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Booker Prize 2021 - Why you should read the Six Short-listed Books

A personal review of the six short-listed novels

By Wilkie StewartPublished 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 5 min read
Some of the 2021 Booker Longlisted Titles

What is the Booker Prize and how has it changed?

The Booker Prize was inaugurated in 1969 and for many years was presented to the book from the UK, Ireland or the Commonwealth that was deemed best of the year. In recent years this has been expanded to include any novel written in English published in the UK and Ireland in the past year.

Why do I attempt to read the books on the list?

I take an interest in the list and some years will attempt to read all the shortlisted novels in time for the day of the award. Many years I fail to read them all but this year I have now read all six short-listed novels (and in fact all but one of the long-listed titles) so feel I have some insight into the pros and cons of each.

What are the short-listed novels and who will win in 2021?

The rating given is in two parts - the first number is the order that I personally like the book, the second is the book I think is most likely to win from 1 best to 6 worst.

A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam

What's it about? A young man in Sri Lanka hears the news that his Grandmother's carer has died while visiting her village and he undertakes a journey to attend the funeral. Meanwhile he ponders his life, the recent history of his homeland, and the relationship he had with a girl while studying in India. Why should you read it? The novel casts light on a little reported conflict and also goes deep into the psyche of someone who may be suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. It also describes in detail funeral customs in the Tamil region of the country. Did I enjoy it? While the prose is lovely there is a slowness that drags this out making it increasingly difficult to stick with. I enjoyed the love story in India but was disappointed that it was largely unresolved. Who is the author? Arudpragasam was born in 1988 and has a doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University. This is his second novel. Rating [5/4]

The Promise by Damon Galgut

What's it about? A series of funerals is depicted telling the story of a South African family, the property they own and the relationship they have with the society and nation they inhabit. Why should you read it? While the main focus is on a brother and sister, the narrator drifts in and out of various characters in a stream of consciousness that surprises and charms the reader. Did I enjoy it? For a novel that deals largely with death and the injustices of family life, there is a great deal of wit and comedy making it a delight to read. Who is the author? Galgut was born in 1963 has been nominated for the Booker twice before for The Good Doctor and In A Strange Room. Rating [3/2]

No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

What's it about? Difficult to describe. The first half of the novel reads like a series of witty, manic tweets and is so full of sparks of genius that you almost can't grasp what any of it means. The second half deals with the short life of a severely disabled child. Why should you read it? Both halves of the book have their own strengths but you will need to enjoy a challenge, and long for something completely unique to tackle it. Did I enjoy it? No, not really. It felt like the two halves should have been separate novels. Any enjoyment attained from the brilliance of the opening half dissipates through the emotional wringer of the second which in itself comes over as somewhat inauthentic because of this juxtaposition. Who is the author? Lockwood was born in 1982 in America, and is a poet and a twitter literary star. This is her first novel. Rating [6/5]

The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed

What's it about? A man is accused and placed on trial for the murder of a Tiger Bay shop-keeper. While in prison he recalls his Somaliland youth and recent life in the UK. Why should you read it? The novel deals with racism, both direct and institutional, but also the spirit of humanity, what it is to hope against all odds that justice will prevail. Did I enjoy it? I shelved this one at 100 pages because it felt slow and disjointed. However when I returned to it I found the focus on the accused in the latter two thirds much stronger, and was touched by his suffering and fate. Who is the author? Mohamed was born in 1981 and moved to the UK from Somaliland in 1986. This is her third novel. Rating [4/3]

Bewilderment by Richard Powers

What's it about? A father and son deal with grief, behavioural issues and a world in crisis. Set in the near future it presents a frightening world where climate change, species extinction and political upheaval is dooming the human race. Why should you read it? The story has a powerful human arc that is devastating. There are also elements of science fiction in the narrator's description of a myriad of possible distant worlds and their fates. Did I enjoy it? Yes, mostly. I began to feel the boy was "too" special but then the fall is all the more upsetting because of that. It also reminded me slightly of the Culture novels of Iain M. Banks. Who is the author? Richard Powers is an American author born in 1957 who has been nominated three times. Rating [2/1]

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

What's it about? Twin babies are saved from a new liner sinking during World War I and the girl Marion grows up to be a pilot while her brother Jamie becomes a painter. Meanwhile in the modern day an actress copes with scandal as she is sacked from a Twilight-like film franchise and is asked to play Marion in a biopic. Why should you read it? The historical timeline that takes us through bootlegging in the 20's to the second world war of the 40's is compelling. Intertwined with accounts of the real aviators of that era, the fictional storyline is gripping and seems authentic. Did I enjoy it? Yes, very much although sadly the final sections of both the historic and modern plots are less successful than the earlier parts of the book. Strangely the account of the Great Circle itself is truncated. Who is the author? Shipstead is Californian and was born in 1983. This is her third novel. [1/6]

So there you go. My favourite is Great Circle although I think it is the least likely to win. I'm gambling on either Bewilderment or The Promise. The winner is announced on November 3rd, 2021.

book reviews

About the Creator

Wilkie Stewart

Writer of strange little tales living in Glasgow, Scotland. A former IT professional who loves literary fiction, poetry, Eurovision, art-house film, post-crossing, and comics. Walks daily with his camera when he can. @werewegian1 on Twitter

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    Wilkie StewartWritten by Wilkie Stewart

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