The six finalists of the 2023 Booker Prize include two debuts: Chetna Maroo's Western Lane and Jonathon Escoffery's If I Survive You
Indian-origin author Chetna Maroo is among the six finalists of the 2023 Booker Prize for Western Lane, a tender and moving debut novel about grief, sisterhood, a teenage girl’s struggle to transcend herself – and squash. The shortlist of six books was announced at the National Portrait Gallery in London on Thursday night (September 21). The other five novels on the shortlist include The Bee Sting by Paul Murray, Prophet Song by Paul Lynch, This Other Eden by Paul Harding, If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery and Sarah Bernstein’s Study for Obedience. The shortlist includes two debuts.
Announcing the award, Esi Edugyan, chair of the Booker Prize 2023 judges, 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. 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.”
Edugyan added: “All six novels 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.”
Novels on 2023’s most pressing concerns
Among the six, there is one British, one Canadian, two Irish and two American authors. According to the Booker Prize Foundation, although full of hope, humour and humanity, the books 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. They feature characters in search of peace and belonging or lamenting lost loves. There are books that are grounded in modern reality, that shed light on shameful episodes in history and which imagine a terrifying future.
“Together these works showcase the breadth of what world literature can do, while gesturing at the unease of our moment. From Bernstein and Harding’s outsiders attempting to establish lives in societies that reject them, to the often-funny struggles of Escoffery and Murray’s adolescents as they carve out identities for themselves beyond their parents’ mistakes, to Maroo and Lynch’s elegant evocations of family grief – each speaks distinctly about our shared journeys while refusing to be defined as any one thing,” Edugyan said.
These are supple stories with many strands, many moods, in whose complications we come to recognise ourselves. They are vibrant, nervy, electric. In these novelists’ hands, form is pushed hard to see what it yields, and it is always something astonishing. Language – indeed, life itself – is thrust to its outer limits,’ she added.
Edugyan, twice-shortlisted for the Booker Prize, is joined by actor, writer and director Adjoa Andoh; poet, lecturer, editor and critic Mary Jean Chan; Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and Shakespeare specialist James Shapiro; and actor and writer Robert Webb. The judges are looking for the best work of long-form fiction, written in English, selected from entries published in the UK and Ireland between October 1 2022 and September 30 2023.
The Bee Sting is “an irresistibly funny, wise, and thought-provoking tour de force about family, fortune, and the struggle to be a good person when the world is falling apart.” Lynch’s Prophet Song, about a mother who faces a terrible choice, is an “exhilarating, propulsive and confrontational portrait of a society on the brink.” Paul Harding’s This Other Eden celebrates the hopes, dreams and resilience of those deemed not to fit in a world brutally intolerant of difference. While Jonathan Escoffery’s 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 pay cheques, Sarah Bernstein’s Study for Obedience is an accomplished and unsettling novel which explores themes of prejudice, abuse and guilt through the eyes of a singularly unreliable narrator
The winner of the £50,000 prize will be announced at an event at Old Billingsgate, London, on November 26, 2023.