, is moved by his sacrifice.
Bonded by this strange night on the bridge, Chinonso and Ndali fall in love. But Ndali is from a wealthy family, and when they officially object to the union because he is uneducated, Chinonso sells most of his possessions to attend a small college in Cyprus. Once in Cyprus, he discovers that all is not what it seems. Furious at a world that continues to relegate him to the sidelines, Chinonso gets further and further away from his dream, from Ndali and the place he called home. Partly based on a true story, An Orchestra of Minorities is also a contemporary twist on Homer’s Odyssey. In the mythic style of the Igbo literary tradition, Chigozie Obioma weaves a heart-wrenching epic about the tension between destiny and determination.
Chigozie Obioma was born in Akure, Nigeria on 24 October 1986. He is an assistant professor of Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His debut novel, The Fishermen, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2015 and the Guardian First Book Award, and won several prizes including the LA Times’ Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. Obioma was named one of Foreign Policy’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2015. He currently lives in the United States.
Lanny, Max Porter (Faber & Faber)
The Irish Times review
Judges’ comment: “Max Porter’s poetic and beautifully-crafted book explores the dark violence of folk mythology, creating a haunting parable of contemporary England. The tenderness and purity of the young boy Lanny, the counterpoint of village dialogue and dangerous magic all create an urgent dreamscape. A visual delight as well as a compelling read, Lanny is thought-provoking, innovative and moving.”
Synopsis: There is a village outside London, no different from many others. Everyday lives conjure a tapestry of fabulism and domesticity. This village belongs to the people who live in it and to the people who lived in it hundreds of years ago. It belongs to England’s mysterious past and its confounding present. But it also belongs to Dead Papa Toothwort who has woken from his slumber and is listening, and watching. He is watching Mad Pete the village artist. He is listening to ancient Peggy gossiping at her gate, to families recently moved here and to families dead for generations. Dead Papa Toothwort hears them all as he searches, intently, for his favourite. Looking for the boy. Lanny.
Max Porter was born in High Wycombe, UK on 27 August 1981. His first novel, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, won the Sunday Times/Peters, Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award, the International Dylan Thomas Prize, the Europese Literatuurprijs and the BAMB Readers’ Award, and was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Goldsmiths Prize. It has been translated into 27 languages. As an editor, Max Porter worked on Eleanor Catton’s Man Booker 2013 winning The Luminaries and Han Kang’s Man Booker International 2016 winning The Vegetarian. He lives in Bath.
Quichotte, Salman Rushdie (Vintage, Jonathan Cape)
Judges’ comment: “A picaresque tour-de-force of contemporary America, with all its alarms and craziness. Rushdie conjures a celebration of storytelling and language that will delight lovers of Cervantes, lovers of daytime television and lovers of life.”
Synopsis: Inspired by the classic Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, Quichotte is the story of an aging travelling salesman who falls in love with a TV star and sets off to drive across America on a quest to prove himself worthy of her hand. Quichotte’s tragicomic tale is one of a deranged time, and deals, along the way, with father-son relationships, sibling quarrels, racism, the opioid crisis, cyber-spies, and the end of the world.
Salman Rushdie was born in Mumbai, India on 19 June 1947. His novel Midnight’s Children won the Booker Prize in 1981. In 1993 it was judged to be the ‘Booker of Bookers,’ to mark the 25th anniversary of the prize and in 2008 the ‘Best of the Booker’ to mark the 40th anniversary. His further awards include the European Union’s Aristeion Prize for Literature. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In June 2007 he received a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. He lives in New York.
10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World, Elif Shafak (Penguin General, Viking)
The Irish Times review
Judges’ comment: “Elif Shafak’s audacious, dazzlingly original storytelling brings Istanbul’s seething underworld vividly to life via the haunting and tender memories of sex worker Tequila Leila, recently dumped for dead in a rubbish bin. A work of fearless imagination, the story takes the reader into the vertiginous world of its irresistible heroine, whose bloody-minded determination and fierce optimism make her an unforgettable character. Courageous and utterly captivating, this is a telling novel of our inglorious times.”
Synopsis: For Leila, each minute after her death brings a sensuous memory: the taste of spiced goat stew, sacrificed by her father to celebrate the long-awaited birth of a son; the sight of bubbling vats of lemon and sugar which the women use to wax their legs while the men attend mosque; the scent of cardamom coffee that Leila shares with a handsome student in the brothel where she works. Each memory, too, recalls the friends she made at each key moment in her life - friends who are now desperately trying to find her. . .
Elif Shafak was born in Strasbourg, France on 25 October 1971. A British-Turkish novelist, she is the most widely read female author in Turkey. She writes in both Turkish and English, and has published 17 books, eleven of which are novels. Her work has been translated into 50 languages. Shafak holds a PhD in political science and she has taught at various universities in Turkey, the US and the UK, including St Anne’s College, Oxford University, where she is an honorary fellow. She is a member of World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Creative Economy and a founding member of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR). She has been awarded the title of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres.
Frankissstein, Jeanette Winterson (Vintage, Jonathan Cape)
The Irish Times review
Judges’ comment: “Winterson plays with hybridity, gender, sex, technology and Romantic literature in a joyful comedy that examines the artifice of intelligence and how we get to redesign and reimagine the future of humanity.”
Synopsis: In Brexit Britain, a young transgender doctor called Ry is falling in love - against their better judgement - with Victor Stein, a celebrated professor leading the public debate around AI.
Meanwhile, Ron Lord, just divorced and living with Mum again, is set to make his fortune launching a new generation of sex dolls for lonely men everywhere.
Across the Atlantic, in Phoenix, Arizona, a cryonics facility houses dozens of bodies of men and women who are medically and legally dead… but waiting to return to life.
But the scene is set in 1816, when 19-year-old Mary Shelley writes a story about creating a non-biological life-form. ‘Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful.’
Spanning multiple timeframes, Frankissstein is funny and furious, bold and clear-sighted, exploring gender identity and the far-reaching consequences of the AI revolution we are already living through. What will happen when homo sapiens are no longer the smartest being on the planet? Jeanette Winterson shows us how much closer we are to that future than we realise.
Jeanette Winterson was born in Manchester, UK on 27 August 1959. Adopted by Pentecostal parents she was raised to be a missionary but left home at 16. After graduating from Oxford University she worked for a while in the theatre and at 25 published her first novel, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. She scripted the novel into a BAFTA-winning BBC drama. She has written 10 novels and a memoir, as well as children’s books, non-fiction and screenplays. She is Professor of New Writing at the University of Manchester, and in 2018 was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. She lives in a wood in the Cotswolds and in Spitalfields, London.