This year’s Booker prize broke all the rules. Not only did a black woman win it for the first time in the prize’s history, but she had to share it.
Despite a 1992 ruling that explicitly states that the prize should not be divided or withheld, this year’s judges (controversially) awarded it to both Bernadine Evaristo’s ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ and Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Testaments’.
Atwood’s long-awaited sequel to her dystopian classic ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ was an early frontrunner, while British-Nigerian author Evaristo’s ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ interweaves the stories of 12 women to show how our lives are both connected and utterly our own. Debate may be swirling around the judge’s decision to split the prize, but there’s little doubt that both women are worthy winners.
This year’s shortlist included four books by women. In addition to the two winners there was ‘Ducks, Newburyport’ by Lucy Ellman – a riotous trip through the mind of an Ohio housewife that deftly blurs the boundaries between the domestic and the public, the personal and the political – and Elif Shafak’s equally boundary-busting ’10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World’, which describes the final moments of consciousness experienced by the female victim of a fatal assault.
Salman Rushdie’s modern retelling of ‘Don Quixote’ as a travelling salesman, ‘Quichotte’, also made the list. As did Chigozie Obioma’s second novel ‘An Orchestra of Minorities’, a story narrated entirely by the main character’s chi (a kind of spiritual guardian).
Now you might wonder why we should care. It’s true that literary prizes in general and the Booker in particular have attracted as much criticism as praise over the years, but they still remain an honest attempt to steer readers in the general direction of some of the year’s best books.
If any one of them sparks your interest, we do of course have copies in the Arthur Holt Library, ready for you to borrow. That news ought to come as a relief to Atwood and Evaristo, since in 1981, nominee John Banville offered to use the prize money to buy every copy of every longlisted book in Ireland and donate them to libraries, “thus ensuring that the books not only are bought, but also read.” Sounds like a great idea to us!