Looking for your latest literary goal? Try checking out these Man Booker Prize–Nominated books! The Man Booker Prize, awarded annually since 1969, recognizes the best original novel written in the English language. Each year, the judges also release a long- and shortlist of finalists. Our list is comprised of 13 of our personal favorite Man Booker-longlisted books, finalists, and winners from the past 20 years.
In this darkly humorous thriller, Korede and Ayoola, two Nigerian sisters, have a sinister secret: Ayoola, a beautiful and charming sociopath, likes to kill her boyfriends, and Korede, the sister in the shadows, is particularly talented at covering Ayoola’s tracks. But when Korede’s longtime crush, a handsome doctor she works with, begins dating Ayoola, Korede is finally done with being her sister’s number two. In this caustic, titillating, and terrifying debut, Oyinkan Braithwaite delights in the dangerous desires we harbor and let fester.
Rachel Kushner’s third novel, THE MARS ROOM, weaves together the past and present lives of Romy Hall, a young woman embarking on the first of her two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility. With grit, compassion, and razor-sharp character insights, Kushner illuminates both the brutal and tedious daily routines of life in prison. As the days tick by, elements of Romy’s real world—her girlhood in San Francisco, her son, Jackson—recede further into something that feels comically, hauntingly unreal.
TIME’S #1 FICTION TITLE OF THE YEAR • NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2018
FINALIST for the MAN BOOKER PRIZE and the NATIONAL BOOK CRITICS CIRCLE AWARD
LONGLISTED for the ANDREW CARNEGIE MEDAL
An instant New York Times bestseller from two-time National Book Award finalist Rachel Kushner, The Mars Room earned tweets from Margaret Atwood—“gritty, empathic, finely rendered, no sugar toppings, and a lot of punches, none of them pulled”—and from Stephen King—“The Mars Room is the real deal, jarring, horrible, compassionate, funny.”
It’s 2003 and Romy Hall, named after a German actress, is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, deep in California’s Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: her young son, Jackson, and the San Francisco of her youth. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living, portrayed with great humor and precision.
Stunning and unsentimental, The Mars Room is “wholly authentic…profound…luminous” (The Wall Street Journal), “one of those books that enrage you even as they break your heart” (The New York Times Book Review, cover review)—a spectacularly compelling, heart-stopping novel about a life gone off the rails in contemporary America. It is audacious and tragic, propulsive and yet beautifully refined and “affirms Rachel Kushner as one of our best novelists” (Entertainment Weekly).
Once upon a time, in a nameless country not far away, passionate, strong-willed Nadia and soft-spoken, restrained Saeed meet. From this seemingly innocuous beginning, EXIT WEST whisks its two lovers away through a world marred by civil war, bomb blasts, and violent turmoil. In this contemporary classic about courage, love, and loyalty in times of political and social unrest, Nadia and Saeed must take a mysterious way out while still doing their best to stay together.
In this contemporary portrait of rural America, Roscoe Martin believes his desires are simple: a loving wife, an adoring child, and a satisfying job as an electrician. But when his family comes upon hard financial times, Roscoe begins siphoning energy from his town’s electricity source to feed his professional goals. Soon, Roscoe is in prison for manslaughter. Without his wife, child, or labor, Roscoe is left alone to wonder what it was he was after in the first place and what he’s been willing to sacrifice to get it.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS, by Marlon James, is a contemporary epic that spans decades, countless lives, and multiple continents, all centered around one fateful night in 1976 when seven assassins stormed Bob Marley’s home in Kingston, Jamaica, guns blazing. Mirroring Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s knack for the quotidian magical, Quentin Tarantino’s vibrantly violent visuals, and a Kurosawa Rashomon-esque narrative structure, A BRIEF HISTORY OF SEVEN KILLINGS creates something breathtaking in its scope, deeply emotive in its resolution—or lack thereof—and, ultimately, wholly inventive.
After years of being overlooked in the New York art scene, Harriet Burden hatches a plan to bring her brilliance to light: she enlists three young men to present her work as their own and, almost instantly, her art is a success. When she steps forward to take the credit, the third man betrays her, leading to a complex and fatal game of cat and mouse. Intricate and provocative, Siri Hustvedt’s THE BLAZING WORLD reconstructs its explosive story through letters, newspaper clippings, and journal entries.
Intellectually ambitious, electric in its prose, and emotionally satisfying, The Blazing World confronts the joy and fury of Harriet Burden, an artist whose work has long been dismissed and ignored by the male-dominated art world. Longlisted for 2014’s prestigious Man Booker Prize and described by NPR as “complex, astonishing, harrowing, and utterly, completely engrossing,” it is a polyphonic tour de force from one of America’s most fearless writers.
THE TESTAMENT OF MARY, Colm Toíbín’s follow up to BROOKLYN (2009), provides an intimate and provocative portrait of Mary, supposedly one of the best-known women in history. Long understood to be docile, pure, and loyal, this Mary reveals the heartbreaking complexities of her own interiority. She blames herself for her son’s death, she does not believe the disciples who claim he was the son of God, and she is unwilling to accept anything in her world with loving forgiveness.
Shortlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize and adapted into a Tony-nominated play, Tóibín’s provocative, haunting, and indelible portrait of Mary presents her as a solitary older woman seeking to understand the events that become the narrative of the New Testament and the foundation of Christianity. This woman whom we know from centuries of paintings and scripture as the docile, loving, silent, long-suffering, obedient, worshipful mother of Christ becomes a tragic heroine with the relentless eloquence of Electra or Medea or Antigone. Tóibín’s tour de force of imagination and language is a portrait so vivid and convincing that your image of Mary will be forever transformed. Audiobook fans won’t want to miss Meryl Streep’s reading of this stunning work.
Dramatic, insightful, and suspenseful, Hilary Mantel’s sequel to WOLF HALL rejoins the Tudor family just in time for Anne Boleyn’s infamous execution. At King Henry’s request, Thomas Cromwell begins to set a trap that is destined to bring Anne and her powerful family down. As Anne attempts to navigate Cromwell’s treacherous maze, Cromwell must ally himself with his once sworn enemy, the papist aristocracy, to destroy Anne for good and propel himself further up the royal ladder that he will do anything to climb.
My reading goal for 2017 is to try a sort of reverse escapism and select books that explore complicated, contemporary themes. Interestingly enough, the first one I found myself drawn to was the second book in Hilary Mantel’s award-winning (soon-to-be) trilogy of Thomas Cromwell. Set in Tudor England, BRING UP THE BODIES is a total page-turner, replete with larger-than-life characters, warring factions, backstage manipulations, and political chaos. Sound familiar? —Julianna
Perfect for fans of Liane Moriarty and Ian McEwan, THE SLAP by Christos Tsiolkas takes an insider’s look at the dark underbelly of contemporary domestic life, marriage, and parenthood. At a friendly neighborhood barbeque, one man slaps another couple’s child. Like ripples in a pond, the single act disrupts the placidity of their suburban lives in unpredictable and terrifying ways. Told from the perspectives of eight witnesses to the crime, this novel explores the prejudice, betrayal, and possessiveness that define our private lives.
In Aravind Adiga’s debut novel THE WHITE TIGER, Balram Halwai writes a letter to the president of China in an attempt to illuminate the corruption and cruelty of India’s modern caste society. A young impoverished Indian farmer, Balram follows his ambition to become a Bangalore driver to a wealthy family, where he becomes witness to the wild inequalities and ridiculous circumstances of his times. With irreverent and darkly funny commentary, Balram’s voice captures the vast scope of a contradictory society.
A stunning literary debut critics have likened to Richard Wright’s Native Son, The White Tiger follows a darkly comic Bangalore driver through the poverty and corruption of modern India’s caste society.
In NEVER LET ME GO, three friends, Ruth, Kathy, and Tommy, have grown up together in an isolated boarding school, forging their own friendships, romances, and betrayals in the process. Now, independent for the first time, the three must face the truth that they are nothing more than tools to extend the lives of the wealthy. Heartbreaking and atmospheric, NEVER LET ME GO explores the pains of growing up in a near future where there is never enough time left.
The students of Hailsham are special. That’s what they’ve been told. Isolated from the outside world, they’re raised from birth as “donors,” their bodily organs harvested for wealthy patrons. But this is no schlocky sci-fi; it’s a gently observed drama. Existential, painful, and unforgettable, NEVER LET ME GO explores how even the most disenfranchised and doomed characters find meaning, hope, and love, even as they resign themselves to a life cut horribly short.
Crazy like: You’d be too.
Best crazy moment: The whole damn book.
After he finds his neighbor’s dog brutally murdered, Christopher Boone knows it’s up to him to solve the crime. Now, his quest to solve a dog’s murder will lead Christopher into a world he barely knows and force him to face other mysteries—about his parents, specifically his father’s mood swings—that he’s never been able to parse. Mark Haddon’s THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME offers a tender, poignant look at childhood loss and emotional complexity.
Now adapted into a Tony Award-winning play, this captivating novel is told through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old autistic boy who relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. This powerful story of his quest to investigate the suspicious death of a neighborhood dog makes for a captivating read.
An astounding experiment in genre, Margaret Atwood’s THE BLIND ASSASSIN presents its reader with complex layers of stories within stories. Laura Chase, a beautiful young woman from a wealthy, eccentric family, plummets to her death one day in 1945. Years later, her elderly sister recounts the dark secrets from their childhood while also divulging the plot of a romantic science fiction tale that made Laura famous. Beneath all its storytelling tricks, THE BLIND ASSASSIN is the mystery of what happened to two women stuck in a haunting, abusive past.
In 1945, Iris’ sister, Laura, drives her car off a bridge. What ensues is a fascinating family drama brilliantly woven into a novel-within-a-novel—a science fiction story narrated by two nameless lovers. This winner of the 2000 Booker Prize is a stunning portrait of a dark and twisted family history.