Douglas Stuart is the proud recipient of the 2020 Booker Prize for his national best-selling novel, Shuggie Bain, which details the life of a young boy growing up amidst poverty and addiction in 1980's Glasgow, Scotland.
The Booker Prize judges “explicitly flouted” the rules of the prize, choosing two winners for the first time in more than 25 years. Margaret Atwood and Bernadine Evaristo. At 79 years old, Atwood is the oldest writer to ever receive the prize. Even more exciting, Bernadine Evaristo is the first black woman to win the Booker Prize since it began in 1969.
After five hours with the prize’s jury, the judges emerged to announce they had been unable to select just one winner. Even knowing that the prize’s director, Gary Wood, would not allow them to split up the $50,000 prize, the judges chose Atwood The Testaments and Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other as joint winners.
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The prize has been split twice before – between Nadine Gordimer and Stanley Middleton in 1974, and between Michael Ondaatje and Barry Unsworth in 1992 – but the rules were changed after 1992 to stipulate that the prize “may not be divided or withheld.”
Peter Florence, the chair of the judges, commented that the choice to split the prize was difficult but, in the judges’ opinion, necessary:
Our consensus was that it was our decision to flout the rules and divide this year’s prize to celebrate two winners…These are two books we started not wanting to give up and the more we talked about them the more we treasured both of them and wanted them both as winners … We couldn’t separate them.
After the ceremony at London’s Guildhall, Margaret Atwood said:
It would have been quite embarrassing for a person of my age and stage to have won the whole thing and thereby hinder a person in an earlier stage of their career from going through that door. I really would have been embarrassed, trust me on that…I’m not the jury. I have been on a jury that split the prize and I understand the predicament. I get it … they should have split it 13 ways but unfortunately that’s not how it goes.
Evaristo also commented on her historic win:
I’m just so delighted to have won the prize. Yes, I am sharing it with an amazing writer. But I am not thinking about sharing it, I am thinking about the fact that I am here and that’s an incredible thing considering what the prize has meant to me and my literary life, and the fact that it felt so unattainable for decades.
Atwood confirmed she would donate her $25,000 share of the prize to the Canadian Indigenous charity Indspire, which she has previously helped with her late friend and First Nations leader Chief Harry St Denis.
Commenting again on the unorthodox choice to have two winners, Florence said:
Nobody was taking this lightly but equally there was a sense of perspective – we are judging a book prize, and this is a celebration of great literature. There are opportunities to be joyful here.
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Previous winners of the prestigious Booker Prize, Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie, join four other exciting authors on the Booker Prize shortlist this year.
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Atwood won the prize in 2000 for The Blind Assassin, and she’s back in contention for her much-anticipated sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale. Her latest book, The Testaments, is set to release next week, and it’s already turning quite a few heads. Peter Florence, chair of this year’s judges and one of the few people to have read The Testaments, described the book as “a savage and beautiful novel that speaks to us today with conviction and power.” Speaking about the list more generally, Florence said, like all great literature, these books teem with life, with a profound and celebratory humanity.”
Another of those books teeming with life is Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte! Rushdie won the Booker Prize with Midnight Children in 1981, which was also deemed “Booker of Bookers” in 1993 and “Best of the Booker” in 2008. Rushdie’s latest work takes inspiration from Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote, telling the story of an aging traveling salesman’s journey across America.
Florence has also sung the praises of Quichotte, saying it “pushes the boundaries of fiction and satire.”
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Joining Atwood and Rushdie on the short list is Lucy Ellman’s Ducks, Newburyport. Ellman is the only U.S. author on this year’s list, and her mammoth 998-page novel is a stream-of-consciousness monologue largely consisting of one continuous sentence. If it wins, Ellman’s novel will be the longest novel to ever win the Booker Prize.
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Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other also made this prestigious list. The Anglo-Nigerian author’s eighth novel follows the lives of 12 characters, most of whom are black, British women. Evaristo said her writing aims to “explore the hidden narratives of the African diaspora” and “subvert expectations and assumptions”.
