Booker Prize 2020: Four debuts make shortlist as Hilary Mantel misses out
Mantel had been tipped for a record third win for The Mirror and the Light.
Both previous titles in her trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, had won.
This year’s nominees are Diane Cook, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Avni Doshi, Maaza Mengiste, Douglas Stuart and Brandon Taylor. All are based outside the UK.
The Booker Prize, the UK’s most prestigious literary award, is open to any novel written in English by an author of any nationality.
Commenting on Mantel’s omission, judge Lee Child said: “We thought it was an absolutely wonderful novel, no question about it… but there were books that were better, that’s all I can say personally.”
“The shortlist of six came together unexpectedly, voices and characters resonating with us all even when very different,” said Margaret Busby, chair of this year’s judges. “We are delighted to help disseminate these chronicles of creative humanity to a global audience.”
The 2020 shortlist:
- Diane Cook – The New Wilderness
- Tsitsi Dangarembga – This Mournable Body
- Avni Doshi, – Burnt Sugar
- Maaza Mengiste, -The Shadow King
- Douglas Stuart – Shuggie Bain
- Brandon Taylor – Real Life
This shortlist rewards four impressive debuts and introduces readers to new and diverse voices, from as far afield as India, Ethiopia and Scotland – although five of the six authors were either born or now live in America.
The subjects covered are broad-ranging. Climate change, dementia, racism and homophobia all feature. Heavy-going? Occasionally yes, but these six novels all provide their own rewards.
It is, undoubtedly, a fresh and exciting list.
The winner will be announced on 17 November.
Here’s some more information about this year’s nominees and their books:
Diane Cook – The New Wilderness
Debut US novelist Diane Cook lives in Brooklyn and has established herself as an accomplished short-story writer. She is a former producer for the radio show This American Life.
Her first novel tells the story of Bea and her five-year-old daughter, Agnes, who is wasting away in the smog and pollution of the metropolis they call home. To survive is to escape as they join a group of nomadic hunter gatherers. They slowly learn how to survive but the process creates an unexpected, troubling shift in their relationship.
Cook is currently writing a screenplay based on the novel and Warner Bros. Television has also acquired the rights to develop it as a television series.
Tsitsi Dangarembga – This Mournable Body
Tsitsi Dangarembga is a filmmaker and playwright. She was recently arrested in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, during a peaceful protest against government corruption. She is due to be in court on 18 September. English PEN and PEN International are calling for the immediate dropping of all charges.
This Mournable Body is the third book in a trilogy following Nervous Conditions (1988) – winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize – and The Book of Not (2006).
Returning to the protagonist of her first novel, Dangarembga tells the story of one young girl living in a rundown hostel in Harare. She’s left her dead-end job and is struggling to forge a new life for herself but at every turn is thwarted which drives her to breaking point.
Avni Doshi – Burnt Sugar
Avni Doshi is a debut novelist, who was born in New Jersey and is currently based in Dubai.
Burnt Sugar tells the story of the shifting power dynamics in a mother-daughter relationship when the parent, who previously enjoyed a wild life, is forced to let her child look after her as she gets older.
It’s both a love story and a story about betrayal, as well as a look at the nature of false memory and how it affects our closest relationships.
Maaza Mengiste – The Shadow King
Maaza Mengiste was born in Addis Ababa, Ehiopia and now lives in New York. Her first novel was Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, which was named one of the Guardian’s 10 best contemporary African books.
The Shadow King is about an orphan girl named Hirut living in Ethiopia in 1935 amid the threat of invasion by Mussolini.
When the Ethiopian emperor goes into exile, Hirut disguises a peasant as him while she becomes his guard – only to find herself having to fight her own personal, unexpected war.
Douglas Stuart – Shuggie Bain
Douglas Stuart grew up in Glasgow and now lives in New York, which he first made home in order to start his career in fashion design. He says the 1994 Booker winner How Late It Was, How Late by James Kelman changed his life as it was one of the first times he saw his people and dialect on the page.
For his first move into novel writing, Stuart has taken that inspiration to write a story set in a poverty-stricken Glasgow. Here we follow Agnes Bain, who is descending into despair and alcoholism after the breakdown of her marriage.
All but one of her children have been driven away by her deterioration, and that child Shuggie struggles to support his mother while suffering huge personal problems of his own.
Brandon Taylor – Real Life
Brandon Taylor hails from Alabama, US. He is the senior editor of Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading and a staff writer at Literary Hub.
For his debut novel, Taylor tells the story of the biochemistry student Wallace, who after weeks of tireless lab work has to deal with its destruction by a torrid storm.
But weather disasters are shown to be the least of Wallace’s troubles. He’s isolated himself from his friends as a defence mechanism against his painful past. But now he finds that history coming back to haunt him.