The Booker Prize shortlist for 2019 has been revealed

Margaret Atwood’s long-awaited follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize before it has even been published.

The Testaments, which returns to the dystopian world of Gilead made famous by the hit TV show starring Elisabeth Moss, will be released next Tuesday in a wave of publicity.

As yet unread by anybody other than prestigious award’s judges, it takes place 15 years after the events of the first novel, first published in 1985, which is set in a totalitarian society which enslaves fertile women.

Atwood will read from her new book at the National Theatre on Tuesday night in an event that will be beamed to fans in more than 1,300 cinemas across the globe.

Atwood, who won the prize in 2000, is among six writers in the running for the £50,000 prize. Another heavyweight is Salman Rushdie, who won the Booker in 1981.

They are up against Turkish novelist Elif Shafak, Nigerian Chigozie Obioma, Londoner Bernadine Evaristo and Lucy Ellman whose novel, Ducks, Newbury Port, is a massive 998 page-long stream of consciousness.

The shortlist was announced this morning by the chairman of judges Peter Florence at the British Library. He said: “Like all great literature, these books teem with life, with a profound and celebratory humanity”.

The shortlist was chosen from 151 titles, with the eventual winner announced on Monday October 14 at an awards ceremony at Guildhall.

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Mr Florence added: “The common thread is our admiration for the extraordinary ambition of each of these books. There is an abundance of humour, of political and cultural engagement, of stylistic daring and astonishing beauty of language. We have a shortlist of six extraordinary books and we could make a case for each of them as winner, but I want to toast all of them as winners. Anyone who reads all six of these books would be enriched and delighted, would be awestruck by the power of story, and encouraged by what literature can do to set our imaginations free.”

Atwood and Rushdie are guaranteed to be best-sellers but winning the prize can transform the career of lesser-known authors.

Last year’s winner Anna Burns sold 963 copies of her novel Milkman in the week before the prize – she sold 9,446 the week after. Her book, set in the Northern Ireland Troubles, has now sold more than 500,000 copies and been translated into 40 languages.

The prize rules were changed in 2013 to open it up to writers beyond the Commonwealth provided they wrote in English and published in the UK.

Patriarchal tyranny falters as Atwood (and friends) lead the way

By David Sexton, Literary Editor


First you choose your judges. The Booker administrators, needing to recover from the continuing controversy over admitting American writers after 2013 and with new sponsors to impress, selected them carefully this year. 

The chairman, Peter Florence, director of the Hay Festival, is a distinguished literary impresario, acquainted with many of the contenders. Among the four diverse women who make up his panel, there are none of those pesky literary critics for once. It’s all good this year, with an emphasis on plurality and global reach. 

This Booker is unusual in that the overwhelming favourite, The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, has not yet been read by anybody other than the judges, remaining fiercely embargoed until its Harry Potter-style launch next week. 

We know it is 432 pages long, set 15 years after the end of The Handmaid’s Tale, narrated by three women, probably, judging from the sparky green cover, Marthas, rather than Handmaids. Does it matter that one of the judges, Liz Calder, is Atwood’s long-time British editor and close friend, or that Atwood starred at Hay last year, discussing The Handmaid’s Tale with Florence himself? Of course not! All good. Judging the Booker is not a legal process. 

Stirringly, only two of the shortlisted authors are men, neither of them white. The patriarchal tyranny so alarmingly envisaged by Atwood is faltering here at least! 

For more book inspiration, check out the Evening Standard’s books section.



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