Booker Prize 2023 longlist: 13 fresh books on our startling reality

Booker Prize 2023 longlist: 13 fresh books on our startling reality

by Suswati Basu

The 2023 longlist for the Booker Prize, the world’s most influential prize for a single work of fiction, has been announced, featuring 13 books exploring universal and topical themes. The list includes 10 first-time longlisted writers, including four debut novelists, and three writers with seven previous nominations between them. These authors hail from seven countries across four continents, with four Irish writers making up a third of the longlist for the first time.

One notable inclusion is a novel featuring a neurodiverse protagonist, written from personal experience. Esi Edugyan, Chair of the judges, emphasised that the list is defined by its freshness, showcasing irreverent new voices and the iconoclasm of established ones.

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The 2023 judging panel, chaired by Esi Edugyan, selected the longlist from 163 books published between October 1, 2022, and September 30, 2023, submitted by publishers. The Booker Prize is open to works of long-form fiction by writers of any nationality, written in English and published in the UK or Ireland.

Who is on the Booker Prize 2023 longlist?

Here is the longlist of 13 books, the ‘Booker Dozen,’ along with their respective authors and imprints:

  • Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ – A Spell of Good Things (Canongate). A Spell of Good Things is an examination of class and desire in modern-day Nigeria.
  • Sebastian Barry – Old God’s Time (Faber & Faber). A murder investigation leads a retired policeman to confront the loss and sorrow of his past.
  • Sarah Bernstein – Study for Obedience (Granta Books). Study for Obedience is an absurdist, darkly funny novel about the rise of xenophobia, as seen through the eyes of a stranger in an unnamed town – or is it?
  • Jonathan Escoffery – If I Survive You (4th Estate). Jamaican husband and wife Topper and Santa flee from the troubles of their 1970s Caribbean home to make a new life in Miami with their sons Delano and Trelawney.
  • Elaine Feeney – How to Build a Boat (Harvill Secker). The interweaving stories of Jamie, a teenage boy trying to make sense of the world, and Tess, a teacher at his school, make up this humorous and insightful novel about family and the need for connection.
  • Paul Harding – This Other Eden (Hutchinson Heinemann). Based on a relatively unknown true story, Harding transports us to the unique tiny community scrabbling a living there – descended from trafficked Africans, immigrant Irish and indigenous Penobscot.
  • Siân Hughes – Pearl (The Indigo Press). Pearl is both a mystery story and a meditation on grief and consolation, evoking the profundities of the haunting medieval poem.
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  • Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow – All the Little Bird-Hearts (Tinder Press). Written from the perspective of an autistic mother, this poetic debut masterfully intertwines themes of familial love, friendship, class, prejudice and trauma with psychological acuity and wit.
  • Paul Lynch – Prophet Song (Oneworld). Lynch’s harrowing and dystopian novel vividly renders a mother’s determination to protect her family as Ireland’s liberal democracy slides inexorably and terrifyingly into totalitarianism.
  • Martin MacInnes – In Ascension (Atlantic Books). In this wonderful world, every outward journey – whether to space or the depths of the ocean – is an inward one, as Leigh seeks to move beyond her troubled childhood.
  • Chetna Maroo – Western Lane (Picador). Skilfully deploying the sport of squash as both context and metaphor, Western Lane is a deeply evocative debut about a family grappling with grief, conveyed through crystalline language.
  • Paul Murray – The Bee Sting (Hamish Hamilton). The Bee Sting, set in the Irish Midlands, brilliantly explores how our secrets and self-deceptions ultimately catch up with us.
  • Tan Twan Eng – The House of Doors (Canongate). This is a magisterial and haunting tale of forbidden love and loss in the shadow of revolution and empire.

What the judges said

The Booker Prize 2023 judges
Booker Prize 2023 judges. Credit: David Parry

Esi Edugyan, chair of the Booker Prize 2023 judges, said: “The list is defined by its freshness – by the irreverence of new voices, by the iconoclasm of established ones. All 13 novels cast new light on what it means to exist in our time, and they do so in original and thrilling ways.”

“The novels are small revolutions, each seeking to energise and awaken the language.
Together – whether historical or contemporary – they offer startling portraits of the current.”

Esi Edugyan, chair of the Booker Prize 2023

The longlisted authors have delved into a diverse range of subjects, from early 20th-century settings to contemporary dystopias, providing new perspectives on current existence.

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The shortlist of six books will be announced on Thursday, September 21, with the winner to be revealed on Sunday, November 26, at an award ceremony held at Old Billingsgate. The winner will receive £50,000 and a trophy named ‘Iris’ in honor of the 1978 Booker winner Iris Murdoch. The Booker Prize has a long history of recognizing outstanding fiction, and this year’s longlist promises to excite, challenge, and delight readers worldwide.

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