LONDON – Patricia Lockwood, Richard Powers and Maggie Shipstead are among six novelists shortlisted this year for the Booker Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious literary prizes.
Powers is a finalist in “Bewilderment,” his novel about a widowed astrobiologist struggling to care for his son; Shipstead for “Great Circle,” an epic about a woman who devotes her life to flying and the Hollywood actress ready to play it on screen; and Lockwood for “No One Is Talking About This”, his first novel partly written on the Internet.
The other shortlisted authors and books, announced at an online press conference Tuesday, are Anuk Arudpragasam for “A Passage North,” on the death of a caregiver amid civil war in Sri Lanka; Nadifa Mohamed for “The Fortune Men”, about a miscarriage of justice in Wales; and Damon Galgut for “The Promise,” about a white family in post-apartheid South Africa.
Some of the year’s most high-profile novels, including “Klara and the Sun” by Kazuo Ishiguro, were among the 13 finalists in July, but were not among the six finalists.
“It’s a very difficult process,” said Maya Jasanoff, historian and Judging Chair for the Booker Prize, on Tuesday, when asked about the books that were not selected. “What I can say is that every book is judged on its merits.”
The six shortlisted novels seem to have little in common, but Jasanoff said they all resonated in a year in which many readers were forced to stay at home due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Novels are immersive, she said – “stories you can absorb yourself into, voices that come into your head, which quite reflects the experience of reading locked out.” Many have also committed themselves to death, she added, which “feels quite poignant and cautious in this catastrophic year.”
The Booker Prize is awarded annually to the best novel written in English and published in Great Britain or Ireland. In 2019, Bernardine Evaristo and Margaret Atwood shared the prize, while Douglas Stuart won last year for “Shuggie Bain,” his first novel about a gay child in Scotland with an alcoholic mother.
This year’s finalists were evenly split between women and men. “The Promise” is Galgut’s third book to make Booker’s shortlist, following “In a Strange Room” in 2010 and “The Good Doctor” in 2003. “Bewilderment” is Powers’ second shortlist appearance after “The Overstory” was named a finalist in 2018.
Three of the finalists are American and only one is British, which may cause consternation in some British circles. In 2018, writers like Zadie Smith and Ian McEwan demanded that the Booker Prize Foundation overturn a 2014 ruling that made any novel written in English and published in Britain eligible for the prize. It was previously limited to writers from Great Britain, Ireland, Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth.
Gaby Wood, director of the Booker Prize Foundation, said on Tuesday that she did not think it was appropriate to revert the prize to its old rules, especially since he would then base it on the boundaries of the old British empire. “It just doesn’t sound like a conversation we should be having,” she said.
“I find it quite remarkable in the 21st century that people talk about the former British Empire as a suitable container for thinking about literature,” Jasanoff added.
Judges will now proofread the shortlisted books before deciding on the winner, which will be announced at a ceremony in London on November 3. Its author will receive 50,000 books, or approximately $ 69,000.
The shortlist is: