Thursday, August 6, 2020 5:41 pm
By Nehru Odeh
Many things make the Man Booker Prize unique. It is one of the most prestigious prizes in the literary world. It is an award that literary buffs look forward to with so much anticipation and anxiety. It is also a prize that is open to every writer regardless of race, colour or creed as long as the book is published in the United Kingdom or Ireland..
However, this year’s prize presents something different and writers as well as literary enthusiasts are in for a special treat. While announcing the longlist for this year’s prize on 24 July 2020, Margaret Busby, Chair of the panel of judges, said each of the book was “deserving of wide readership.”
“Included are novels carried by the sweep of history with memorable characters brought to life and given visibility, novels that represent a moment of cultural change, or the pressures an individual faces in pre- and post-dystopian society.”
“Some of the books focus on interpersonal relationships that are complex, nuanced, emotionally charged. There are voices from minorities often unheard, stories that are fresh, bold and absorbing,” she said.
Still, what makes this year’s prize grand are legion. This year’s prize is coming in the time of Covid-19, with all its anxieties and social pressures and most of the writers on the longlist are launching their careers for the first time.
The fact that the longlist features eight debut novelists and nine women writers speaks to the novelty and freshness that this year’s prize brings. And it signals a gradual shift away from the dominance of well-established writers.
Gaby Wood, one of the judges on the panel wrote: “It’s especially heartening to know that some authors who have launched their careers in the midst of Covid-19 may now have a chance to reach the readers they deserve.”
Another reason why this year’s longlist is special is that, as Busby pointed out, some of the novels are “carried with the sweep of history with memorable characters brought to life.”. It is also instructive to note that there are new voices from across the globe, voices that are not just unheard but had never been heard before; stories that, as Busby puts it, “are fresh, bold and absorbing. “
Another important highlight of this year’s prize is that it features Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror & The Light. Mantel has won the Booker Prize twice – for Wolf Hall in 2009 and 2012’s Bring Up the Bodies, the first two novels in the Cromwell trilogy. The Mirror & The Light is the concluding part of that trilogy, and was selected for its “masterful exhibition of sly dialogue and exquisite description,” the judges said. But will Mantel win it for the third time? Time will tell.
The prize, which has been on since 1969, was jointly won by Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo last year. And that was controversial because it was the first time the prize was awarded to joint winners. When TheNEWS asked Evaristo in an interview last year how she felt being a joint winner she said: “I don’t mind. Just give me the prize. I know many people were upset that I got the prize. But I don’t mind. I still got it. I’m just so grateful to get it. ”
This year’s longlist was selected by a panel of five judges: Margaret Busby (chair), editor, literary critic and former publisher; Lee Child, author; Sameer Rahim, author and critic; Lemn Sissay, writer and broadcaster; and Emily Wilson, classicist and translator.
To be considered for the prize, a novel must be written in English and published in the UK or Ireland, although the author can be any nationality. The list was selected from 162 novels between 1 October 2019 and 30 September 2020.
The shortlist of six books will be announced on Tuesday 15 September, and the winner of the £50,000 prize, in November. The shortlisted authors each receive £2,500 and a specially bound edition of their book.
Here is the longlist of the 2020 Man Booker Prize: