Booker shortlist offers full range of lived experiences

Booker Prize 2023 shortlisted books

What you need to know:

  • The authors’ bodies of work address many of 2023’s most pressing concerns—climate change, immigration, financial hardship, the persecution of minorities, political extremism and the erosion of personal freedoms. 

The shortlist for this year’s Booker Prize includes one British, one Canadian, two Irish and two American authors, it has been announced.
They include Sarah Bernstein (Canadian), Study for Obedience (Granta Books); Jonathan Escoffery (American), If I Survive You (4th Estate); Paul Harding (American), This Other Eden (Hutchinson Heinemann); Paul Lynch (Irish), Prophet Song (Oneworld); Chetna Maroo (British), Western Lane (Picador); and Paul Murray (Irish), The Bee Sting (Hamish Hamilton).

Their bodies of work address many of 2023’s most pressing concerns—climate change, immigration, financial hardship, the persecution of minorities, political extremism and the erosion of personal freedoms. The books feature characters in search of peace and belonging or lamenting lost loves. Grounded in modern reality, they shed light on shameful episodes in history and imagine a terrifying future. 

The Bee Sting is about a patch of ice on the road, a casual favour to a charming stranger, a bee caught beneath a bridal veil.
In Prophet Song, Lynch’s exhilarating, propulsive and confrontational portrait of a society on the brink, a mother faces a terrible choice.

If I Survive You is an exhilarating novel-in-stories that pulses with style, heart and barbed humour, while unravelling what it means to carve out an existence between cultures, homes and paycheques.
Maroo’s tender and moving debut novel Western Lane is about grief, sisterhood, a teenage girl’s struggle to transcend herself, and squash. 

Full of lyricism and power, Harding’s spellbinding novel This Other Eden celebrates the hopes, dreams and resilience of those deemed not to fit in a world brutally intolerant of difference. 
In her accomplished and unsettling second novel, Study For Obedience, Bernstein explores themes of prejudice, abuse and guilt through the eyes of a singularly unreliable narrator. 

The judges chose the final six novels from 13 long-listed titles—the ‘Booker dozen’—which were selected from 163 books published between October 1, 2022 and September 30, 2023, and submitted to the prize by publishers. All the shortlisted authors receive £2,500 (Shs11.3m) and a bespoke bound edition of their book. They gain global readerships and a dramatic increase in sales.  
The 2023 winner, set to be announced on November 26 at an award ceremony at Old Billingsgate, will receive £50,000 (Shs225m) and a trophy designed by the late Jan Pienkowski. 

“The best novels invoke a sense of timelessness even while saying something about how we live now. Our six finalists are marvels of form. Some look unflinchingly at the ways in which trauma can be absorbed and passed down through the generations, as much an inheritance as a well-worn object or an unwanted talent. Some turn a gleeful, dissecting eye on everyday encounters. Some paint visceral portraits of societies pushed to the edge of tolerance,” Esi Edugyan, the chairperson of judges, said. 
“All are fuelled by a kind of relentless truth-telling, even when that honesty forces us to confront dark acts. And yet, however long we may pause in the shadows, humour, decency, and grace are never far from hand,” she added.  

Ms Edugyan further noted that the “works showcase the breadth of what world literature can do, while gesturing at the unease of our moment.” Each of the works, she added, “speaks distinctly about our shared journeys while refusing to be defined as any one thing.” She pointed to “Bernstein and Harding’s outsiders attempting to establish lives in societies that reject them” and also referenced “the often-funny struggles of Escoffery and Murray’s adolescents as they carve out identities for themselves beyond their parents’ mistakes.” Ditto “Maroo and Lynch’s elegant evocations of family grief.” 

“These are supple stories with many strands, many moods, in whose complications we come to recognise ourselves. They are vibrant, nervy, electric,” the chair of judges noted, adding, “In these novelists’ hands, form is pushed hard to see what it yields, and it is always something astonishing.” 

Ms Edugyan was joined on the 2023 judging panel by actor, writer and director Adjoa Andoh; poet, lecturer, editor and critic Mary Jean Chan; author and Professor James Shapiro; and actor and writer Robert Webb. 

The Booker Prize                   2023 shortlist
Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein (Granta Books) 
If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery (4th Estate) 
This Other Eden by Paul Harding (Hutchinson Heinemann) 
Prophet Song by Paul Lynch (Oneworld) 
Western Lane by Chetna Maroo (Picador) 
The Bee Sting by Paul Murray (Hamish Hamilton)

The Booker Prize 2022 winner
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by the Sri Lankan writer Shehan Karunatilaka