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The Man Booker Prize announces 2018 shortlist

The Man Booker Prize announces 2018 shortlist

The shortlist for the £50,000 Man Booker Prize is announced today!

Anna Burns, Esi Edugyan, Daisy Johnson, Rachel Kushner, Richard Powers and Robin Robertson are today, Thursday 20 September, announced as the six authors shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.

Their names were announced this morning (20 September) by 2018 Chair of judges, Kwame Anthony Appiah, at a press conference at the offices of Man Group, the prize’s sponsor. He remarked that each of these novels is a miracle of stylistic invention in which the language takes centre stage.

The shortlist, which features four women and two men, covers a wide range of subjects, from an 11 year-old slave escaping a Barbados sugar plantation, to a D-Day veteran living with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Man Booker Prize is open to writers of any nationality writing in English and published in the UK and Ireland. This year’s shortlist recognises three writers from the UK, two from the US, and one from Canada.

Two novels from independent publishers, Faber & Faber and Serpent’s Tail, are shortlisted, alongside three from Penguin Random House (two from imprint Jonathan Cape and one from William Heinemann), and one from Pan Macmillan imprint Picador.

 

The 2018 shortlist of six novels

Author (country/territory)                       Title (imprint)

Anna Burns (UK)                                       Milkman (Faber & Faber)

Esi Edugyan (Canada)                              Washington Black (Serpent’s Tail)

Daisy Johnson (UK)                                  Everything Under (Jonathan Cape)

Rachel Kushner (USA)                             The Mars Room (Jonathan Cape)

Richard Powers (USA)                             The Overstory (William Heinemann)

Robin Robertson (UK)                             The Long Take (Picador)

 

The shortlist was selected by a panel of five judges: the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah (Chair); crime writer Val McDermid; cultural critic Leo Robson; feminist writer and critic Jacqueline Rose; and artist and graphic novelist Leanne Shapton.

 

Kwame Anthony Appiah comments: ‘All of our six finalists are miracles of stylistic invention. In each of them the language takes centre stage. And yet in every other respect they are remarkably diverse, exploring a multitude of subjects ranging across space and time. From Ireland to California, in Barbados and the Arctic, they inhabit worlds that not everyone will have been to, but which we can all be enriched by getting to know. Each one explores the anatomy of pain — among the incarcerated and on a slave plantation, in a society fractured by sectarian violence, and even in the natural world. But there are also in each of them moments of hope.

These books speak very much to our moment, but we believe that they will endure. And we look forward to re-reading all of them as we make our way towards what will inevitably be the very difficult choice of only one of these brilliantly imaginative works as this year's winner of the Man Booker Prize.’

Luke Ellis, CEO of Man Group, comments: ‘The Man Booker Prize continues to evolve over time, while staying true to its principle of celebrating literary excellence. Each of the books shortlisted this year will speak to the reader now and in years to come. Man Group is proud to support such a prestigious award and I would like to congratulate this exceptional group of authors.’

 

The 2018 winner announcement

The 2018 winner will be announced on Tuesday 16 October in London’s Guildhall, at a dinner that brings together the shortlisted authors and well-known figures from the cultural world. The ceremony will be aired by the BBC, the prize’s broadcast partner.

In the meantime, there will be a number of public events featuring the shortlisted authors. These include an event at The Octagon Centre at the University of Sheffield, as part of the Off the Shelf Festival of Words on Friday 12 October and a discussion at The Times & Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival on Saturday 13 October. This forms part of a day of Man Booker celebrations, which includes the Cheltenham Booker: 1958, and a live performance of the 1983 Booker winner The Life and Times of Michael K by J. M. Coetzee. The traditional Man Booker Prize shortlist readings at the Southbank Centre will take place on Sunday 14 October, hosted by Damian Barr.

Further events with the winner will be announced in due course.

The shortlisted authors each receive £2,500 and a specially bound edition of their book. The winner will receive a further £50,000 and can expect instant international recognition. In the week following the 2017 winner announcement, sales of Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders increased by 1227%. Bloomsbury has to date sold over 230k copies of Lincoln across all formats, 70% of those sales coming after the win.

