Debutants and Americans dominate Booker Prize longlist
'Year of of seismic change'
Published: Jul 28, 2020 05:53 PM

Margaret Atwood (second from left) poses with Bernardine Evaristo (third from left) after jointly winning the Booker Prize for Fiction 2019 at the Guildhall in London, Britain on October 14, 2019. Photo: VCG

Eight debut novelists came up against veterans Hilary Mantel and Tsitsi Dangarembga when Britain unveiled a US-dominated longlist of finalists Tuesday for its revered Booker Prize.

One of the world's most celebrated literary competitions tore up the rule book in 2019 by splitting the fiction award between Canada's Margaret Atwood and Anglo-Nigerian author Bernardine Evaristo.

It courted controversy on this occasion by pitting nine Americans or dual-US citizens against just three Britons and Zimbabwe's Dangarembga.

"There are voices from minorities often unheard, stories that are fresh, bold and absorbing," judges' panel chair Margaret Busby said.

"Unplanned, our final selection encompasses both seasoned favorites and debut talents - a truly satisfying outcome."

The title of best work of English-language fiction published in the United Kingdom and Ireland has launched careers and caused countless arguments since its creation in 1969.

Past laureates have ranged from contemporary giants such as Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes to Kazuo Ishiguro and Roddy Doyle.

The year 2020's 13-title longlist - to be whittled down to a shortlist of six on September 15 before the winner is unveiled in November - features nine female authors.

"In this year of seismic change, visibility for new books published in the UK has been drastically low," the Booker Prize Foundation's literary director Gaby Wood said.

"So, however unintended the ratio, 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."

The five-judge panel picked through 162 novels either published or scheduled for release in the 12 months ending on September 30.

Britain was represented by Mantel - nominated for The Mirror & The Light - and debutants Sophie Ward and Gabriel Krauze.

Mantel won the Booker in 2009 for Wolf Hall and in 2012 for Bring Up the Bodies.

The panel said her latest entry "completes a tragic arc in which Thomas Cromwell is finally brought down by the police state he designed."

Mantel's "masterful exhibition of sly dialogue and exquisite description brings the Tudor world alive," the panel of judges said.

Irish-American US National Book Award winner Colum McCann was nominated for Apeirogon about two Israeli and Palestinian fathers coming together over shared grief at losing their sons. 

The panel called Apeirogon "a moving reflection on what it might mean to make peace between two warring sides."

Dangarembga's nomination for This Mournable Body is her first in a distinguished career that has spanned four decades and featured plays and films.

Panel chair Busby said the longlist features "novels carried by the sweep of history." Organizers said the 2020 winner will receive 50,000 pounds ($64,000) "and can expect international recognition."