This year’s Booker prize longlist, described as “challenging, stimulating, surprising, nourishing” by the chair of judges, contains the youngest and oldest authors ever to be nominated for the award.
Leila Mottley, who is just 20, and Alan Garner, who is 87, are among 13 writers to make the longlist for this year’s prize, which chair of judges Neil MacGregor said offers “story, fable and parable, fantasy, mystery, meditation and thriller”.
Cultural historian and writer MacGregor is joined on the judging panel by academic and broadcaster Shahidha Bari; historian Helen Castor; author and critic M John Harrison; and novelist and poet Alain Mabankou. The judges read a total of 169 submissions.
MacGregor said the longlisted books are “exceptionally well written and carefully crafted” and “seem to us to exploit and expand what the language can do”.
The list is light on big names – previous years have seen authors including Hilary Mantel and Kazuo Ishiguro nominated – with Garner among the most famous authors to make the cut. He is best known for his award-winning 1967 novel The Owl Service.
Garner is longlisted for Treacle Walker, about a young boy called Joe who is visited by a wanderer and healer, sparking an unlikely friendship. If he goes on to win, Garner would be the oldest winner ever, turning 88 on the day of this year’s award ceremony.
At the other end of the scale is Mottley, the youngest writer ever to be longlisted. The record was previously held by Jon McGregor; he was 26 when her debut If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things made the list in 2002. Mottley wrote Nightcrawling when she 17, inspired by a real-life case of police officers sexually abusing a young woman in Oakland, California.
Mottley is one of six American authors to make this year’s list, alongside Hernan Diaz, Percival Everett, Karen Joy Fowler, Selby Wynn Schwartz and Elizabeth Strout. Also on the list is NoViolet Bulawayo, who was born in Zimbabwe but now lives in the US. Their dominance may well reignite the debate around the decision to open the Booker prize to US authors in 2014.
There are three Britons on the list – Garner, Maddie Mortimer and Scottish writer Graeme Macrae Burnet – as well as two authors from Ireland: Claire Keegan and Audrey Magee. The final spot is taken by Shehan Karunatilaka, who is the second Sri Lankan in two years to be nominated.
Mottley’s Nightcrawling is one of three debuts on the list, alongside Mortimer’s Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies and Schwartz’s After Sappho. Mortimer’s novel, which tells the story of a woman with cancer trying to come to terms with her illness, and is partially narrated by the cancer cells in her body, recently won the Desmond Elliot prize. After Sappho begins in 1880s Italy, introducing the baby who will grow up to become the Italian poet Lina Poletti, and moves forward through time spotlighting groundbreaking writers and artists including Virginia Woolf, Josephine Baker and Radclyffe Hall.
Four authors – Bulawayo, Fowler, Burnet and Strout – have been nominated for the award before.
Bulawayo is listed for Glory, which is narrated by a chorus of animals and inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm. A response to the fall of Robert Mugabe, it describes a coup that ousts Old Horse as leader after 40 years in power, alongside his despised wife, a donkey named Marvellous.
Burnet, who was shortlisted for the prize in 2016 for His Bloody Project, is this year longlisted for Case Study, about a woman who believes a charismatic psychotherapist has driven her sister to suicide. Strout’s Oh William! is part of her Lucy Barton series, and sees the character reconnect with her first husband. It was with her dela first Lucy Barton book, My Name is Lucy Barton, that Strout was shortlisted for the Booker in 2016.
Fowler’s Booth is a historical novel about the man who shot Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, and his family. Fowler was previously shortlisted in 2014 for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Also invoking a real-life figure is Everett’s The Trees, in which detectives investigate a series of murders in Money, Mississippi, where Emmett Till was lynched 65 years earlier.
The shortest book on the list is Keegan’s 116-page Small Things Like These, set in the run-up to Christmas 1985 in a small Irish town. Fellow Irish author Magee makes the list for The Colony, in which two men spend the summer on a sparsely populated island, while Hernan Diaz is longlisted for Trust, centered on a 1920s Wall Street tycoon. The list is completed by Karunatilaka’s The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, about a war photographer caught up in the horrors of civil war.
MacGregor said the books on the list “reflect – and reflect on – the concerns of our planet over the last few years”, addressing how “we imagine disease as a living enemy to be fought on a daily basis, questions of racial and gender injustice , and the fragility of the political order”.
Two larger themes that emerged, he said, are the “extent to which individual lives are shaped and determined by long historical processes” and “the elusive nature of truth: not in the sense that we live in a post-truth world, but in demonstrating the persistence, energy and skepticism required to get as close as is possible to truth, and so to a proper understanding, whether of one particular person, or of a nation-destroying civil war”.
The 2022 longlist has a strong showing of independent publishers; of the 13 novels, eight are published by indies, with four from small presses, including Influx and Sort Of, making the longlist for the first time. Of the remaining five, two are published by Penguin Random House, two by Pan Macmillan and one by HarperCollins.
Gaby Wood, director of the Booker prize foundation, said: “The 2022 Booker judges come from very different corners of the reading world, yet from the moment they met they have revealed in each other’s opinions and delighted in each other’s company.
“The result is a set of books that are sometimes serious but never shadow, whose authors engage you with their wit, even as you absorb their dramatic, painful or provocative subject matter. It’s in this playfulness, of form or tone, that this year’s fiction is at its best.”
The shortlist of six books will be announced on 6 September and the winner will be announced on 17 October.
The Booker prize 2022 longlist
Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo
Trust by Hernan Diaz
The Trees by Percival Everett
Booth by Karen Joy Fowler
Treacle Walker by Alan Garner
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shahan Karunatilaka
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet
The Colony by Audrey Magee
Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer
Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley
After Sappho by Selby Lynn Schwartz
Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout