Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo have jointly won the 2019 Booker Prize, for their novels The Testaments and Girl, Woman, Other, respectively.
Evaristo is the first black woman to win the prize. Her Nigerian father emigrated to England in 1949, where he met her English mother; Evaristo was born in London in 1959. Girl, Woman, Other (Hamish Hamilton) is billed as ‘a love song to modern Britain, to black womanhood, to the ever-changing heart of London’. It follows the ‘lives and struggles of twelve 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’.
Atwood, meanwhile, not only becomes the oldest woman to win the prize—she turns eighty in November—but also joins the highly select list of two-time winners: she won in 2000 for her novel The Blind Assassin, and has been shortlisted no fewer than six times. The Handmaid’s Tale, to which The Testaments (Vintage, Chatto & Windus) is a sequel, was shortlisted in 1986, eventually losing out to Kingsley Amis’s The Old Devils. The other two-time winners are JG Farrell, JM Coetzee, Peter Carey and Hilary Mantel.
The judges said of Girl, Woman, Other: ‘A must-read about modern Britain and womanhood. This is an impressive, fierce novel about the lives of black British families, their struggles, pains, laughter, longings and loves. With a dazzling rhythm, Evaristo takes us on a journey of intergenerational stories, moving through different spaces and heritages: African, Caribbean, European. Her twelve main characters manifest the highs and lows of our social life. They are artists, bankers, teachers, cleaners, housewives, and are at various stages of womanhood, from adolescence to old age. Her style is passionate, razor-sharp, brimming with energy and humour. There is never a single moment of dullness in this book and the pace does not allow you to turn away from its momentum. The language wraps the reader by force, with the quality of oral traditions and poetry. This is a novel that deserves to be read aloud and to be performed and celebrated in all kinds of media.’
The judges said of The Testaments: ‘It is a savage and beautiful novel that speaks to us today with conviction and power. The bar is set unusually high for Atwood. She soars.’
This is the third time the award has been given jointly. In 1974, Nadine Gordimer and Stanley Middleton were announced as joint winners; and in 1992, Michael Ondaatjie shared the award with Barry Unsworth. In 1993, the rules were changed so that only one author could win the prize, and this is the first time since then that two authors have been announced as joint winners. Atwood and Evaristo will share the £50,000 prize money.
First awarded in 1969, the Booker Prize is open to writers of any nationality, writing in English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland. Last year, Anna Burns won for her novel The Milkman.
Two Nigerian authors were longlisted for the prize this year: Oyinkan Braithwaite, for My Sister, The Serial Killer, and Chigozie Obioma, for An Orchestra of Minorities. Obioma made the shortlist.