Booker Prize 2020 nominated list of 13 novels is a bit special due to many reasons. The first reason that made me happy is the presence of a novel that is authored by an Indian origin writer and is set in Pune, India. The second special thing is that of the 13 authors, 9 are women and 8 of the 13 novels are debuts. The longlist has some established names like Hilary Mantel who has already won this prestigious award twice, including her, there are only four authors who have won it twice. Then there are several debut authors on the list this year which establishes that one need not to be an old hand in writing to get noticed on such prestigious forums. Let’s go through the longlist now.
The Booker Prize 2020 - Longlist
1. The New Wilderness by Diane Cook
Diane Cook’s debut novel The New Wilderness is a passionate story about a mother and daughter, Bea and Agnes. The novel is set in a world that exists in a not too distant future. People living in the overdeveloped and overpopulated city are wasting away due to the heavy pollution. The daughter, Agnes also fell prey to it and became very sick. Then they move to a wilderness state and become part of the pioneering group which were the few chosen ones, for the research. There they learn to live in harmony with nature. They were expected to leave no traces but as their lives in the new wilderness progress, this goal becomes very difficult to achieve.
The story mainly focuses on the changing dynamics of the mother – daughter relationship, where the mother is from a normal like ours and the daughter who lived most part of her life in the wilderness.
2. This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga
The second novel on the list is authored by a Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga, who is also a filmmaker, playwright and the director of the Institute of Creative Arts for progress in Africa Trust. This is the final instalment of her trilogy, ‘Nervous Conditions’ being the first one. The first novel is the account of an oppressed female living in post-colonial Africa. The protagonist of this novel, Tambu, is a black girl who faced many hardships during her growing years. Her colour, her being female, her being ambitious; everything contributed towards her difficult life. Then, the second novel was titled ‘The Book of Not’ published in 2006. This one traces Tambu’s continuing struggles and complexities of growing in a post-colonial era. Tambu is a teenager now and has enrolled in a prestigious high school where she faces visible racism. She is struggling with the trauma of war and is in quest of her identity. In ‘The Mornable Body’, Tambu is shown as a middle aged who seems to be succumbing to her oppressive environment. She is unemployed and has become so insecure that she starts questioning her own choices. Her mental and psychological conditions land her up in the hospital. Then begins her journey to find herself again.
3. Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
The third novel on the list is again a mother-daughter story set in Pune, India and is authored by an India-origin Dubai based author, Avni Doshi. The main character of this novel, Antara, is coping with her past and her mother Tara also at the same time, who is struggling with early dementia. The duo shares a weird relationship which is exactly opposite the traditional ‘pure form of love’ kind of mother-daughter relationship. This strained relationship is a little disturbing but as the plot progresses, we get to know about the traumatic childhood of the daughter and the reasons that contributed to the dysfunction of this relationship.
4. Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze
The fourth book from the ‘Booker dozen’ is Who They Was, an autofiction by a debut novelist Gabriel Krauze. An intense and gripping tale of Gabriel Krauze’s past as part of London’s gang culture. The story includes everything that is there in the real life of the gang people; violence, crime, drugs, robberies, what not… And this terrifying world functions parallel to the normal world. What makes this story different is that here the protagonist’s time is divided between studying English Literature in the University and being an active member of a violent gang in South Kilburn, London. He chose this life for himself unlike many who are forced by circumstances to enter this dark world.
It would be interesting to know Gabriel’s journey from the streets of South Kilburn as a criminal to one among the 13 Booker Prize nominees.
5. The Mirror & The Light by Hilary Mantel
This is the final novel in the Thomas Cromwell trilogy by the renowned author Hilary Mantel. The previous two novels of the trilogy, Wolf hall and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies, have both been awarded the Man Booker Prize. The first two novels tell the story of Cromwell’s rise and establish him as an epic historical hero and in The Mirror & The Light, we get to witness his sad fall. The story of an ordinary man who rises to become a powerful minister in the court of Henry VIII. This novel sequence the final years of the life of Thomas Cromwell, his downfall in the eyes of the public and finally his execution.
The brilliant writing and the complex characterization backed with impeccable research makes this historical fiction a well deserving nominee for the Booker Longlist.
6. Apeirogon by Colum McCann
An Apeirogon is a polygon with a countably infinite number of sides and this Apeirogon is a book of 1001 parts that come together to form one story. In the author’s words – “This is a hybrid novel with invention at its core, a work of storytelling which, like all storytelling, weaves together elements of speculation, memory, fact and imagination…” Two little girls, one from Israel and one from Palestine, get Killed. Their grief-stricken fathers shared the same sorrow on different sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
This is a story of Israel and Palestine, of Rami, Smadar’s father and of Bassam, Abir’s father. Both these girls lost their lives to the ongoing war. These two fathers have been brought together because of the commonality in their grief, through an organisation. Together, they tell stories to people, diplomats and politicians all over the world with a goal to end the conflict between the two nations.