The Booker Prize Foundation provides funding for the Royal National Institute of Blind People to ensure that braille, giant print & audio versions of the shortlisted books are available for the visually impaired in time for the winner announcement. The majority of this year's shortlist is already available for readers in these formats. The Booker Prize Foundation has a longstanding partnership with RNIB to provide Man Booker Prize books to the tens of thousands of blind and partially sighted members of the RNIB Library.

 

The leading prize for quality fiction in English

First awarded in 1969, the Man Booker Prize is recognised as the leading prize for high quality literary fiction written in English. Its list of winners includes many of the giants of the last four decades, from Salman Rushdie to Hilary Mantel, Iris Murdoch to Ian McEwan. The prize has also recognised many authors early in their careers, including Eleanor Catton, Aravind Adiga and Ben Okri.

The rules of the prize were changed at the end of 2013 to embrace the English language ‘in all its vigour, its vitality, its versatility and its glory’, opening it up to writers beyond the UK and Commonwealth on condition that their novels are published in the UK. In 2018, a new rule was added specifying that any novel written originally in English and published in Ireland by an imprint formally established in Ireland was eligible for the prize.

Man Group, the global investment management firm, has sponsored the prize since 2002.

 

Longlisted books:  judges’ comments, synopses and author biographies

 

Milkman, Anna Burns (Published by Faber & Faber)

Chair of judges Kwame Anthony Appiah comments: ‘The language of Anna Burns’ Milkman is simply marvellous; beginning with the distinctive and consistently realised voice of the funny, resilient, astute, plain-spoken, first-person protagonist. From the opening page her words pull us into the daily violence of her world — threats of murder, people killed by state hit squads — while responding to the everyday realities of her life as a young woman, negotiating a way between the demands of family, friends and lovers in an unsettled time. The novel delineates brilliantly the power of gossip and social pressure in a tight-knit community, and shows how both rumour and political loyalties can be put in the service of a relentless campaign of individual sexual harassment. Burns draws on the experience of Northern Ireland during the Troubles to portray a world that allows individuals to abuse the power granted by a community to those who resist the state on their behalf. Yet this is never a novel about just one place or time. The local is in service to an exploration of the universal experience of societies in crisis.’

Synopsis: In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous. Middle sister, our protagonist, is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumours start to swell, middle sister becomes ‘interesting’. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous…

Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.

Anna Burns was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1962. She is the author of two novels, No Bones and Little Constructions, and of the novella, Mostly Hero. In 2001 she won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize, and was shortlisted for the 2002 Orange Prize for Fiction. She lives in East Sussex, England.

 

Washington Black, Esi Edugyan (Published by Serpent’s Tail)

Judge Leo Robson comments: ‘Esi Edugyan’s ravishing third novel is narrated by its title character–an eighteen-year-old freeman recalling his escape from life as a child slave on a sun-scorched sugar plantation in Barbados, British West India, during the 1820s. Until the age of ten or eleven, Washington recalls, only his sweat was of value. Then he meets Christopher Wilde–“Titch”–a garrulous, kindly-seeming engineer who recognises Washington's other gifts, in particular a native intelligence sufficient to master skills and learn arcane facts and record the equations for his aerostatic experiments. And so begins Washington's “strange second life.” Borne to freedom on a hydrogen balloon, he travels to Virginia, to Nova Scotia and the Arctic, to Amsterdam and London while pursuing his newfound gift for draughtsmanship and interest in marine zoology. Broad in size and scope, Washington Black proceeds over almost fifty brisk-paced chapters. Edugyan’s achievement, in unfolding Wash's story, is one full of contraries. It is a novel of ideas but also of the senses, a yarn and a lament, a chase story that doubles as an intellectual quest, a history lesson in the form of a fairy tale. Moments of horrifying cruelty and violence sit alongside episodes of great tenderness and deep connection. A majestic grandeur is achieved with the lightest touch.’

