Booker Prize 2020: The longlist is in, here’s what to read

Booker Prize 2020: The longlist is in, here's what to read
Looking to add new novels to your collection? Reach for these titles

Reading a truly good book is the perfect pastime – it can transport your far from your current woes, as well as spark imagination and emotion in a way that many things cannot.

And, with the announcement of the Book Prize for Fiction 2020 longlist, there’s plenty to get stuck into.

All 13 books on the longlist were chosen from 162 English-language novels published in the UK or Ireland between October 2019 and September 2020, and were selected by a panel of five judges: Margaret Busby (chair of the 2020 judges), editor, literary critic and former publisher; Lemn Sissay, writer and broadcaster; Emily Wilson, classicist and translator; Lee Child, author; and Sameer Rahim, author and critic.

Included within the list are eight debut novelists (including Kiley Reid, Sophie Ward, and Fabirle Karuze), and of the 13, nine are women.

Three authors have previously been longlisted, and Hilary Mantel has won the Booker Prize twice before for her novels Wolf Hall in 2009 and Bring Up the Bodies in 2012. Her latest spot on the longlist is thanks to the third and final book in her Cromwell trilogy, The Mirror & The Light.

Of the titles in this year’s list, Margaret Busby said each was “deserving of wide readership”, describing them as “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.”

The shortlist of six books will be announced on 15 September, with the £50,000 prize winning author revealed in November.

Our round-up covers all 13 books and are the titles you should add to your personal library now.

You can trust our independent round-up. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

‘The New Wilderness’ by Diane Cook, published by Oneworld Publications: £11.61, Amazon

The New Wilderness is Diane Cook’s debut novel that brings to life a wildly imaginative and terrifying dystopian story of a mother’s battle to save her daughter from a world ravaged by climate change. Touching on humanity and our contempt for nature, this is a timely and compelling novel.

Buy now

‘This Mournable Body’ by Tsitsi Dangarembga, published by Faber & Faber: £8.99, Waterstones

A searingly honest and hotly anticipated follow up to Nervous Conditions, This Mournable Body returns to the protagonist, Tambudzai. Exploring poverty and personhood by highlighting the obstacles women face in Zimbabwe, it is emotionally and socially evocative. Tense and psychologically charged, it reveals how toxic the combination of colonialism and capitalism can be.

Buy now

‘Burnt Sugar’ by Avni Doshi, published by Hamish Hamilton: £11.29, Waterstones

A compelling debut about love, betrayal and obsession, Burnt Sugar tells the painstaking story of an angry and sad Antara who comes to terms with the reality of her mother’s memory loss. Sharp and laced with wit, Doshi tests the limits of what we know for certain about the people we are closest to.

Buy now

‘Who They Was’ by Gabriel Krauze, published by Fourth Estate: £5.29, Amazon

An utterly moving and unflinching depiction of the perpetual violence in London, Who They Was explores the cycle of revenge, despair and honour, as well as brotherhood and betrayal. This is an exciting debut from Krauze that truly showcases talent, we can’t wait to see what’s next.

Buy now

‘The Mirror & the Light’ by Hilary Mantel, published by Fourth Estate: £8.49, Waterstones

The long-awaited conclusion to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy about the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell, The Mirror & the Light carries the reader spellbound. At 912 pages long, it’s a rollercoaster of Cromwell’s political scheming and robust imagination. Mantel’s dazzling prose and ability to build such a rich historical context is uniquely powerful, making this one a classic not to be missed.

Buy now

‘Apeirogon’ by Colum McCann, published by Bloomsbury: £7.37, Waterstones

McCann’s novel is based on the friendship of two men – Bassam Aramin who is Palestinian and Rami Elhanan who is Israeli – whose daughters were killed in the Middle East. Exploring themes of loss and the search for peace, it truly is a masterpiece. Crossing centuries and continents, history and politics, it’s equally heartbreaking as it is hopeful.

Buy now

‘The Shadow King’ by Maaza Mengiste, published by Canongate Books: £13.13, Amazon

Set during Italy’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, The Shadow King tells the story of female strength, spotlighting the women soldiers at war. Utterly captivating and inspiring, this is impossible to put down.

Buy now

‘Such A Fun Age’ by Kiley Reid, published by Bloomsbury Publishing: £6.68, Amazon

An instant New York Times bestseller, Such A Fun Age is a refreshing take on an age old question: can we connect across barriers of race, gender, privilege and wealth? The story begins with 25-year-old Emira being apprehended at a supermarket for “kidnapping” a white child she babysits, which causes an explosive chain of events. A dazzling slice of contemporary literature, it’s no surprise that this is being heralded as the book of the year.

Buy now

‘Real Life’ by Brandon Taylor, published by Daunt Books: £7.99, Waterstones

This debut coming of age novel by Brandon Taylor is partly autobiographical and tells the story of a gay, black doctoral student in a predominately white, midwestern PhD program. Tender, yet perfectly paced, it touches on solitude, society, race and sexuality. This book explores the past with sympathy, while sensitively dramatising the intricate details of love and grief.

Buy now

‘Redhead by the Side of the Road’ by Anne Tyler, published by Chatto & Windus: £12.40, Blackwell’s

A masterpiece that chronicles the lives of ordinary people and uncovers the truths of middle America. Touching on misperception, second chances and the art of human connection, this is an offbeat love story that showcases Tyler’s ability to craft nimble prose and emotional warmth.

Buy now

‘Shuggie Bain’ by Douglas Stuart, published by Picador: £10, Amazon

Set in Eighties Glasgow, Shuggie Bain is the unforgettable story of young Hugh “Shuggie” Bain who spends his pivotal years in run-down public housing. Exploring Thatcher’s politics, it is a heartbreaking story of addiction, love and sexuality. Stuart’s portrayal of a working class family is so rarely seen in fiction, for him to do so in such a powerful and all important way is noteworthy.

Buy now

‘Love and Other Thought Experiments’ by Sophie Ward, published by Corsair: £14.99, Blackwell’s

Breathtaking and imaginative, this novel explores how love evolves through time and place by telling the story of Rachel and Eliza, a couple hoping to have a baby. The interlinking narratives and powerful storytelling make this book a true achievement in philosophical fiction.

Buy now

‘How Much of These Hills Is Gold’ by C Pam Zhang, published by Little, Brown Book Group: £10.47, Amazon

This is a beautiful and captivating story of grief, belonging and adventure. Set in the afterglow of the great American gold rush, it follows the lives and brutal journey of two immigrant orphaned teenage girls after the unexpected death of their father in a coal-mining town where they are unwanted. Visceral and deeply though-provoking, it re-examines the American Dream in a compelling and unique way.

Buy now

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