“The Booker prize 2023 longlist: Irish writers and people named Paul dominate, with surprises and little-known debuts”

By | August 1, 2023



This year’s Booker Prize longlist has surprised many with the inclusion of Irish writers and lesser-known debuts. While notable novels like Zadie Smith’s “The Fraud” and Tom Crewe’s “The New Life” didn’t make the list, four Irish writers have been recognized. Sebastian Barry’s “Old God’s Time” explores the repercussions of childhood abuse, while Paul Murray’s “The Bee Sting” uncovers family secrets against the backdrop of climate anxiety. Elaine Feeney’s “How to Build a Boat” delves into the meaning of community, and Paul Lynch’s “Prophet Song” depicts a chilling study of Ireland’s transformation into a fascist state. The longlist also features science fiction, historical fiction, and novels that tackle social inequality and coming-of-age narratives. Justine Jordan reported

Irish Writers Take the Lead on Booker Prize 2023 Longlist

In a surprising turn of events, this year’s Booker Prize 2023 longlist is dominated by Irish writers and individuals named Paul. This comes as a pleasant surprise for those who have been critical of the number of American writers nominated since the widening of eligibility in 2014. However, the judges have also chosen to shine a spotlight on lesser-known debut novels, deviating from their usual selection of major literary works.

While it may be reductive to focus on what is not included in the longlist, many readers were expecting to see highly anticipated novels such as Zadie Smith’s “The Fraud” and Tom Crewe’s acclaimed debut “The New Life.” Nonetheless, the presence of four Irish writers is not at all surprising, and the absence of Anne Enright’s forthcoming novel “The Wren, The Wren” and Claire Kilroy’s powerful story of new motherhood, “Soldier Sailor,” is notable.

Sebastian Barry, a veteran author known for pushing the boundaries with each new book, presents “Old God’s Time,” a devastating and dreamlike exploration of the lifelong impact of historic childhood abuse in Catholic institutions. Paul Murray, beloved for his tragicomic novel “Skippy Dies,” delivers the novel of his career with “The Bee Sting,” which uncovers a family’s hidden secrets against the backdrop of climate anxiety. This novel is likely the most enjoyable and gripping read on the list.

Elaine Feeney’s “How to Build a Boat” delves into the meaning of community and the struggle of being an outsider through the story of a young boy. Paul Lynch’s “Prophet Song,” scheduled for release in September, offers a chilling study of Ireland’s descent into fascism.


It is refreshing to see Lynch’s dystopian novel nominated for a prize that often focuses on historical fiction. “Prophet Song” is an impressive work both stylistically and politically, as it remains closely tied to one woman’s perspective throughout. The protagonist, Eilish, must navigate the challenges of maintaining a normal family life after her husband is detained by the police for his involvement in union activities. Lynch skillfully captures the disbelief and denial of the characters as they witness the gradual slide into totalitarianism. This urgent and important novel is a must-read.

Another exciting addition to the longlist is Scottish author Martin MacInnes’ science fiction novel, “In Ascension.” MacInnes, an unusual and groundbreaking writer, explores cosmic exploration and existential wonder, taking readers from the depths of the ocean to the vastness of space. This slice of science fiction offers a unique perspective amidst the other literary works on the list.

Tan Twan Eng, a Malaysian author, is no stranger to the Booker Prize, as this marks his third nomination with as many novels. Known for his skill in historical fiction, Eng’s “The House of Doors” transports readers to 1920s Penang, where colonial scandal and Chinese revolutionaries shape the narrative. This novel provides a sideways view on empire, global disruption, and the court of public opinion, offering sharp relevance to contemporary society.

Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Harding’s “This Other Eden” is inspired by real-life events. Set at the beginning of the 20th century, the novel explores the forced resettlement of a small island off the coast of Maine. Harding masterfully weaves a tale of mixed-race families, descended from trafficked Africans and poor immigrants, who found autonomy and freedom from a racist society on the island. Ideas of eugenics and “civilization” infiltrate the narrative, which is richly textured and evocative, resembling a fable.

Sarah Bernstein’s “Study for Obedience” also possesses a fabular quality as it follows a woman who is ostracized by a community haunted by past horrors. This novel delves into themes of otherness and the impact of the past on the present.

The experience of the outsider and the search for identity are prevalent themes throughout this year’s longlist. Jonathan Escoffery’s “If I Survive You” centers around a Jamaican family in late 20th-century Miami, exploring their struggles against racism and poverty. The novel is a fluid and freewheeling work, often viewed as a collection of interconnected short stories rather than a traditional novel. Escoffery employs dark humor and the second-person perspective to great effect, drawing readers into the characters’ experiences.

Ayòbámi Adébáyò’s “A Spell of Good Things” sheds light on social inequality, state corruption, and stifling conventions in Nigeria during the 2000s. The novel focuses on Eniolá, a teenage girl whose potential is hindered by the failings of the state. Many of the longlisted titles explore coming-of-age narratives and feature youthful protagonists, capturing the challenges and complexities of growing up.

Chetna Maroo’s debut novel “Western Lane” stands out as a stunning example of the child narrator trope. The novel follows 11-year-old Gopi and her sisters as they navigate life after the death of their mother, with their grief channeled into playing squash by their father. Maroo’s spare and tender prose, combined with the metaphor of the ball ricocheting around the squash court, creates a poignant and evocative story.

In Siân Hughes’ “Pearl,” inspired by a medieval poem of the same name, the protagonist Marianne reminisces about her mother’s love and embarks on a journey of grief and healing. This gentle and folkloric tale looks towards Marianne’s future as a mother and explores themes of love and loss.

Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow’s “All the Little Bird-Hearts” also examines motherhood, focusing on the relationship between autistic Sunday and her teenage daughter, which is tested by the arrival of a dangerous new friend. Lloyd-Barlow, who is autistic herself, explores the complexities of connection and difference within family bonds.

The Booker Prize 2023 longlist presents an array of intimate and poetic novels that explore themes of grief, growing up, and the experience of being an outsider. These works offer a unique blend of personal narratives and political commentary, providing readers with a diverse and thought-provoking reading experience..

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