Synopsis: Escape is only the beginning. From the brutal cane plantations of Barbados to the icy wastes of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-filled streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black is the tale – inspired by a true story – of a world destroyed and the search to make it whole again. When two English brothers take the helm of a Barbados sugar plantation, Washington Black – an eleven year-old field slave – finds himself selected as personal servant to one of these men. The eccentric Christopher ‘Titch’ Wilde is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor and abolitionist, whose single-minded pursuit of the perfect aerial machine mystifies all around him. Titch’s idealistic plans are soon shattered and Washington finds himself in mortal danger. They escape the island together, but then Titch disappears and Washington must make his way alone, following the promise of freedom further than he ever dreamed possible.

Esi Edugyan was born in Calgary, Canada, in 1977. Her novel Half Blood Blues won the Scotiabank Giller Prize, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and was a finalist for the Governor-General's Literary Award, the Rogers Writers' Trust Prize and the Orange Prize. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

 

Everything Under, Daisy Johnson (Published by Vintage, Jonathan Cape)

Judge Val McDermid comments:‘The single word that sums up this beautifully written debut novel is “fluidity”. It’s set in a world of waterways; nobody’s character remains fixed from start to finish; gender and memory are as fluid as the waters themselves; the flow of myth and folklore runs through it; and even words themselves slither away from attempts to pin down their meaning. Gretel, the young woman at the heart of the book, is a lexicographer. But the true definition she seeks is the restoration of her relationship with her mother, who abandoned her to foster care so she could make a fresh start with a new lover. When they are finally reunited, that desire is complicated and confounded by her mother’s dementia. The past encroaches on the present as we gradually unravel their personal mythologies. It’s a modern variation on Sophocles’s Oedipus, and the twists and turns of the book’s stories braid this together with European folk tales to create a strong narrative river that carries us to a conclusion laced with tantalising possibilities. The natural world is evoked with sinister sensitivity and through it all runs the shadow of our imagined monsters.’

Synopsis: Words are important to Gretel, always have been. As a child, she lived on a canal boat with her mother, and together they invented a language that was just their own. She hasn't seen her mother since the age of sixteen, though — almost a lifetime ago — and those memories have faded. Now Gretel works as a lexicographer, updating dictionary entries, which suits her solitary nature. A phone call from the hospital interrupts Gretel's isolation and throws up questions from long ago. She begins to remember the private vocabulary of her childhood. She remembers other things, too: the wild years spent on the river; the strange, lonely boy who came to stay on the boat one winter; and the creature in the water — a canal thief? — swimming upstream, getting ever closer. In the end there will be nothing for Gretel to do but go back.

Daisy Johnson was born in Paignton, UK, in 1990. Her debut short story collection, Fen, was published in 2016. She is the winner of the Harper’s Bazaar Short Story Prize, the A.M. Heath Prize and the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. She currently lives in Oxford by the river.
 

 

The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner (Published by Vintage, Jonathan Cape)

Chair of judges Kwame Anthony Appiah comments:‘Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room is a heartbreaking exploration of lives at the margins of society, mobilising fiercely inventive characters whose lives seem mostly to have been foredoomed; their various misfortunes bring them to the prison that is the staging ground of their encounters. Against the background of the horrifying experiences of a women’s prison, the central character reflects on the life, as a neglected child and an adult sex worker, that has led her to the killing for which she has been sentenced for the rest of her life. In this seemingly hopeless world, some of the prisoners learn to manage, even accept, their circumstances, and the reader’s interest in their lives is driven by a propulsive plot that keeps you turning the pages despite your anger at the many injustices they contain. Kushner insists that we face the reality of what is being done in our names; and the energy and imagination of her craft enthrals on every page.’

Synopsis: Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences, plus six years, at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility. Outside is the world from which she has been permanently severed: the San Francisco of her youth, changed almost beyond recognition. The Mars Room strip club where she once gave lap dances for a living. And her seven-year-old son, Jackson, now in the care of Romy’s estranged mother. Inside is a new reality to adapt to: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive. The deadpan absurdities of institutional living, daily acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike, allegiances formed over liquor brewed in socks and stories shared through sewage pipes. Romy sees the future stretch out ahead of her in a long, unwavering line — until news from outside brings a ferocious urgency to her existence, challenging her to escape her own destiny. The Mars Room presents not just a bold and unsentimental panorama of life on the margins of contemporary America, but an excoriating attack on the prison-industrial complex.

