Booker Prize Shortlist Reflects the ‘Unease of Our Moment’

Paul Murray’s “The Bee Sting,” a tragicomedy about a family on the brink of financial ruin, and Jonathan Escoffery’s “If I Survive You,” which explores an American of Jamaican descent’s struggles with identity, are among six titles shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize — one of the highest profile awards in literature.

The shortlist, announced during an event at the National Portrait Gallery in London on Thursday, also includes Chetna Maroo’s “Western Lane,” about a squash prodigy coping with grief, and Paul Harding’s “This Other Eden,” about an isolated mixed race community that is troubled by outsiders.

Sarah Bernstein’s “Study for Obedience,” about a woman who travels to her brother’s home only to find that the local population is scared of her, and Paul Lynch’s “Prophet Song,” in which Ireland is reimagined as a totalitarian state, are the other two titles.

The six books all gestured at “the unease of our moment,” said Esi Edugyan, a novelist and the chair of this year’s judging panel. The novels included “portraits of societies pushed to the edge of tolerance” and “unflinching” examinations of generational trauma, Edugyan added in a news release announcing the list.

The Booker Prize, which was founded in 1969, is awarded each year to the author of a novel written in English and published in Britain or Ireland. It regularly helps birth literary stars. Last year, Shehan Karunatilaka, a Sri Lankan author, won for “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida,” a satire exploring the trauma of his country’s civil war.

Other recent winners include Damon Galgut, Douglas Stuart and Bernardine Evaristo.

The 13-strong longlist for this year’s prize, announced in August, was notable for containing four debut novels, and lacking household names. Sebastian Barry’s “Old God’s Time,” about a policeman whose quiet retirement is interrupted by an old case, was the highest profile title.

Barry did not make Thursday’s shortlist. Robert Webb, an actor, author and one of the judges, said at a news conference that omitting Barry’s novel had been “very difficult” but “there are only six places.”

Of the four longlisted debuts, only two — Maroo’s “Western Lane” and Escoffery’s “If I Survive You” — survived what Edugyan said were four-and-a-half hours of “very collegiate, but intense,” deliberations. “We got there in the end,” Edugyan added: “Everybody was still speaking to each other.”

The judges, who also include the actor Adjoa Andoh, the poet Mary Jean Chan and James Shapiro, a Shakespearean scholar, will now read the shortlisted books a final time before announcing the winner during a ceremony in London on Nov. 26. The winning author will received 50,000 pounds, or about $61,400.

Below are the six shortlisted novels:

  • Sarah Bernstein, “Study for Obedience”

  • Jonathan Escoffery, “If I Survive You”

  • Paul Harding, “This Other Eden”

  • Paul Lynch, “Prophet Song”

  • Chetna Maroo’s “Western Lane”

  • Paul Murray, “The Bee Sting”

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