The 13 books on their year’s longlist have been selected from 158 novels published by writers of all nationalities in the UK or Ireland.
Japanese-born British writer Sir Kazuo Ishiguro could be up for his second Booker Prize for fiction with his eighth novel Klara and the Sun.
Sir Kazuo previously won the award in 1989 with The Remains of the Day, and has also been shortlisted an additional three times, for Never Let Me Go in 2005, When We Were Orphans in 2000 and An Artist of the Floating World in 1986.
The Booker Prize 2021 longlist in full
These are the 13 books included on the Booker Prize 2021 longlist competing for the prestigious literary award, and their blurbs.
“It begins with a message: a telephone call informing Krishan that his grandmother's former care-giver, Rani, has died in unexpected circumstances, at the bottom of a well in her village in the north, her neck broken by the fall.
“The news arrives on the heels of an email from Anjum, an activist he fell in love with four years earlier while living in Delhi, bringing with it the stirring of distant memories and desires. As Krishan makes the long journey by train from Colombo into the war-torn Northern Province for the funeral, so begins a passage into the soul of an island devastated by violence.”
“A woman invites a famed artist to visit the remote coastal region where she lives, in the belief that his vision will penetrate the mystery of her life and landscape.
“Over the course of one hot summer, his provocative presence provides the frame for a study of female fate and male privilege, of the geometries of human relationships, and of the struggle to live morally between our internal and external worlds.”
“The Promise charts the crash and burn of a white South African family, living on a farm outside Pretoria. The Swarts are gathering for Ma's funeral. The younger generation, Anton and Amor, detest everything the family stand for -- not least the failed promise to the Black woman who has worked for them her whole life. After years of service, Salome was promised her own house, her own land... yet somehow, as each decade passes, that promise remains unfulfilled.
“The narrator's eye shifts and blinks: moving fluidly between characters, flying into their dreams; deliciously lethal in its observation. And as the country moves from old deep divisions to its new so-called fairer society, the lost promise of more than just one family hovers behind the novel's title.”
“In the dying days of the American Civil War, newly freed brothers Landry and Prentiss find themselves cast into the world without a penny to their names. Forced to hide out in the woods near their former Georgia plantation, they're soon discovered by the land's owner, George Walker, a man still reeling from the loss of his son in the war.
“When the brothers begin to live and work on George's farm, the tentative bonds of trust and union begin to blossom between the strangers. But this sanctuary survives on a knife's edge, and it isn't long before the inhabitants of the nearby town of Old Ox react with fury at the alliances being formed only a few miles away.”
“The novel tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behaviour of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass in the street outside.
“She remains hopeful a customer will soon choose her, but when the possibility emerges that her circumstances may change for ever, Klara is warned not to invest too much in the promises of humans.”
“A young refugee washes up unconscious on the beach of a small island inhabited by no one but Samuel, an old lighthouse keeper.
“Unsettled, Samuel is soon swept up in memories of his former life on the mainland: a life that saw his country suffer, then fight for independence, only to fall to a cruel dictator; he recalls his own part in its history.”
“Clara's sister is missing. Angry, rebellious Rose, had a row with their mother, stormed out of the house and simply disappeared. Eight-year-old Clara, isolated by her distraught parents' efforts to protect her from the truth, is grief-stricken and bewildered.
“Liam Kane, newly divorced, newly unemployed, newly arrived in this small northern town, moves into the house next door, a house left to him by an old woman he can barely remember and within hours gets a visit from the police. It seems he's suspected of a crime.
“At the end of her life Elizabeth Orchard is thinking about a crime too, one committed thirty years ago that had tragic consequences for two families and in particular for one small child. She desperately wants to make amends before she dies.”
“A woman known for her viral social media posts travels the world speaking to her adoring fans, her entire existence overwhelmed by the internet - or what she terms 'the portal'. Are we in hell? the people of the portal ask themselves. Are we all just going to keep doing this until we die?
“Suddenly, two texts from her mother pierce the fray: 'Something has gone wrong,' and 'How soon can you get here?'
“As real life and its stakes collide with the increasing absurdity of the portal, the woman confronts a world that seems to contain both an abundance of proof that there is goodness, empathy and justice in the universe, and a deluge of evidence to the contrary.”
“Mahmood Mattan is a fixture in Cardiff's Tiger Bay, 1952, which bustles with Somali and West Indian sailors, Maltese businessmen and Jewish families. He is a father, chancer, some-time petty thief. He is many things, in fact, but he is not a murderer.
“So when a shopkeeper is brutally killed and all eyes fall on him, Mahmood isn't too worried. It is true that he has been getting into trouble more often since his Welsh wife Laura left him. But Mahmood is secure in his innocence in a country where, he thinks, justice is served.
“It is only in the run-up to the trial, as the prospect of freedom dwindles, that it will dawn on Mahmood that he is in a terrifying fight for his life - against conspiracy, prejudice and the inhumanity of the state. And, under the shadow of the hangman's noose, he begins to realise that the truth may not be enough to save him.”
“Theo Byrne is a promising young astrobiologist who has found a way to search for life on other planets dozens of light years away. He is also the widowed father of a most unusual nine-year-old. His son Robin is funny, loving, and filled with plans. He thinks and feels deeply, adores animals, and can spend hours painting elaborate pictures. He is also on the verge of being expelled from third grade, for smashing his friend's face with a metal thermos.
“What can a father do, when the only solution offered to his rare and troubled boy is to put him on psychoactive drugs? What can he say when his boy comes to him wanting an explanation for a world that is clearly in love with its own destruction? The only thing for it is to take the boy to other planets, while all the while fostering his son's desperate campaign to help save this one.”
