The Booker Dozen, aka the longlist for the Booker Prize 2019, is out, and this time its contains more female authors than male. Out of the 13 listed books, eight have been written by women, including both well-known names such as Margaret Atwood and Jeanette Winterson, alongside debut author Oyinkan Braithwaite.
The long list was selected out of a total of 151 novels, all published in the UK or Ireland between 1st October 2018 and 20th September 2019. The jury for this year’s prize is chaired by Peter Florence, the founder of the Hay Festival, and comprises Joanna Macgregor, Head of the Royal Academy of Music; writer and broadcaster Afua Hirsch; co-founder of Bloomsbury Publishing Liz Calder; and memoirist, novelist, and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo. Last year’s winner Anna Burns for her novel Milkman sold 546,500 copies of her book. The shortlist will come out in early September, and the winner of the £50,000 prize will be revealed in October 2019.
Because of the unprecedented domination of female writers, we decided to focus on their works alone for this quick guide to the Booker longlist.
The Testaments, Margaret Atwood
The book, set to be released on 10th September, is under lock and key so that no spoilers are revealed. Readers can only wait in high anticipation for the sequel to one of the most relevant novels of our time. Till now, all we know is that it is set 15 years after the end of The Handmaid’s Tale and follows the lives of three women in Gilead. Whether it wins the prize or not, one thing we know for sure is that this will be one of the biggest books this year.
My Sister, The Serial Killer, Oyinkan Braithwaite
Braithwaite’s debut novel, set in Lagos, uses the sense of wonder and chaos in Nigeria as a tool to explain the relationship between two sisters with opposing personalities. The book is about Korede, who covers up after her sister Ayoola develops a habit of killing her boyfriends as an act of “self-defence”. Yet, rather than becoming a crime thriller, the novel focuses on the warmth and turbulence between the sisters and bulges into a love story written with grit and self-confidence.
Ducks, Newburyport, Lucy Ellmann
The only US-born novelist on this longlist, Ellmann also has perhaps the most extraordinarily experimental book as a contender. Set in Ohio, the book is a monologue by a homemaker and mother of four who is troubled about the politics of Trump as she frets about food and family. The stream-of-consciousness writing runs without paragraphs or full stops. Essentially, it is a 426,100 word sentence, or one sentence that runs over 1,000 pages. However, this form did not stop the judges from describing this book as “nothing like you’ve ever read before”.
Girl, Woman, Other, Bernadine Evaristo
This novel follows the story of 12 characters, most of them black British women. Except their timelines rarely overlap, and the connections between these characters isn’t the plot but the discordance of the world they inhabit, whether as lovers or anonymous fighters on Twitter. These women confront the restricted idea of the black woman and the challenges of patriarchy without becoming mouthpieces for larger movements. The book is a glimpse into conversations that feel familiar, but an even rarer insight into conversations we are too afraid to have.
The Man Who Saw Everything, Deborah Levy
Levy, a noted playwright for the Royal Shakespeare Company has made it to both the longlist and the shortlist for the Booker before. Her latest novel, set to release on 29th August, offers two versions of the same story. Centered around a narcissistic historian who is invited to East Berlin in 1988, it explores the selfishness of a character who gets into a life-changing accident when he poses at Abbey Road to recreate the famous Beatles album cover.
Lost Children Archive, Valeria Luiselli
Luiselli began this book, which is written in the form of autofiction travelogue, in 2014, when many thousands of immigrants crossed the Mexican and Central American border into the US. The book is a road trip from New York City to the Mexican border and an attempt to document the children who have gone missing during the migration. Questions on the refugee crisis are raised while Luiselli also confronts personal problems with her husband and children along with pointed questions such as “can or should one make art with someone else’s suffering?”
10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World, Elif Shafak
A prolific writer, Shafak is known for the affect in her craft and it is no surprise that she has made it to this list. Yet, this is Shafak’s most urgent work yet. The story delves into the mind of sex worker Tequila Leila as she is murdered and dumped into the outskirts of Istanbul. In the time that she hasn’t been transformed into a fully dead corpse, Leila looks back on her life, recalling her troubled childhood and relationships. The novel does great work in humanising women who go through traumatic episodes, but it has also attracted the attention of Turkish authorities, who are investigating Shafak for writing about sexual violence.
Frankissstein, Jeanette Winterson
Taking inspiration from Mary Shelly’s famous gothic horror, Winterson stitches together dismembered narratives to create an unforgettable and explosive read. There are many threads in the story, and perhaps the most prominent is that of Doctor Ry, who is a transgender man interested in cryonics and in a sexual relationship with an older professor who has a secret AI project. Perhaps the main question of the novel is about what happens to humans with advancements in AI, but the focus shifts to so many strands and thoughts that only a varied and accomplished writer like Winterson could pull off such an ambitious project.
Post-Script: The other long listed novels are Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry, The Wall by John Lanchester, An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma, Lanny by Max Porter, and Quichotte by Salman Rushdie.
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