The Man Booker Prize continues to recognise the best of English-language fiction released this past year. Judges are hand-picked from the world of leading critics, writers and literary academics who will come together to announce one triumphant author on the 16th October. Man Booker chair, Kwame Anthony Appiah, has described the dominant theme of all 171 novels submitted to the prize this year as involving “our species” and its position of being “challenged by anxiety, suffering and pain” in the modern day.
The Man Booker ‘dozen’ of 13 long listed novels, announced in July, has now been narrowed down to just six authors, each of whom are in the running for the £50,000 prize. This year, three of the shortlisted entries were written by UK novelists.
2018’s competitors also include the competition’s youngest ever shortlisted author. 27-year-old Daisy Johnson writes about a troubled mother-daughter relationship in her novel Everything Under, set in the heart of the English countryside. Her protagonist Gretel, a lexicographer and life-long fan of words, is forced to remember childhood memories of her estranged mother and the made-up language she invented from what feels like a lifetime ago, all whilst living on a canal boat.
Milkman is the entry from Belfast’s Anna Burns, a past winner of the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction. It tells the story of an unnamed sister and her unnamed family in their unnamed violence-struck city and her encounters with the so-called ‘Milkman’. The novel brilliantly depicts the power of gossip and rumour, as well as touching on the subjects of social pressures and harassment.
The only Canadian entry, Washington Black, is Esi Edugyan’s third novel and is told in the voice of its titular 18-year-old character. Black is a freeman recalling his time as a plantation slave in Barbados. Having escaped and befriended an eccentric abolitionist inventor, he travels across the globe, from Virginia to the Arctic to London, all the while pursuing newfound talents and searching for his own place in the wide world.
Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room focuses on Romy Hall, an inmate starting two life sentences plus six years at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility. Here she enters a new routine, a new hustle, and discovers a new set of skills needed in order to survive. Surrounded by daily violence and fickle convict allegiances, Romy’s future begins to look bleak, until news from the outside sparks a new urgency in her will to escape. With this novel Kushner gives a great insight into the hardships of life in the American prison-industrial complex.
Lastly, comes an eco-epic of trees and the people who understand them. The Overstory by Richard Powers sees nine strangers make one last stand to save America’s few remaining acres of virgin forest. These are no ordinary people, however; they are gifted with ability to see a world parallel to our own. The strangers’ stories are spread across the centuries and interlock in a powerfully-written plot. These characters, caught up in this vast, awe-inspiring and magnificently inventive parallel world, are drawn into its unfolding catastrophe.
The winner of the prize will be announced on the 16th October. You can see shortlisted author, Esi Edugyan, in conversation with Anita Sethi on the 17th October as part of the Manchester Literature Festival.