Booker Prize longlist predictions are rarely dominated by one book, but the question of whether or not The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel will make the cut will shape a lot of the debate this year. It would open up the potential for Mantel to be the first author to win the Booker Prize three times following the first two books in the trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall in 2009 and Bring Up the Bodies in 2013.
If the judges do select ‘The Mirror and the Light’, they will still need to nominate another 12 books to sit alongside it on the “Booker dozen” longlist. I haven’t read many eligible books this year due to library closures during lockdown which is my main source of new books. However, I was lucky enough read a review copy of Summerwater by Sarah Moss which is due to be published next month and I would very much like to see Moss receive a long overdue nomination for this brilliantly unnerving novel set in a Scottish holiday park. I also enjoyed Scabby Queen by Kirstin Innes which is about the life of a Scottish pop star and political activist who takes her own life.
I recently bought a copy of Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld which is a reimagining of the life of Hillary Rodham Clinton if she hadn’t married Bill – an intriguing premise if ever there was one. Another fictionalised version of a real person’s life that I am keen to read is Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell about William Shakespeare’s son and is O’Farrell’s first foray into historical fiction. I am also looking forward to reading The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. One of the most talked-about books of the summer, Bennett’s second novel tells the story of twin sisters, one of whom constructs a new identity as a white woman.
Of books written by previous winners other than Mantel, Actress by Anne Enright could be in with a chance although I can’t say I have particularly fond memories of reading ‘The Gathering’ which won in 2007. I think Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell about a 1960s rock band has strong potential to be on the longlist too and sounds more appealing than Cloud Atlas which was shortlisted in 2004 (and which I failed to finish). Apeirogon by Colum McCann could follow the Irish author’s longlisting in 2013 with his latest novel based on the stories of two real families in the Israeli-Palestine conflict.
Debut novels which have been well-received this year include Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez about a young gay black man who flees a religious community in Wolverhampton for London and Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart which is set in Glasgow in the 1980s. That Reminds Me by Derek Owusu recounts the life of a British-Ghanaian man and won this year’s Desmond Elliott Prize. I particularly like the sound of The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams about a Victorian lexicographer who adds false entries to the dictionary.
The longlist will be announced on Tuesday 28th July followed by the shortlist on 15th September. Which books do you think will appear on this year’s longlist?