“Mehar, a young bride in rural 1929 Punjab, is trying to discover the identity of her new husband. She and her sisters-in-law, married to three brothers in a single ceremony, spend their days hard at work in the family's 'china room', sequestered from contact with the men. When Mehar develops a theory as to which of them is hers, a passion is ignited that will put more than one life at risk.
“Spiralling around Mehar's story is that of a young man who in 1999 travels from England to the now-deserted farm, its 'china room' locked and barred. In enforced flight from the traumas of his adolescence - his experiences of addiction, racism, and estrangement from the culture of his birth - he spends a summer in painful contemplation and recovery, finally gathering the strength to return home.”
“From the days of giant passenger ships sliding past Arctic icebergs, to the daring pilots of WWII, to present-day Hollywood and its malcontents, at the core of this story is the indomitable Marian Graves and her twin brother Jamie who are twice abandoned by their parents. Marian and Jamie grow up roaming Montana forests, more comfortable with landscape than with people.
“When a pair of aerobats take their exhilarating show to a nearby airfield, Marian's life is changed forever. Watching them roll, dive, and loop in their mini plane, she can think of nothing else but flying. As she grows into a woman, she sacrifices everything to command the breathtaking sense of freedom, of utter control over her own fate, that she feels when in the air. She becomes one of the most fearless pilots of her time, and in 1949 she sets out to do what no one has done before: fly the Great Circle around the earth, north to south around the poles. Shortly before completing the journey, her plane disappears, lost to history.
“In 2015, Hadley Baxter, former child star and poster girl of the blockbuster Archangel franchise, has just been fired for cheating on her on-screen boyfriend. Struggling to escape the fury of the fans, she grasps at an offer for the comeback role of a lifetime: to play the famed female pilot Marian Graves in a biopic. From the first pages of the script, she feels an instant connection with Marian, a woman who refused to be bound by gravity or any of the other strictures of her time. After filming is complete, her bond grows stronger as she begins to question whether the Great Marian Graves really did die at all.”
“November 1944. A German rocket strikes London, and five young lives are atomised in an instant. November 1944. That rocket never lands. A single second in time is altered, and five young lives go on - to experience all the unimaginable changes of the twentieth century. Because maybe there are always other futures. Other chances.
“From the best-selling, prize-winning author of Golden Hill, Light Perpetual is a story of the everyday, the miraculous and the everlasting. Ingenious and profound, full of warmth and beauty, it is a sweeping and intimate celebration of the gift of life.”
What is the Booker Prize?
The Booker Prize is one of the largest literary awards in the world, and has been running annually for over 50 years.
Each year, the award is bestowed upon the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK or Ireland.
The winner of the Booker Prize receives £50,000, with £2,500 awarded to each of the six shortlisted authors.
Alongside the Booker Prize is the International Booker Prize, which is awarded to a book that has been translated into English, and published in the UK or Ireland.
Previous winners of the Booker Prize include Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart, The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo, Milkman by Anna Burns and Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.
When is the winner announced?
With the longlist having just been revealed, the next stage in the process is to narrow these 13 books down into a shortlist of six novels.
The shortlist will be announced on Tuesday 14 September, with the winner finally being revealed on Wednesday 3 November in an award ceremony held in partnership with the BBC Broadcasting House’s Radio Theatre.
Who are the judges this year?
A panel of judges are assembled each year, and are selected with the advice of the Booker Prize Foundation Advisory Committee, and is appointed by the Booker Prize Foundation.
The judges this year are:
Horatia Harrod, an editor at the Financial Times Weekend who has written extensively on arts and books, interviewing the likes of Margaret Atwood and Martin Scorsese. Previously Harrod worked at The Telegraph where she edited the Sunday Telegraph books pages.
Natascha McElhone, an actress who graduated from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. She has starred alongside Anthony Hopkins in Ivory’s Surviving Picasso, Jim Carrey in The Truman Show, and Brad Pitt in The Devil’s Own.
Chigozie Obioma is a Booker Prize twice shortlisted author, with his two novels The Fishermen and An Orchestra of Minorities bagging him nominations in 2015 and 2019. Obioma is also an associate professor of Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Dr Roman Williams is a theological writer, scholar and teacher. He is a noted poet and translator of poetry and, as well as his native Welsh, speaks or reads nine other languages. He learned Russian so he could read the works of Dostoevsky in the original. This led to the book Dostoevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction.
Maya Jasanoff is a professor at Harvard, where she holds named chairs in History and in the Arts and Sciences. Jasanoff is the author of three works of global history - Edge of Empire (2005), Liberty’s Exiles (2011) and The Dawn Watch (2017). She frequently writes about history and literature for publications including The Guardian, The New Yorker, and The New York Review of Books.
What’s been said about the 2021 Booker Prize?
Jasanoff said: “One thing that unites these books is their power to absorb the reader in an unusual story, and to do so in an artful, distinctive voice. Many of them consider how people grapple with the past — whether personal experiences of grief or dislocation or the historical legacies of enslavement, apartheid and civil war.
“Many examine intimate relationships placed under stress, and through them meditate on ideas of freedom and obligation, or on what makes us human.
“It’s particularly resonant during the pandemic to note that all of these books have important things to say about the nature of community, from the tiny and secluded to the unmeasurable expanse of cyberspace.”
Gaby Wood, director of the Booker Prize Foundation, said: “In recent years Booker Prize longlists have drawn attention to various elements of novelty in the novel: experimentalism of form, work in unprecedented genres, debut authors.
“This year’s list is more notable for the engrossing stories within it, for the geographical range of its points of view and for its recognition of writers who have been working at an exceptionally high standard for many years.
“Some have already been rewarded with prizes (a Nobel here, a Pulitzer there). Two are debut novelists. Many have fallen within the Booker’s orbit before.
“To see them brought together, and to hear from them in these books, is to know that literature is in the most capable and creative of hands.”