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Savouring a Personal Feat With The Booker Prize Winners

, And an all-time Top 10!

By Elaine SiheraPublished 11 months ago 4 min read

To say I love reading probably sounds trite and clichéd. Who doesn’t? you might be tempted to ask. However, perhaps I am obsessed with books, both fiction and non-fiction, and so took a keen interest in the British Booker Prize award some years ago. It soon became obvious that only certain people became judges - the known literati - who then chose the books in their own image, likeness and opinions of what deserved to win. Often I gazed wistfully at the growing list of winners wondering when I would see someone like me as a Booker recipient. I just couldn’t imagine how long I would have to wait.

In a multicultural environment it took 22 years for the first person of African heritage to win (Ben Okri for The Famished Road) and another 27 years before the first Black woman scooped the prize (Bernardine Evaristo for Girl, Woman, Other), which was shared with the inimitable Margaret Atwood (The Testaments).

The event itself started in 1969, on a modest scale (£5000 for the winner - won by P H Newby - Something To Answer For), growing to £50,000 now, which Shehan Karunatilaka from Ceylon deservedly won in 2022 for Seven Moons Of Maali Almeida. Each of the shortlisted books is also awarded £2,500. The event has had 53 winning authors since its inception (35 men and 18 women), with four of them winning more than once. There has been some quirky facts and figures attached to the event, not least that in 1977, the Chair of the Judges, Philip Larkin, threatened to jump out of the window if Paul Scott’s Staying On didn’t win. Luckily for him, he didn’t have to jump, because Scott was victorious, being representative of an era when nostalgic narratives about colonial India seemed both fascinating and fashionable.

Until that magical moment in 2019, 50 years after its creation, there were no Black women writers to emulate in Britain’s most prestigious literary prize. But after Evaristo made history with her unusual pen portraits of diverse characters, mainly from the LGBTQ community, my interest in the award was revived. I felt that women like us were no longer invisible, making the event actually more representative of its audience. Even more surprising to me, I resolved to read every Booker winner and began the marathon reading session in December 2021. I accomplished that feat a few months ago and, since then, have even added 12 of the shortlisted ones to my list, mainly to compare them with the actual winners.

It has been quite a journey of enlightenment ploughing through some truly astonishing books, as well as some mediocre fare. There are times when I just wanted to finish a particular book because I found it so dull and lacking engagement, or I never wanted some to finish because they were just so mesmerising. But I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world because I have learnt so much about writers’ styles, narratives, priorities and, in the case of Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, the sheer genius of his writing. Most of all, I learnt a lot about myself and minority experience in a majority world.

There is so much I want to say about the this unique reading adventure, but I don’t think I would finish this piece anytime soon. It also means that you can enjoy them, if you’re curious, without being influenced by my own experience or perception. Instead I will leave you with my choices for my overall Top 10, an arbitrary list that reflects my own personal enjoyment of them.

My All-Time Booker Top 10

  1. True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (Australia) 2001 Winner
  2. Possession by A. S. Byatt (United Kingdom) 1990
  3. The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (Australia) 2014
  4. The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell (United Kingdom / Ireland) 1973
  5. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (Canada/New Zealand) 2013
  6. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo (United Kingdom) 2019 (Joint)
  7. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (United Kingdom) 2009
  8. Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally (Australia) 1982
  9. The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (India) 2008
  10. A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (Jamaica) 2015

It was so hard to pick a top list because all the books are distinctive in their content, form, characters, style and message, and really cannot be compared with one another. But they share one thing in abundance: excellence in developing their stories and transporting the reader to new worlds, to the extent that so many books were very hard to put down once I started reading them. All of these I would happily read again, but having read all 57 books, the panoramic view across the decades -which revealed both the development of the awards as well as the defining content of each era - is well worth the effort.

I feel very proud of my achievement, as I am probably the only Black person in Britain to have read every one of them, and what I learnt from them have already been of much value and enlightenment. The organisers, too, appeared to have made it much more inclusive, because it has gradually grown into something we can all take ownership of. Long may the event continue!

For the history of the Booker and a great presentation of all the winners and shortlisted books, visit the Booker Prize website. It’s a real treasure trove of information.

RELATED POST: A Moment That Changed My Life!

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About the Creator

Elaine Sihera

British Empowerment Coach/Public speaker/DEI Consultant. Author: The New Theory of Confidence and 7 Steps To Finding And Keeping 'The One'!. Graduate/Doctor of Open Univ; Postgrad Cambridge Univ. Keen on motivation, relationships and books.

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Comments (2)

  • Margaret S.11 months ago

    This is a great article. I sometimes gander at the US Booker shortlist & winners, but haven't done so this last cycle. In recent years though, I have noticed more diversity & inclusion also. I should review the most recent list. Thanks.

  • Oh do let me know if you happen to finish the book! I'm so intrigued!

Elaine SiheraWritten by Elaine Sihera

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