The 2021 Booker Prize Longlist has been announced, and features a number of books published by Penguin Random House.
Stories from South Africa, Canada, India and Wales have been recognised including The Fortune Men, A Town Called Solace, Bewilderment, China Room and The Promise which are the longlisted books published by Penguin.
While last year’s Booker Prize was dominated by debut novelists, this year’s longlist appears to be acknowledging more established writers from several corners of the world.
This year’s longlisting is the third for Damon Galgut, the South African author of The Promise, who was also recognised by the Prize for The Good Doctor (2003) and In A Strange Room (2010). The Promise, which tells the story of relations between a white South African family and the Black woman who has worked for them, is Galgut’s ninth novel.
Richard Powers's critically acclaimed novel The Overstory was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2019 and went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in the same year. He returns to this year's Longlist with Bewilderment, which follows the relationship between a father and son as they explore the possibility of life on other planets while confronting the man-made destruction of Earth.
The Fortune Men is Nadifa Mohamed’s third novel and examines the arrest of an innocent Somali immigrant in 1950s Cardiff. Mohamed, who was born in Somaliland before moving to London as a child, based the novel on real events and told Penguin.co.uk it was dedicated as much to the real Mahmood Mattan as “the women of this story… they were left broken but what luminescent shards they left behind.”
Mary Lawson’s A Town Called Solace is set in Northern Ontario and brings together the lives of three people involved, in some way, with a crime. It is the fourth novel from Lawson, whose debut, Crow Lake, became an international bestseller upon its publication in 2003, when she was in her fifties. This is her second Booker Prize longlisting after her second novel, The Other Side of the Bridge, was longlisted in 2006.
Sunjeev Sahota has also been longlisted for a second time with his novel, China Room, after his 2015 novel, The Year of the Runaways was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. China Room takes its title from a room in a family home in rural Punjab where three sisters struggle to identify the three brothers they will marry in a joint ceremony. With a narrative split 70 years apart – between 1929 and 1999 – Sahota tells a story of passion, danger, addiction and racism, and how connecting with one’s culture can offer healing.
Also nominated is Maggie Shipstead's Great Circle, the epic story of rebel-hearted aviator Marian Graves and troubled starlet Hadley Baxter. The widely-lauded novel took Shipstead six years to write, a process she described for penguin.co.uk in May 2021: "I wasn’t confident I could put the high latitudes vividly on the page without first-hand experience, and, indeed, when I found my way to the top and bottom of the globe, the tactile, immersive experience of Being There brought wonder and surprise."
Elsewhere on the list are Kazuo Ishiguro, who could win his second Booker for Klara and the Sun, No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood and Rachel Cusk with Second Place.
Judge Rowan Williams, a writer and former archbishop of Canterbury, said: "When you think of what’s won the Booker over the years, you want something that puts down a slightly fresh marker … That’s not to say you look for novelty for its own sake. The other thing about a Booker winner is that it ought to be a book that people enjoy reading, call me old-fashioned if you like. You don’t want something that is so experimental as to be highly satisfying to the author and a few ultra-sophisticated critics. You do want something that will keep people turning the pages.”
Director of the Booker Prize Foundation Gaby Wood added that while recent Booker longlists have “drawn attention to various elements of novelty in the novel: experimentalism of form, work in unprecedented genres, debut authors”, this year’s list was “more notable for the engrossing stories within it, for the geographical range of its points of view and for its recognition of writers who have been working at an exceptionally high standard for many years”.
The Booker Prize is an annual prize given to the best novel written in England and published in the UK or Ireland, with a reward of £50,000. The shortlist will be announced on 14 September, and the winner at a yet-to-be-disclosed date.
Last year, the Prize was won by Douglas Stuart for his debut novel, Shuggie Bain.