From Sally Rooney to Esi Edugyan and Sophie Mackintosh, this year’s longlist is packed with extraordinary women authors.
Established in 1969, the Man Booker Prize is one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards. Not only does the prize provide authors with a hugely heightened profile (past recipients include titans of fiction such as Iris Murdoch, Kazuo Ishiguro and Arundhati Roy), it’s also seriously valuable when it comes to cold, hard cash: the winner takes home £50,000, while shortlisted authors each receive a prize worth £2,500. In other words, being nominated for the Booker is something that many authors can only dream of.
However, the prize hasn’t been won by a woman since 2013, when Eleanor Catton took home the award for her novel The Luminaries. That could be set to change this year, however, as seven out of 13 of the authors longlisted for the award are female writers. And, quite brilliantly, one of the women in question is a former Stylist short story competition winner.
Below, find out everything you need to know about women who have been longlisted for this year’s Booker, as well as the books they’ve been nominated for.
Nominated for: The Water Cure (Hamish Hamilton, £12.99)
Stylist would like to think we had a hand in the success of novelist Sophie Mackintosh. In 2016, the then-27-year-old from Leyton was the winner of our gothic short story competition, in collaboration with publisher Virago (read her story The Running Ones here). As part of her prize, Mackintosh won a six-day writing course with creative writing charity Arvon – and now, she’s been longlisted for the Man Booker. Not bad.
Mackintosh’s first novel, The Water Cure has been compared favourably to the work of Deborah Levy, Emma Cline and Margaret Atwood, as well as to the films of Sofia Coppola. It is set on an island, where sisters Grace, Lia and Sky are kept isolated from the outside world, which has been made toxic to women as a result of climate change.
Mackintosh, who grew up in Wales, has disputed the idea that dystopian feminist fiction should be classed as a passing fad.
“There are so many things happening at the moment, such as #MeToo and the abortion referendum. It shows that women’s bodies are still very much up for debate,” she said earlier this year. “I read an article that said that dystopian feminism was ‘a big trend’, and I thought, ‘It might be a trend, but it’s also our lives.’”
Nominated for: Snap (Bantam Press, £12.99)
Snap, the eighth novel by British author Belinda Bauer, tells the story of eleven-year-old Jack, whose pregnant mother leaves him to look after his two little sisters one day – and never comes back.
Determined that he and his sisters won’t be taken into care, Jack takes matters into his own hands, and ends up being recruited by the police to help them solve a devilishly complicated mystery. Val McDermid, one of the UK’s greatest living crime writers, has described Snap as “the best crime novel I’ve read in a very long time”.
Bauer, who lives in Wales, was a journalist and BAFTA-winning screenwriter before she transitioned into writing novels. (Her first book, Badlands, won the British Crime Writers’ Association’s Gold Dagger award for the best crime novel of 2010.)
“A book can start with a whole world that interests me or a throwaway remark,” she said in 2015. “Either way there’s got to be a hook that gets lodged in my psyche and just won’t let go, and there has to be a character engaging enough to draw the reader in.”
Nominated for: Milkman (Faber & Faber, £14.99)
Northern Irish author Anna Burns is perhaps best known for her 2001 novel No Bones, told from the perspective of a girl growing up in Belfast during the Troubles. Milkman, her fourth book, is similar in theme, but not in execution: it also features a young female protagonist trying to make her way in the world during the Troubles, but is much creepier, funnier and more surreal than its predecessor.
The protagonist of Milkman is unnamed, and all she really wants to do is keep her head down in her (also unnamed) city. But she is being pursued by the sinister milkman of the book’s title, who has somehow convinced everyone she knows that they are having an affair.
What follows is a complicated and darkly witty portrait of how conflict can warp the psychology of an entire community.
Nominated for: Washington Black (Serpent’s Tail, £14.99)
The hero at the heart of this extravagant historical novel is George Washington “Wash” Black, an 11-year-old field slave on a sugar plantation in Barbados. When Wash is selected to work as a manservant to his master’s brother, he is frightened – but he soon discovers that his new master is an eccentric inventor and explorer who believes that slavery should be abolished.
What follows is an extraordinary global adventure story that sets His Dark Materials-esque exploits within the real-world context of slavery. It’s the fourth book by Canadian author Esi Edugyan, who was previously nominated for the Man Booker Prize for her 2011 novel Half-Blood Blues.
“There can be something liberating … for the fiction writer who finds herself caught between worlds,” Edugyan said in 2012, discussing her own background as the child of Ghanaian immigrants who has lived in many different countries. “An opportunity to observe and inhabit the skins of others. I know, for myself, that all of that travelling has impacted the kinds of stories I am drawn to.”
Nominated for: Everything Under (Jonathan Cape, £14.99)
Oxford-based novelist Daisy Johnson is only in her late 20s, but has already published two books: 2017’s acclaimed magic realist short story collection Fen, and this year’s novel Everything Under.
The latter is a fantastically dark reinvention of the myth of Oedipus, set in modern-day Oxfordshire. We join our narrator, Gretel, as she tries to help her mother – who abandoned her as a teenager – recall details of her life before she is plunged into dementia. A secret language, the spectre of a river monster and a murderous, mysterious boy all feature prominently in a complicated but deeply satisfying novel.
The women in Everything Under are seriously complex characters, something Johnson has said is important to her. “It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be writing about male characters, but women need to appear not only as mothers and partners, they need to appear as I-carrying figures in their own right.”
Nominated for: The Mars Room (Jonathan Cape, £16.99)
The only American woman on this list, Los Angeles-based Rachel Kushner is the author of three novels: 2008’s Telex from Cuba, 2013’s The Flamethrowers and The Mars Room, published this year.
A New York Times bestseller, The Mars Room is set in a women’s prison near San Francisco. Its protagonist is Romy Hall, who is serving two life sentences for killing her stalker and trying to adjust to life in jail. The book offers an unflinching look at America’s prison-industrial complex, as well as the realities of life for working-class women who are abused and fall through the cracks – with warmth and humour provided by the other women Romy meets in prison.
“Writing does produce a very unique satisfaction,” Kushner has said. “There are times when I’m writing that it’s frustrating or appalling or difficult but when it goes well it goes really well and there is a feeling of rightness, like I’m doing the thing I was meant to do, almost in a mystical way, like I’m at an appropriate angle to the world.”
Nominated for: Normal People (Faber & Faber, £16.99)
Sally Rooney shot to international acclaim with her first novel, the taut, funny, heartbreaking millennial drama Conversations with Friends, which tells the story of a tangled ménage à quatre in modern-day Dublin.
Her second novel, Normal People, has not even been published yet, making it all the more remarkable that it has been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Like Conversations with Friends, it will focus on the lives of young women attending Trinity College in Dublin (Rooney’s alma mater).
Mitzi Angel, publisher at Faber & Faber, has described Normal People as “an exquisite love story about how a person can change another person’s life… It tells us – blazingly – about cycles of domination, legitimacy and privilege.”
The six shortlisted books for the 2018 Man Booker Prize will be announced on 20 September, with the winner revealed on 16 October.
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