Rachel Kushner was born in Oregon, USA, in 1968. Her debut novel, Telex from Cuba, was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award and a New York Times bestseller. Her follow-up novel, The Flamethrowers, was also a finalist for the National Book Award and received rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s and the Paris Review. She lives in Los Angeles.

 

The Overstory, Richard Powers (Published by Penguin Random House, William Heinemann)

Judge Leanne Shapton comments: The Overstory, a novel about trees and people who understand them, is the eco-epic of the year and perhaps the decade. Unlike the Lorax, who spoke for the trees, Richard Powers prefers to let them do their own talking. Instead of a middle distance or landscape, he offers portraits: a gallery of species — Chestnut, Mulberry, Banyan, Redwood — placing his human characters correctly in scale with that royalty. The trees tell of cellular ancestry and transmission, cycles that take place along spans of time we cannot imagine, though Powers can and does. Nine powerfully written, interlinked stories play out in the understory. Along the way there are stirring, lyrical paragraphs on love, photography, the culture of ancient China, game code, science, and maybe most impressively, faith, rendered without sanctimony or reprimand. By the end, the book's voices, human and arboreal, echo unforgettably.

Synopsis: Nine strangers, each in different ways, become summoned by trees, brought together in a last stand to save the continent’s few remaining acres of virgin forest. The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fable, ranging from antebellum New York to the late-twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond, revealing a world alongside our own — vast, slow, resourceful, magnificently inventive and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world, and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.

Richard Powers was born in Illinois, USA, in 1957. He is the author of 12 novels, including Orfeo (which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2014), The Echo Maker, The Time of Our Singing, Galatea 2.2 and Plowing the Dark. He is the recipient of a MacArthur grant and the National Book Award, and has been a Pulitzer Prize and four-time National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. He lives in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

 

The Long Take, Robin Robertson (Published by Pan Macmillan, Picador)

 

Judge Jacqueline Rose comments: The Long Take offers a wholly unique literary voice and form. A verse novel with photographs, it manages to evoke with exceptional vividness aspects of post-World War Two history that are rarely parsed together. Swinging effortlessly between combat with its traumatic aftermath, and the brute redevelopment of American cities, The Long Take shows us the ravages of capitalism as a continuation of war-time violence by other means. It is also a bold, eloquent homage to cinema as perhaps the only medium in which the true history of America has been preserved. This is a genre-defying novel. Cutting from battlefield to building demolitions in San Francisco and LA, to the killing of black men on the streets of America today, it imports into the very form of the writing one of the most famous film techniques: cross-cutting. You could be in the cinema, or listening to an elegy, or reading the story of one man’s devastating experience as he tries to rebuild the shards of his life after the war. A pageant of loss, The Long Take is also a lyrical tribute to the power of writing and image to convey, and somehow survive, historic and ongoing suffering and injustice.

Synopsis: Walker is a D-Day veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder; he can’t return home to rural Nova Scotia, and looks instead to the city for freedom, anonymity and repair. As he moves from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco we witness a crucial period of fracture in American history, one that also allowed film noir to flourish. The Dream had gone sour but — as those dark, classic movies made clear — the country needed outsiders to study and dramatise its new anxieties. While Walker tries to piece his life together, America is beginning to come apart: deeply paranoid, doubting its own certainties, riven by social and racial division, spiralling corruption and the collapse of the inner cities. The Long Take is about a good man, brutalised by war, haunted by violence and apparently doomed to return to it — yet resolved to find kindness again, in the world and in himself.

Robin Robertson was born in Perthshire, Scotland, in 1955. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he has published five collections of poetry and has received a number of honours, including the Petrarca-Preis, the E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and all three Forward Prizes. His selected poems, Sailing the Forest, was published in 2014 and The Long Take was published in February 2018. Robin Robertson lives in London.