I often try to second-guess the judges of the Booker Prize, and I almost always get it wrong, although I know at least as much about trade books and contemporary literary fiction as most broadsheet books journos. This will be the first time I’ve committed myself to my hunches for the longlist (announced on Tuesday 27th) in writing. I’ve listed books I’ve read, or books I want to read that fit the criteria for entry, but I suspect my list might be a little too mainstream, with lots of big names.

According to the Booker website, the prize “awards any work of long form fiction originally written in English and published in the UK and Ireland in the year of the prize, regardless of the nationality of their author.”  So short stories and memoir are out, but we’ve definitely had a graphic novel on the list before, so that’s a possibility. Entries must be published in the UK – or Ireland – “between 1 October of the year prior, and 30 September of the year of that award”.

I feel the list typically comprises a mix of well-established names, under-the-radar debut writers, and a smattering of names from outside the usual suspects of the UK, Ireland, the USA and Canada and Australia, with Nigeria and India being favourite recent sources of literary nominees. The panel always seem to love a bit of post-colonial angst, and a dystopia or two. Then maybe a surprise high-end crime novel or thriller to throw us out of our smug lit-fic rut (though these books never make the shortlist – see eg Belinda Bauer’s Snap, Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister the Serial Killer or Tom Rob Smith’s excellent Child 44).

I wanted to include Jhumpa Lahiri’s Whereabouts on my longlist, but although she normally writes in English, this time she has first written her novel in her adopted language of Italian, before translating it herself into English, so I feel this disqualifies her, although this didn’t stop the books team at The Times for tipping it for the longlist in their latest newsletter…

Given the delays to publishing schedules inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, I feel this year there will be strong field – I’ve added and then taken off A Burning by Megha Majumdar, the new Elif Shafak and We are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan, and I could have listed about 20 titles …. but I’ve gone for the maximum allowable number of titles, with 13 (rather than 12) predictions.

If I get them all right my husband says I qualify for a prize (he suggest a packet of fruit pastilles, which is a crappy prize). I think instead I might treat myself to a copy of a book 😁.

Here are my choices:

  1. Lean, Fall, Stand by Jon McGregor

2. The Promise by Damon Galgut

3. The Magician by Colm Toibin

4. The Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

5. Talk to Me by T. C. Boyle

6. Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

7. Second Place by Rachel Cusk

8. How Beautiful We Were by Imbolo Mbue

9. The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

10. Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

11. The Manningtree Witches by A. K. Blakemore

12. Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

13. Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyazi

Join the Conversation


  1. Some good choices here – I’m reading Lean, Stand, Fall right now and will be surprised if it doesn’t make the list.
    Your point about some books being “too mainstream” is a good one – I thought last year that the judging panel had an agenda about diversity that strongly influenced their choices. We do need more diversity but they are meant to be selecting the very best works of fiction and I don’t think they did. Ok, I shall get off my soap box now 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I’m looking forward to the list, but in recent years I must admit I have felt a bit disappointed by some of the choices. We shall see! I do like to see a mix of established writers and less well-known or new writers, though I imagine the jury can’t win in a way – people complain if they seem too pedestrian in their choices, but also complain if there are too many relatively obscure writers! I really loved the Maaza Mengiste novel that was short-listed last year, but aside from that I wasn’t really blown away.


  2. I think you are wrong to the Flanagan – it was published in the U.K. in January

    Good choices though – I have read 9 and all are good contenders.

    Liked by 1 person

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