2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Man Booker Prize and the organisers have launched a one-off prize to celebrate the best of the winning novels to date.
Five writers and poets will be choosing what they consider to be the best winner from each decade. The judges and their categories are Robert McCrum (1969-1979), Lemn Sissay (1980s), Kamila Shamsie (1990s), Simon Mayo (2000s) and Hollie McNish (2010s). There were joint winners in 1974 and 1992 hence why there are 51 winning novels to date. The “Golden Five” shortlisted books will go to a public vote between 26th May until 25th June and the winner will be announced at the Man Booker 50 festival at the Southbank Centre in London on 8th July.
The Best of the Booker award was held in 2008 to mark the 40th anniversary and the Booker of Bookers in 1993 for the 25th anniversary with 1981 winner ‘Midnight’s Children’ by Salman Rushdie taking the “best of the best” crown on both occasions. However, as there are now a few more titles to choose from, Rushdie may be less likely to dominate the competition on this occasion.
The Man Booker Prize is awarded to “the best novel in the opinion of the judges” and its leading status in the literary world guarantees wide readership and publicity. However, more often than not, the winning books often divide opinion. I have read 18 of them (although this includes two I didn’t finish), the majority of which won the Prize in more recent years, and my views are very mixed too. ‘The Remains of the Day’ by Kazuo Ishiguro, Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald and The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes are among my personal favourites. I admired Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton for their ambition but I can’t claim I truly adore them. I’m not a fan of ‘The Gathering’ by Anne Enright while ‘Posession’ by A. S. Byatt and ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’ by Marlon James are the two I failed to finish. Instead, many of my favourite books are to be found in the shortlists and longlists so I hope some of those titles will be acknowledged as part of the anniversary celebrations too.
I am planning to attend some of the Man Booker 50 festival events at the Southbank in July (the programme and tickets haven’t been released yet). It will be interesting to hear more about the earlier novels over the coming months as these are the ones I am less familiar with. While I won’t be tackling the full list of winners, there are a few more I intend to read including ‘Hotel du Lac’ by Anita Brookner and ‘The Inheritance of Loss’ by Kiran Desai (and maybe even ‘Midnight’s Children’ by Salman Rushdie at some point…).
How many Man Booker Prize-winning novels have you read and which ones would you like to see on the Golden Five shortlist?