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The list of six authors was unveiled on Tuesday in a live online celebration.
For the second year in a row, only one British author has made the shortlist for this year’s Booker prize: Nadifa Mohamed, who was chosen for her third novel The Fortune Men, a reimagining of the true story of a Somali seaman who was wrongfully convicted of murder in Wales.
The British-Somali novelist, who was born in Hargeisa in Somaliland and moved with her family to London at the age of four, was one of five British authors on the Booker longlist, and the first British Somali novelist to be shortlisted for the award.
The longlisted authors who missed out included Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro, Francis Spufford and Rachel Cusk. The £50,000 award, opened its doors to authors writing in English from anywhere in the world in 2014.
The novelists who did make the shortlist included three American authors – Patricia Lockwood, chosen for her debut novel No One is Talking About This, in which a woman known for her viral tweets is faced with a real-life tragedy. Maggie Shipstead – Great Circle, Shipstead’s third novel intertwines the stories of a daring post-war female pilot and a 21st century Hollywood actress who is trying to rescue her reputation by making a film about her. Richard Powers – Bewilderment. The US author won the Pulitzer for his last novel The Overstory. Here, a widowed astrobiologist turns to experimental treatments to help his nine-year-old son with additional needs – and take him to other planets.
Sri Lankan author Anuk Arudpragasam’s A Passage North, In his second novel, explores the lasting effects of the trauma and violence of his country’s civil war, and a past love affair through a young Tamil man travels north from Colombo for the funeral of his grandmother’s carer. The South African Damon Galgut’s The Promise complete the lineup. Galgut’s ninth novel follows a white family over the decades from pre- to post -Apartheid, via the tale of how the vow made by a white South African woman before she dies, to give a house on the family farm to their black servant, fails to be kept.
There has been some questions of why only one British author has made the shortlist but the judges were quick to point out that they not consider the nationality of authors when reading their books. “We look at not just what the writers are saying, but how they are saying it, and therefore nationalities do not really matter. What matters is what the writer has brought to the page, the vision that they have and how they have realised it,” said Obioma, one of the judges “So if we don’t have many British writers, I think it’s just a coincidence.”
In the past, publishers and authors have pushed for the Booker to reverse its rule change of 2014: before that date, the prize only allowed citizens from Commonwealth countries and the Republic of Ireland to enter.
One of the other judges added: “I find it interesting that there’s so much attention being paid to the passports held by authors when literature is something that has always crossed borders, and continues to cross borders in striking ways.”
The Booker Prize consistently generates strong interest from readers, and this year’s titles have already enjoyed an especially strong boost from the longlist announcement. Of the shortlisted titles, The Promise has been our bestseller, while The Fortune Men has seen the biggest uplift in sales, with an increase of nearly 2,000% week on week after the longlist announcement. Meanwhile, Bewilderment’s publication this month was already set to be a real highlight in the year’s literary fiction calendar.
The winner will be announced on 3 November at a ceremony held in partnership with the BBC at Broadcasting House’s Radio Theatre.