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Chigozie Obioma, born in Nigeria in 1986, is the youngest author on the shortlist this year. Now based in the U.S., both of Obioma’s novels have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize. An Orchestra of Minorities tells the story of a young Nigerian chicken farmer whose love for a woman drives him to become an African migrant in Europe. Afua Hirsch, one of the competition’s judges, describe the tale as “a book that wrenches the heart.”
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Elif Shafak’s 17th book, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World, consists of the recollections of a sex worker who has been left for dead in a rubbish bin. Liz Calder, another of the competition’s judges, called the book “a work of fearless imagination.” Shafak writes in both English and Turkish, and she’s the most widely read female author in Turkey.
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The longlist for the 2019 Booker prize was recently announced with literary heavyweights like Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, and Chigozie Obioma appearing on the list. The pool of well-accomplished authors didn’t come as a shock to anyone, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few noticeable surprises on the list. One of the most striking inclusions was Lucy Ellmann’s 1,020 page novel Ducks, Newburyport which is composed of only eight sentences.
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Following in the footsteps of modernist writers like James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, Ellman expands upon the boundaries of what a novel can be in the 21st century. The story follows the monologue of an Ohio housewife as she worries about her children, her dead parents, the bedroom rituals of “happy couples,” Weapons of Mass Destruction, school shootings, and all of the horrors of modern American life.
Ellmann takes stream of consciousness to the next level. The eight long sentences that comprise the novel come at the reader like a barrage with no paragraph breaks and little room for pause. The narrative is stitched together with commas and a reoccuring refrain: “the fact that.”
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The novel may seem daunting, Ellmann’s captivating language and wry sense of humor drives the reader through the story. Personally, I can’t wait for the audiobook, which I hope is narrated by Mark Hamill.
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The winner of The Booker Prize will be announced in October. In the meantime, check out some of the other books on the longlist.
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The Booker Prize has been a principal barometer of the British literary community since 1969, and since 2014, has considered all original fiction written in English. If you don’t have time to read all 13 books on the long list (a Booker dozen), and you don’t want to wait for the short list in September or the winner in October, here are our top picks.
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This is a gallows humor slasher about the things you do for the ones you love. Morally unencumbered, capturing the complexities of sibling life, this is a page turner you won’t want to put down. It’s already won several awards, including the LA Times Award for Best Crime Thriller and the Field Notes Morning News Tournament of Books, as well as being shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and optioned for a movie.
This is Braithewaite’s debut, but already shows a distinct, explosive voice, and has been perhaps one of the most publicized of the long list novels. Anyone with a taste for killers, or good female villains in general, should pick this up, but you don’t have to be a slasher fan to enjoy this novel.
2. Quichotte – Salman Rushdie
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Quichotte won’t be released until September, but the modern retelling of Don Quixote promises Rushdie’s signature blend of reality and magical realism, with both a commitment to the source material and the devastating strangeness of the present age.
Salman Rushdie has long been a towering figure in literature. Both literary and surrealist, Rushdie has won a battery of awards for his 13 previous books, including the Eggerton prize, and promotion to Commandeur in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, Frances greatest literary honor. Rushdie has won the booker three times, including the 25th and 40th anniversary prizes.
It may not be out yet, but it can be prehumously recommended on anticipation.
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This pick is both more tragic and more fantastical, narrated by the guardian spirit of a lovelorn chicken farmer. In love with a wealthy woman, and cheated out of everything he’s ever had, this book explores suicide, loss, and abandonment all through the lens of a narrator who is both hundreds of years old and removed from humanity. The prose is rich and ethereal, and explores what victimhood does to a person, and how far it’s possible to fall – all while traveling the world and more astral spaces.
This is Obioma’s second novel, and his first was short listed for the Booker Prize, so it’s a good bet this year.
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