Literature

Nadifa Mohamed, Anuk Arudpragasam, Sunjeev Sahota and Nathan Harris make 2021 Booker Prize for Fiction Longlist

·       The longlist features 1989 Booker winner, Nobel Prize winner, and three times shortlisted author Kazuo Ishiguro with Klara and the Sun

·       Previously shortlisted authors Damon Galgut, Richard Powers and Sunjeev Sahota and longlisted author Mary Lawson are also recognised

·       Two debut novelists make the list: Nathan Harris with The Sweetness of Water and Patricia Lockwood with No One is Talking About This

·       Four independent publishers have longlisted titles, including a first for Holland House Books with An Island

The longlist for the 2021 Booker Prize is announced today, Tuesday 27 July 2021.

The 13 books on this year’s longlist were chosen by the 2021 judging panel: historian Maya Jasanoff (chair); writer and editor Horatia Harrod; actor Natascha McElhone; twice Booker-shortlisted novelist and professor Chigozie Obioma; and writer and former Archbishop Rowan Williams.

The list was chosen from 158 novels published in the UK or Ireland between 1 October 2020 and 30 September 2021.The Booker Prize for Fiction is open to works by writers of any nationality, written in English and published in the UK or Ireland.

The 2021 longlist, or ‘The Booker Dozen’, of 1novels, is:

Author (Nationality)Title (imprint)
Anuk Arudpragasam (Sri Lankan)A Passage North (Granta Books, Granta Publications)
Rachel Cusk (British/Canadian)Second Place (Faber)
Damon Galgut (South African)The Promise (Chatto & Windus, Vintage, PRH)
Nathan Harris (American)The Sweetness of Water (Tinder Press, Headline, Hachette Book Group)
Kazuo Ishiguro (British)Klara and the Sun (Faber)
Karen Jennings (South African)An Island (Holland House Books)
Mary Lawson (Canadian)A Town Called Solace (Chatto & Windus, Vintage, PRH)
Patricia Lockwood (American)No One is Talking About This (Bloomsbury Circus, Bloomsbury Publishing)
Nadifa Mohamed (British/Somali)The Fortune Men (Viking, Penguin General, PRH)
Richard Powers (American)Bewilderment (William Heinemann, PRH)
Sunjeev Sahota (British)China Room (Harvill Secker, Vintage, PRH)
Maggie Shipstead (American)Great Circle (Doubleday, Transworld Publishers, PRH)
Francis Spufford (British)Light Perpetual (Faber)

Maya Jasanoff, chair of the 2021 judges, says:

‘One thing that unites these books is their power to absorb the reader in an unusual story, and to do so in an artful, distinctive voice. Many of them consider how people grapple with the past — whether personal experiences of grief or dislocation or the historical legacies of enslavement, apartheid, and civil war. Many examine intimate relationships placed under stress, and through them meditate on ideas of freedom and obligation, or on what makes us human. It’s particularly resonant during the pandemic to note that all of these books have important things to say about the nature of community, from the tiny and secluded to the unmeasurable expanse of cyberspace.’

‘Reading in lockdown fostered a powerful sense of connection with the books, and of shared enterprise among the judges. Though we didn’t always respond in the same way to an author’s choices, every book on this list sparked long discussions amongst ourselves that led in unexpected and enlightening directions. We are excited to share a list that will appeal to many tastes, and, we hope, generate many more conversations as readers dig in.’

Gaby Wood, Director of the Booker Prize Foundation, adds:

In recent years Booker Prize longlists have drawn attention to various elements of novelty in the novel: experimentalism of form, work in unprecedented genres, debut authors. This year’s list is more notable for the engrossing stories within it, for the geographical range of its points of view and for its recognition of writers who have been working at an exceptionally high standard for many years. Some have already been rewarded with prizes (a Nobel here, a Pulitzer there). Two are debut novelists. Many have fallen within the Booker’s orbit before. To see them brought together, and to hear from them in these books, is to know that literature is in the most capable and creative of hands.

