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A dystopian vision of Dublin riven by civil war, a meditation on trauma and survival set in an unnamed rural community and a formally dazzling study of racial identity in America are among the six novels shortlisted for this year’s Booker prize, which judges hailed on Thursday as “vibrant and electric”.
Those three titles — Prophet Song by Paul Lynch, Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein and If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery — will vie with three others for the most prestigious award in original English-language fiction. They are: This Other Eden by Paul Harding, The Bee Sting by Paul Murray and Western Lane by Chetna Maroo.
Esi Edugyan, chair of the judges and herself a novelist, said the shortlist reflected the “full range of lived experience”. Her fellow judge, actor Adjoa Andoh, saluted the list’s “variety, which is about who we are as human beings”.
Murray’s The Bee Sting, described in a Financial Times review as “generous, immersive, sharp-witted and devastating”, focuses on a rural Irish family who are threatened to be torn apart by financial problems, while Harding’s This Other Eden imagines life in an isolated utopian community in Maine battling with outsiders determined to change it.
Maroo is the only British author to make the cut, with her atmospheric, novella-length study of three British-Indian sisters living in west London who become obsessed by squash after the death of their mother. Two of the other writers hail from Ireland, two from the US and one from Canada.
Edugyan said that “together these works showcase the breadth of what world literature can do . . . each speaks distinctly about our shared journeys while refusing to be defined as any one thing”.
Last month’s longlist raised eyebrows for featuring a large cohort of Irish authors — one-third of the total, a novelty for the Booker — and an unusual number of debuts. Four of the 13 books included were by first-time novelists, while marquee names including Zadie Smith, Sir Salman Rushdie and Barbara Kingsolver were notable by their absence.
Two of those first-timers, Maroo and Escoffery, have made the shortlist, even though they have been balanced out by more established voices. Murray has been nominated for the Booker once before, in 2010, while Harding has won a Pulitzer prize.
The presence of Irish talent remains noteworthy. Judge and Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro described it as “a return on investment”, highlighting Ireland’s support for culture and literature. “There are certain countries that have invested in the arts, and invest in writers,” he said.
The winner of the £50,000 prize will be announced at a ceremony in London on November 26.