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1 October 2019

The 2019 Booker shortlist in reviews

Read our verdict on the six books shortlisted for this year’s prize.

By New Statesman

The winner of the 2019 Booker Prize will be announced on 14 October. The shortlist comprises six books, including two novels by former winners of the award and a mammoth 1000-page volume, and has been praised for being the most “diverse” in the prize’s history. You can read the New Statesman’s critics on each book below. 

The Testaments – Margaret Atwood

“We learn at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale that Gilead eventually fell, but the reader has no idea how. It was a question Atwood decided to investigate. ‘How did these kinds of regimes disappear? I was interested in exploring that, and also what it would be like for the second generation, because second generations in revolutionary regimes are quite different from first generations.’ To the second generation, life within the regime is normal: ‘They’re not engaged in the violent part of the affair. A form of order has been restored.’” Read Erica Wagner’s interview with Margaret Atwood in full.

Ducks, Newburyport – Lucy Ellman

“In Ducks, Newburyport the invisible expropriation of women’s domestic labour is tied to the despoiling of the environment and the macho degradation of the public sphere. But this is to suggest the novel can be boiled down to one particular theme, when its entire premise refuses any kind of summary. In reading Ducks, wonder gives way to frustration, which gives way to wonder again, until finishing becomes a kind of contemplative vigil – an exercise in dedication.” Read Sarah Ditum’s review in full.

Girl, Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo

“As in Evaristo’s previous novel, Mr Loverman, the language flows effortlessly between patois, pidgin, Cockney and the Queen’s English – a prose feast in which archaisms such as ‘whereupons’ mix with the ‘wiff of whacky-back’ and ‘codswallop’. Evaristo has chosen to use little punctuation, using line-breaks and leaning on the oral, poetic quality of language – this is a book that begs to be read out loud.” Read Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s review in full.

An Orchestra of Minorities – Chigozie Obioma

“An Orchestra of Minorities, set in modern Nigeria, is a shaggy dog story about a hapless young poultry farmer, which combines Igbo folklore with The Odyssey and Greek tragedy. (Its publisher is calling it ‘epic’ – but this may have more to do with the large number of pages than anything else.) The story is narrated by the ‘chi’ of Chinonso Solomon Olisa – that’s the guardian spirit who watches over humans in Igbo cosmology and helps them negotiate their destiny.” Read Johanna Thomas-Corr’s review in full.

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Quichotte – Salman Rushdie

“Like his hero Thomas Pynchon, Rushdie is offering his own sensibility and, more broadly, ‘the picaresque tradition’ as the cure to the ills he diagnoses. Where Pynchon is the pun-loving anti-utilitarian confronting war machines and corporate greed, Rushdie is the cold-eyed rationalist who views levity as the greatest product of seeing things as they truly are. Yet turn to any page and one finds not real wit or warmth but frail reflections on late-capitalist detritus.” Read Leo Robson’s review in full.

You can also read our Q+A with Salman Rushdie.

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World – Elif Shafak

“The book’s opening is stark: ‘Tequila Leila’, a 40-something sex worker, lies murdered in a dustbin on the outskirts of Istanbul. Her mind takes 10 minutes and 38 seconds to fully shut down, in which time her brain enters ‘into a state of heightened awareness, observing the demise of the body but not ready to accept its own end’. Inspired by a series of lingering aromas – ‘cardamom coffee’ or ‘spiced goat stew’ – Leila’s mind falls back on memories from her past, as Shafak recalls her protagonist’s childhood in prose rich in sensory description.” Read Ellen Peirson-Hagger’s review in full.

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Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
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