Five novelists have been recognised by the prize before: Damon Galgut (shortlisted twice in 2006 for The Good Doctor and in 2010 for In a Strange Room); Kazuo Ishiguro (won in 1989 for The Remains of the Day; shortlisted in 2005 for Never Let Me Go, in 2000 for When we were Orphans and in 1986 for An Artist of the Floating World); Mary Lawson (longlisted in 2006 for The Other Side of the Bridge); Richard Powers (shortlisted in 2018 for The Overstory and longlisted in 2014 for Orfeo); and Sunjeev Sahota (shortlisted in 2015 for The Year of the Runaways).

Six of the longlisted books come from independent publishers: Bloomsbury, Granta, Faber, and Holland House Books. Faber has won the prize seven times before — the second highest number of wins for any publisher, just behind PRH imprint Jonathan Cape which has won eight times.

In a collaboration with technology specialist Jellybooks, the longlisted titles are available to explore via a dedicated online 2021 Booker Prize Magazine. Powered by Jellybooks’ new interactive online platform, the magazine enables readers to learn more about each book and read a sample. The 2021 Booker Prize Magazine will be accessible here: jbks.co/the-2021-longlist

The shortlist and winner announcements

The shortlist of six books will be announced on Tuesday 14 September. The shortlisted authors each receive £2,500 and a specially bound edition of their book.

The 2021 winner will be announced on Wednesday 3 November in an award ceremony held in partnership with the BBC at Broadcasting House’s Radio Theatre. It will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row, BBC iPlayer, BBC Arts, and BBC News Channel. The winner of the 2021 Booker Prize receives £50,000 and can expect international recognition.

The 2020 Booker Prize for Fiction was won by Douglas Stuart for his debut novel Shuggie Bain. In the first full week after the announcement, the book sold more than 25,000 copies in the UK, a 1900% increase on the week preceding the announcement. Shuggie Bain has been to Number 1 in The Times and the LA Times bestseller lists, Number 2 in The Sunday Times bestseller list, and Number 3 in The New York Times bestseller list. It was chosen as the ‘Book of the Year’ by The Times and the Daily Telegraph and won both ‘Debut of the Year’ and ‘Book of the Year’ at the 2021 British Book Awards. It is now published or forthcoming in 40 territories and has already sold over three-quarters of a million copies in its Picador editions. TV and film rights have been sold to Scott Rudin/A24 for a planned TV series.

The leading prize for quality fiction in English

First awarded in 1969, The Booker Prize is recognised as the leading prize for literary fiction written in English. The list of former winners features many of the literary giants of the last five decades: from Iris Murdoch to Salman Rushdie, V.S. Naipaul to Hilary Mantel.

The rules of the prize were changed at the end of 2013 to embrace the English language ‘in all its vigour, its vitality, its versatility and its glory’, opening it up to writers beyond the UK and Commonwealth, providing they were writing novels in English and published in the UK.

The Booker Prize is supported by Crankstart, a charitable foundation.

Longlisted books: judges’ comments

A Passage North, Anuk Arudpragasam

A Passage North is quiet by serendipity, possessing its power not on its face, but in hidden, subterranean places. It has a simple conceit which revolves around the philosophy of the present as a disease of the past. It is in subverting our sense of time and even of how a story should be told that this novel achieves its strongest effect and strikes an indelible mark on the reader’s soul.’

Second Place, Rachel Cusk

‘We were astounded by Cusk’s slim volume, which teems with questions about art, love and what it takes to live a free life, told in exquisite prose and with a forensic eye for social observation. And there are moments of farce in Second Place that will make you laugh out loud (or squirm in your seat).’

The Promise, Damon Galgut

The Promise is a testament to the flourishing of the novel in the 21st century. Here, nothing is as it seems. The standard narrative logic of an omniscient narrator is here expanded and reinvented to create an eye so intrusive its gaze is totally untrammelled. It is through these eyes that the fate of a white South African family burdened with old lives, old wounds, crimes against humanity, dark history, and misreckonings, becomes, cumulatively, the fate of South Africa itself.’  