7. The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste
The next book on the Booker Longlist is The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste, an Ethiopian-American writer. This historical fiction is set during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, under the reign of Mussolini during WWII. The author beautifully crafts the story about the invasion and war, though the eyes of two female protagonists. These two women represented all those forgotten women who played an integral part in the war and sacrificed so much yet seem to have been ignored by the historians. This novel promises to provide a unique perspective to a historic event which many of us are not aware about.
8. Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid is the next on the Booker Longlist 2020. This again is a debut novel by the American author. It is an engaging story about two women, first a 25-year-old African-American woman, Emira, who is struggling hard to find her voice. And the second is Alix Chamberlain, whom Emira works for. Alix is a successful, upper middle-class Caucasian working woman and Emira babysits her elder daughter Briar. These two women belong to two different worlds. Emira shares a lovely relationship with Briar. Everything was going smoothly until an incident occurred at a nearby grocery store where Emira was falsely accused of kidnapping Briar. Life changes for both, after that night. Alix tries hard to comfort Emira by empathising with her. She pretends to identify with her but her ulterior motive was to make her stay in the job.
This novel voices issues like privilege, racism, class and prejudice from two different points of views.
9. Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
Again, a brilliant debut novel in the Booker Longlist 2020 by the American author, Douglas Stuart. This novel tells the story of a young boy, Shuggie Bain, growing up in a poor family in Glasgow in the 1980s. This period was plagued by Thatcher’s devastating policies resulting in mass unemployment and its aftermaths.
Shuggie’s mother was an alcoholic who was the reason behind Shuggie’s agonizing life. At a very young age he started taking care of her alcoholic mother which he continues to do throughout the story. This is an authentic account of a ravaged family where the innocent childhood gets affected the most. Apart from this, Shuggie has an additional struggle of meeting the masculinity standards set by the society.
On the whole, Shuggie Bain is a coming-of-age sad story about a struggling boy that goes on to portray the much bigger issues like the effects of the social and economic conditions on the lives of the working class.
10. Real Life by Brandon Taylor
Real Life, again a debut novel by the Alabama born American writer Brandon Taylor. It is a coming-of-age story about the real-life struggles of a black gay man Wallace, who is studying for a doctorate in biochemistry. He is at the receiving end of casual racism in the predominantly white midwestern University in a predominantly white town. Heart-breaking is that these racist remarks come from his circle of white friends. Wallace struggles to find his place in this pretentious world. The story focuses on a turbulent weekend in the life of Wallace where his so-called friends show their real faces and Wallace notices how far from perfect their seemingly “real life” looks.
11. Red Head by The Side of The Road by Anne Tyler
Red Head by The Side of The Road is a short and sweet novel that can be consumed whole in one go. The story about Micah Mortimer, a self-employed tech expert who is highly competent and serves as a super at his apartment building. Two incidents in his otherwise steady and regulated life, turn it upside down. The first is when his girlfriend tells him that she might lose her flat and second is when the 18-year-old son of an ex-girlfriend shows up on this doorstep.
The novel tells a very enjoyable story about the gradual self-realisation of an ordinary man who learns that life is not as he has perceived it to be.
12. Love and Other Thought Experiments by Sophie Ward
This is the penultimate entry to this year’s Booker Longlist. The author Sophie Ward is an actor and a novelist. She has studied philosophy and literature and has a PhD from Goldsmiths on the use of narrative in philosophy of mind.
Love and Other Thought Experiments is a beautifully written multi-layered story where philosophy meets fiction. The main characters of this novel are a lesbian married couple, Rachel and Eliza, who desire to have a baby via surrogacy. The book is divided in ten chapters, each being named after a famous thought experiment which is concisely explained at the beginning of the chapters. These ten chapters are kind of ten interlinked short stories – each from a different character’s perspective.
This untraditional book explores the subconscious and the alternative realities disguised under an intriguing story of this couple.
13. How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang
How Much of These Hills is Gold, the last novel on the list, another debut novel by the author C Pam Zhang, who currently lives in San Francisco. It is a haunting adventure tale of two newly orphaned children of Chinese immigrants who came to America chasing the gold rush. Lucy and Saun are all alone in a land that denies their existence. They are two different personalities who go their separate ways carrying the weight of their past with them.
Their fight for survival and the struggle for acceptance, shape this novel into an original piece of epic historical fiction.
The Booker Prize 2020 - Shortist
- The New Wilderness by Diane Cook
- This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga
- Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
- The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste
- Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
- Real Life by Brandon Taylor
The Booker Prize 2020 - Winner
The Winner of Booker Prize 2020 to be announced on Nov 19, 2020!