[The JRB Daily] ‘Vibrant, nervy, electric, astonishing’ 2023 Booker Prize shortlist announced

The 2023 Booker Prize shortlist has been announced, offering ‘a sense of timelessness even while saying something about how we live now’.

Nigerian author Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀, the only African writer to be longlisted this year, for her novel A Spell of Good Things, and Malaysian writer Tan Twan Eng, who lives partly in Cape Town and was longlisted for The House of Doors, set partly in South Africa, are absent from the shortlist.

Two debuts authors have made the shortlist this year—Chetna Maroo, for Western Lane, and Jonathan Escoffery, for If I Survive You. If either of these writers win, they will become the sixth debut novelist to win the prize. None of the six shortlisted writers have been shortlisted for the prize before—and only one, Paul Murray, has been previously longlisted.

There are two Americans on the shortlist this year, Escoffery and Paul Harding, along with two Irish writers, Murray and Paul Lynch, and one Canadian in Sarah Bernstein. Chetna Maroo is the only British writer to make the cut.

Somewhat bizarrely, the shortlist features three writers named Paul: Lynch, Harding and Murray. If one of them wins, they will become the third Paul to win the Booker, after Beatty (2016) and Scott (1977).

Esi Edugyan, chair of the Booker Prize 2023 judges, said:

‘The best novels invoke a sense of timelessness even while saying something about how we live now. Our six finalists are marvels of form. Some look unflinchingly at the ways in which trauma can be absorbed and passed down through the generations, as much an inheritance as a well-worn object or an unwanted talent. Some turn a gleeful, dissecting eye on everyday encounters. Some paint visceral portraits of societies pushed to the edge of tolerance. All are fuelled by a kind of relentless truth-telling, even when that honesty forces us to confront dark acts. And yet however long we may pause in the shadows, humour, decency and grace are never far from hand. 

‘Together these works showcase the breadth of what world literature can do, while gesturing at the unease of our moment. From Bernstein and Harding’s outsiders attempting to establish lives in societies that reject them, to the often-funny struggles of Escoffery and Murray’s adolescents as they carve out identities for themselves beyond their parents’ mistakes, to Maroo and Lynch’s elegant evocations of family grief—each speaks distinctly about our shared journeys while refusing to be defined as any one thing. These are supple stories with many strands, many moods, in whose complications we come to recognise ourselves. They are vibrant, nervy, electric. In these novelists’ hands, form is pushed hard to see what it yields, and it is always something astonishing. Language—indeed, life itself—is thrust to its outer limits.’

2023 Booker Prize shortlist

(with citations from the judges)

  • The Bee Sting by Paul Murray
    A patch of ice on the road, a casual favour to a charming stranger, a bee caught beneath a bridal veil—can a single moment of bad luck change the direction of a life?
  • Western Lane by Chetna Maroo
    Chetna Maroo’s tender and moving debut novel about grief, sisterhood, a teenage girl’s struggle to transcend herself—and squash.
  • Prophet Song by Paul Lynch
    A mother faces a terrible choice, in Paul Lynch’s exhilarating, propulsive and confrontational portrait of a society on the brink.
  • This Other Eden by Paul Harding
    Full of lyricism and power, Paul Harding’s spellbinding novel celebrates the hopes, dreams and resilience of those deemed not to fit in a world brutally intolerant of difference.
  • If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery
    An exhilarating novel-in-stories that pulses with style, heart and barbed humour, while unravelling what it means to carve out an existence between cultures, homes and pay cheques.
  • Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein
    In her accomplished and unsettling second novel, Sarah Bernstein explores themes of prejudice, abuse and guilt through the eyes of a singularly unreliable narrator.

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. The judges this year are twice-shortlisted novelist Esi Edugyan (chair); actor, writer and director Adjoa Andoh; poet, lecturer, editor and critic Mary Jean Chan; author and professor James Shapiro; and actor and writer Robert Webb.  

The shortlist will be announced on 21 September, and the winner will be announced in London, UK, on 26 November.

The Booker Prize winner receives £50,000 (R1,175,000). Each of the six authors shortlisted will receive £2,500 and a specially bound edition of their book.

Last year’s Booker Prize winner was Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka for The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida.

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