Booker Prize 2020: Four debuts make shortlist as Hilary Mantel misses out

Tsitsi Dangarembga, Avni Doshi, Maaza Mengiste, Diane Cook, Douglas Stuart, Brandon Taylor

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This year’s nominees are (clockwise from top left): Tsitsi Dangarembga, Avni Doshi, Maaza Mengiste, Brandon Taylor, Diane Cook and Douglas Stuart.

Four debut novels have been included on the shortlist for this year’s Booker Prize, but two-time winner Hilary Mantel has missed out.

Mantel had been tipped for a record third win for The Mirror and the Light.

Both previous titles in her trilogy about the life of Thomas Crowell, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, had won.

This year’s nominees are Diane Cook, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Avni Doshi, Maaza Mengiste, Douglas Stuart and Brandon Taylor. All are based outside the UK.

Image copyright
Els Zweerink

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Hilary Mantel’s Mirror and the Light was the final instalment in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy

The Booker Prize, the UK’s most prestigious literary award, is open to any novel written in English by an author of any nationality.

Commenting on Mantel’s omission, judge Lee Child said: “We thought it was an absolutely wonderful novel, no question about it… but there were books that were better, that’s all I can say personally.”

The topics covered by the six nominees are wide-ranging, including stories about climate change, the hardship of life in Zimbabwe, dementia, and the women soldiers of 1935 Ethiopia.

“The shortlist of six came together unexpectedly, voices and characters resonating with us all even when very different,” said Margaret Busby, chair of this year’s judges. “We are delighted to help disseminate these chronicles of creative humanity to a global audience.”

The 2020 shortlist:

  • Avni Doshi, – Burnt Sugar
  • Maaza Mengiste, -The Shadow King
  • Douglas Stuart – Shuggie Bain
  • Brandon Taylor – Real Life
  • Diane Cook – The New Wilderness
  • Tsitsi Dangarembga – This Mournable Body

This year’s winner will be announced on 17 November.

Last year saw Margaret Atwood and Bernadine Evaristo share the ¬£50,000 prize, breaking the Booker’s own 1992 rule of awarding it to only one author.

‘Impressive debuts and new and diverse voices’

By Rebecca Jones, BBC arts correspondent

Let’s talk about what IS on the list before discussing what is not.

With promotional literary events postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic and 600 books published on a single day in September, prizes like the Booker provide much-needed attention, especially for first-time novelists.

This shortlist rewards four impressive debuts and introduces readers to new and diverse voices, from as far afield as India, Ethiopia and Scotland – although five of the six authors were either born or now live in America.

The subjects covered are broad-ranging. Climate change, dementia, racism and homophobia all feature. Heavy-going? Occasionally yes, but these six novels all provide their own rewards.

It is, undoubtedly, a fresh and exciting list.

But I am surprised there was no room for Hilary Mantel. While The Mirror and the Light might not be the best book in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, it is still a tour de force and the ending stays with you long after you have finished the final page.

And I am astonished my personal favourite, Apeirogon by Colum McCann, did not make the cut. Hugely ambitious, it expands the very notion of the novel. I loved it. Read it anyway.

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