Back at the dawn of this blog (which is only a few months … ) I did a list that detailed the books that I felt should have won the Booker prize, but didn’t. Today, with the announcement of this year’s award just hours away, I thought I’d celebrate the prize and the novels that have won it since its inception in 1969. I will confess that I haven’t read all of the winners, however I have read my fair share and so this list is going to be slightly more personal than the other lists on this blog … but only slightly!
- The Siege of Krishanapur by J.G. Farrell (1973)
Farrell was one of the first authors to win the Booker Prize as well as (technically speaking) the first person to win it twice (a feat also shared by Hilary Mantel and Peter Carey). The novel is a sometimes-hilarious account of a siege on a fictional town in India that is largely inhabited by British residents. The novel cleverly flips the idea of the British ruling the native Indian population and has been described as a masterpiece in the past.
“We look on past ages with condescension, as a mere preparation for us … but, what if we are a mere after-glow of them?”
-The Siege of Krishanapur – J.G. Farrell
- The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)
Kazuo Ishiguro may have been a name you’d never heard off until his recent Nobel Prize win and now I’m sure it feels as if he’s everywhere. Now, whilst Never Let Me Go may seem to be a holy text among millennials, it is actually The Remains of the Day that Ishiguro has received the most plaudits for. The Remains of the Day is a love letter to the British society of old, as well as a love story between a butler and a maid. If they had made Downton Abbey as good as this, then I might have even watched it … Also check out the film adaptation starring Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins.
- Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey (1988)
Now we come to our second of two-time Booker winners, with the Australian, Peter Carey (who was the first Aussie to win. The only other Australian author being Richard Flanagan). Oscar and Lucinda is not what you’d call a ‘light read’ and can seem daunting at first, but if you dive headfirst in to its plot, you’ll find a piece of quirky, historical fiction that deals with two compulsive gamblers who meet on the ship to Australia, and where they get into a bet regarding the building of a remote church.
“She could marry this man, she knew, and still be captain of her soul.”
-Oscar and Lucinda – Peter Carey
- The Ghost Road by Pat Barker (1995)
The Ghost Road is the concluding part of Barker’s Regeneration trilogy of war novels (along with Regeneration and The Eye in the Door). The interesting aspect of this war trilogy is that the vast majority of it happens away from the actual war. The first, for example, is set in British hospital where soldiers (most commonly with shell-shock) are sent for treatment and rehabilitation until they can be sent back to the front. This differing take on the war and Barker’s weaving in of historical characters into a fictional work, is why her trilogy struck such a chord with the Booker committee.
- The Famished Road by Ben Okri (1991)
Anyone who reads the blog regularly will know that I have a thing for the sub-genre known as magical realism, so it’s no surprise that The Famished Road has found its way onto this list. The novel, by Nigerian born, Okri, is about a ‘spirit-child’ who lives in the mortal realm and is constantly harassed by his siblings from the spirit-world. The novel follows Azaro’s journey surviving in the ghetto of an unnamed African city as his parents endeavour to raise their social standing. A magical novel that stays with you long after you’ve finished it … like all good books, I suppose …
“This is what you must be like. Grow wherever life puts you down.”
-The Famished Road – Ben Okri
- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997)
Similar in style and scope to Midnight’s Children, this entry follows a set of Indian fraternal twins as they navigate their lives through forbidden love, betrayal, misogyny, and class relations. The novel touches on similar aspects to Rushdie’s magnum opus, however it is more personal and not as far-reaching, which I think is nice and serves as a nice counter-point to Midnight’s Children … plus there are no Indian X-Men in The God of Small Things …
- The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
After our trips through Africa and India, we’re coming crashing back down to England. Specifically, to Margaret Thatcher’s rolling cesspit of a country during the 1980s … which did produce The Smiths … so every cloud, I suppose … The novel follows Nick Guest as he tries to live a post-Oxford degree life as a gay man in Thatcher’s Britain. The novel ends with the burgeoning AIDs crisis after dealing with the ideas of hypocrisy and privilege (which are, unfortunately, becoming more and more relevant again with the rise of Thatcher 2.0: Mrs May).
“He wanted pure compliments, just as he wanted unconditional love.”
-The Line of Beauty – Alan Hollinghurst
- Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009)
When Wolf Hall was released, I largely ignored it due to the fact that I assumed it was another Phillipa Gregory-esque historical cluster-f**k of a novel … and then it won the Booker and so I was duty-bound to pick it up and give it a go. I then discovered one of my favourite novels of all time and quite possibly the most beautifully crafted prose I’d ever read. The books concern Henry VIII’s court with all of its assassinations, back stabbing, intrigue, sex, and blood, however it is told from the point of view of his chief advisor -- and sometime historical villain -- Thomas Cromwell (no, not that Cromwell). It was the first part of a trilogy (with the second part also winning the Booker) and so I can’t wait for part number three!
- The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (2014)
I recommended this book a few weeks ago, so if you want a more in-depth look at this war-time masterpiece, then give that a read. There is an argument to be made that I’m letting my personal feelings for this novel get in the way of my critical duty as a list maker-y blogger, type person-thingy, however it is also an excellent, harrowing, thrilling, emotional (hated cliché alert) rollercoaster ride that takes us into the (hated cliché alert) heart of darkness that was the Japanese POW camps building the Burma death railway. However, (hated cliché alert) at its heart is a tender love story that is torn apart by war and jealousy. A must read, in my opinion.
“There are words and words and none mean anything. And then one sentence means everything.”
-The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan
- Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)
Yes, it may be one of my all-time favourite novels, but many other critics believe it to be the best novel that has ever won the Booker, as well, so it’s not just me being biased like I was with entry two … If you follow the blog, then you are already very familiar with the plot: boy born at the stroke of midnight on the day of India’s independence from Britain grows up to have special powers, as well as any other child born during the first hour of independence. An Indian X-Men (as I alluded to earlier), but also a masterfully rich novel, woven to perfection. No one could have pulled this novel off, but Rushdie.
If you disagree with me and would have preferred I include Iris Murdoch or The Life of Pi, then let me know on Twitter @MugwumpBlog.