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Booker Prize 2023: The Contenders, The Critics, The Countdown

The anticipation for the prestigious Booker Prize 2023 continues to mount as the shortlisted titles are unveiled, offering a diverse selection of novels that have captured the literary world’s attention. 

With the winner set to be announced on November 26th, critics and readers alike are eager to explore the works vying for the esteemed accolade.

Among the shortlisted authors is London-based Indian-origin writer Chetna Maroo, with her debut novel Western Lane

She is joined by Paul Lynch (Ireland) for Prophet Song, Paul Murray (Ireland) for The Bee Sting, Sarah Bernstein (Canada) for Study for Obedience, Jonathan Escoffery (US) for If I Survive You, and Paul Harding (US) for This Other Eden.

These six finalists were selected from a long list of 13 titles, known as the “Booker dozen”, which was drawn from a pool of 163 novels published between October 2022 and September 2023.

Each shortlisted author receives £2,500, recognising their exceptional contributions to contemporary fiction. 

The ultimate winner, to be revealed on November 26th, will claim the coveted Booker Prize along with a prize purse of £50,000. 

This award is open to works of fiction written in English by authors from anywhere in the world, provided their work is published in the UK or Ireland.

The judging panel for this year’s Booker Prize is a distinguished group comprising twice-shortlisted novelist Esi Edugyan; actress and writer Adjoa Andoh; poet, lecturer, editor, and critic Mary Jean Chan; author and professor James Shapiro; and actor and writer Robert Webb. 

Edugyan said: “The best novels invoke a sense of timelessness even while saying something about how we live now.

“Our six finalists are marvels of form… 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.”

In 2022, the Booker Prize was awarded to Sri Lankan writer Shehan Karunatilaka for his novel The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida

This year’s shortlisted titles promise to continue the tradition of celebrating exceptional literary works.

As the literary world eagerly delves into these novels, the countdown to the November 26th announcement of the Booker Prize 2023 winner has officially begun, marking an anticipated moment in the realm of contemporary literature.

A Review of the Shortlist

  1. Western Lane by Chetna Maroo

Chetna Maroo’s debut novel is a compelling bildungsroman centred on Gopi, an eleven-year-old squash player who, after her mother’s death, dedicates herself to the sport under her father’s rigorous training. As she immerses herself in squash, she grows apart from her sisters but finds solace and inspiration on the court, alongside her father and fellow player Ged. Maroo’s poignant tale explores themes of grief, sisterhood, and self-discovery.

The ongoing opinion among readers on the Internet is that Maroo is a promising writer. However, popular reviews claim that The Booker Prize’s tendency to exclude strong contenders in favour of unconventional choices, including young and promising authors, can be risky as it subjects them to higher expectations and potential scrutiny beyond their current level of achievement. (Goodreads). Still others have compared her work to Claire Keegan’s, admiring the emotional depth of her writing.

  1. Prophet Song by Paul Lynch

Prophet Song is a gripping dystopian narrative set in Dublin under tyranny. Scientist and mother Eilish Stack is torn when her trade unionist husband is interrogated by secret police and her eldest son vanishes. As society crumbles, Eilish grapples with how far she’ll go to save her family. The book is a riveting tale of a mother’s resilience in a tumultuous society.

Readers have described Lynch’s work as “ensnaring”, and have drawn parallels to contemporary situations which makes dystopia effective. This book, while occasionally overwhelming and nearly insufferable, serves as an unmistakable warning. It seamlessly interweaves intricate, realistic depictions with dreamlike sequences and fragments of prose poetry.

  1. The Bee Sting by Paul Murray

In Paul Murray’s The Bee Sting, the Barnes family grapples with a series of unfortunate events and choices, including Dickie’s failing car business, Imelda’s online jewellery sales, Cass’s self-destructive behaviour, and PJ’s plan to run away. The story delves into the impact of seemingly insignificant moments of bad luck and the possibility of rewriting their family’s story for a happier ending amidst chaos and challenges, blending humour and wisdom in an exploration of resilience.

Readers praise Murray’s depictions of childhood and the way that children think, but in a world of attention deficiency, the novel feels too drawn out. However, a lot of readers proclaim this as their personal winner of the shortlist. (Goodreads).

  1. Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein

In Study for Obedience, a young woman becomes her brother’s housekeeper in a remote Northern community, where strange events and growing suspicion toward newcomers unfold - including bovine hysteria and a local dog’s phantom pregnancy. Sarah Bernstein’s haunting novel explores complicity, power, and inheritance in a lyrical narrative, establishing her as a compelling new voice in Canadian fiction, resonating with readers of Shirley Jackson, Iain Reid, and Claire-Louise Bennett.

While the book is rated only 3.24 stars on Goodreads, it strikes a chord with many readers - ratings vary from 5 stars to 1 star, making it a highly polarizing piece of literature. “It is a very strange novel,” writes Adina, a popular Goodreads reviewer, “the writing is peculiar, sometimes impenetrable, meditative, meandering, sometimes darkly funny.”

  1. If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

In the 1970s, Topper and Sanya escape political violence in Kingston, seeking a better life in Miami, but face discrimination as Black immigrants. Through Hurricane Andrew and economic crises, they persist, driven by a deep survival instinct. Jonathan Escoffery’s linked stories follow their younger son, Trelawny, as he navigates financial hardships and racism with humour and resilience. If I Survive You explores family, identity, and the relentless pursuit of a place in a challenging world. Escoffery’s debut offers a poignant, unique glimpse into American life at its best and worst.

This series of interconnected short stories explores the various crises of belongingness - that of not being Black enough, or Hispanic enough. The lack of neat labels and the resulting contradictions amount to a timely and relevant story, tackling themes like immigration and race in a telling, experimental form.

  1. This Other Eden by Paul Harding

Inspired by the true story of Malaga Island off Maine’s coast, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Paul Harding’s This Other Eden chronicles the Honey family’s generational journey, beginning with formerly enslaved Benjamin Honey and his Irish wife, Patience, who found refuge on the island in 1792. Living alongside an eclectic community, their lives are disrupted when eugenics-driven officials aim to ‘cleanse’ the island. A missionary teacher selects one light-skinned boy for salvation, forcing the others into institutionalization or a treacherous journey at sea. Through lyrical prose, the novel explores resilience and dreams amid a world intolerant of differences.

The book is reviewed often as an engaging and important historical lesson, however, some readers felt that the narrative was somewhat rushed. Nevertheless, the lyrical prose, teeming with Biblical overtones, weaves Apple Island as a character in and of itself.


As book lovers immerse themselves in the stories woven by these acclaimed writers, the Booker Prize 2023 shortlist promises to be a source of inspiration, reflection, and celebration of the literary arts.

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