The Sweetness of Water, Nathan Harris ( main image)

‘This debut novel astonished us as much for its wise, lyrical voice as for its dense realisation of a fictional small town in the American South at a rarely written-about moment, the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. We were incredibly impressed by the way it probes themes of trans-historical importance—about race, sexuality, violence, and grief—through meticulously-drawn characters and a patient examination of their relationships.’

Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro

‘What stays with you in Klara and the Sun is the haunting narrative voice — a genuinely innocent, ego-less perspective on the strange behaviour of humans obsessed and wounded by power, status and fear. This is a fiction that not only asks in general about the nature of consciousness and personal dignity but presses home the assumptions we make about how we value some consciousnesses more than others and how we make others serve the cause of our survival.’



An Island
, Karen Jennings

An Island concerns itself with lives lived on the margins, through the story of a man who has exiled himself from the known world only to find himself called to the service of others, themselves exiled from the world by cruelty and circumstance. It is on these grounds that this writer deftly constructs a moving, transfixing novel of loss, political upheaval, history, identity, all rendered in majestic and extraordinary prose.’

A Town Called Solace, Mary Lawson

‘This deftly-structured novel draws together the stories of three people at three different stages in life, each of whom is grappling with loss. We were captivated by A Town Called Solace’s beautifully paced, compassionate, sometimes wry examination of small-town lives.’

No One is Talking About This, Patricia Lockwood

‘How does the relentlessly self-ironising and unserious language of the social media adept deal with the actualities of ordinary, terrible human suffering? Can influencers find any words for loss? No One is Talking About This is a brilliantly funny book about tragedy and survival. It never takes itself seriously; it never takes seriously its own lack of seriousness either. A very uncomfortable book, which makes its fundamental and simple compassion all the more powerful.’

The Fortune Men, Nadifa Mohamed

‘Racial diversity is seldom if ever a plain binary opposition. The Fortune Men is a wonderful evocation of a particularly rich diversity, the many-faceted life of dockland Cardiff in the 1950s. Each cultural voice is drawn out richly and sympathetically. But the story is rightly dominated by a single, shocking instance of legal violence against an individual. A reminder that the scars of the murderous effects of routine and unquestioned racism are not quickly healed, and shouldn’t be.’

Bewilderment, Richard Powers

‘We were very moved by Bewilderment, which follows a widowed astrobiologist and his young son as they find their way in a world that has cast the boy as aberrant. (“I wanted to tell the man that everyone alive […] was on the spectrum. That’s what a spectrum is.”) Powers thrills us with intricate scientific ideas even as he inhabits the consciousness of the grieving, non-neurotypical child — and shows us the loneliness and complexity involved in parenting him.’

China Room by Sunjeev Sahota

‘Weaving together two timelines and two continents, China Room struck us as a brilliant twist on the novel of immigrant experience, considering in subtle and moving ways the trauma handed down from one generation to the next. In crisp, clean prose, and with a dash of melodramatic action, Sahota turns these heavy themes into something filled with love, hope and humour.’

Great Circle, Maggie Shipstead

‘We were blown away by the ambition and epic sweep of this beautifully written novel about the doomed fictional aviatrix Marian Graves and a Hollywood actress cast in her biopic decades later.  We felt that we knew these people and found ourselves comparing the experience of reading it to that of reading some of the great novels of the 19th century. Yet, Great Circle is fresh and utterly unusual.’

Light Perpetual, Francis Spufford

‘Light Perpetual opens with a bang — a V2 rocket hits a Woolworths in South London in 1944, killing five children — and continues with an arresting counterfactual. What if they had lived? An absorbing chronicle of the five’s possible trajectories into old age, the novel made us reflect on the contingencies in every human life, and the purpose of fiction itself.’

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