6 Books You Must Read This Year

6 Books You Must Read This Year

Last night, Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo jointly won 2019’s Booker prize. Here’s why The Testaments and Girl, Woman, Other – plus the four very different books on the shortlist – should go to the top of the pile on your bedside table…

This year's Booker prize has been jointly awarded to Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo. The judges said they had chosen to explicitly flout the literary award's rules after being unable to pick a single winner from their shortlist of six. They are believed to have been repeatedly told by the award's literary director that the £50,000 prize could not be split, but went ahead with the decision anyway, selecting Atwood’s The Testaments, a follow-up to her novel The Handmaid's Tale, and Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, a novel told through the voices of 12 different characters, as joint winners.

The judges' decision has seen Evaristo become the first black woman to win the Booker prize, while Atwood, 79, is the oldest person to have received the award. The Canadian author previously won the Booker in 2000 for The Blind Assassin and is now the fourth author to have won the prize twice.

The chair of judges, Peter Florence, said that The Testaments and Girl, Woman, Other were “fully engaged novels, they are both linguistically inventive, they are adventurous in all kinds of ways. They address the world today and give us insights into it and create characters who resonate with us, and will resonate with us for ages”.

First awarded in 1969, the Booker prize is regarded as the leading award for high-quality literary fiction written in English. The prize is open to writers of any nationality, writing work in English that is published in the UK and Ireland. Its list of winners includes many of the literary giants of the last four decades, from this year’s nominee Salman Rushdie to Hilary Mantel, Iris Murdoch and Ian McEwan. The prize has also recognised many outstanding authors early in their careers, including Eleanor Catton, Aravind Adiga and Ben Okri. 

Booker Prize 2019 Shortlist

JOINT WINNER: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood 

More than 15 years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within. At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results. Two have grown up as part of the first generation to come of age in the new order. The testimonies of these two young women are joined by a third voice: a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets. As Atwood unfolds The Testaments, she opens up the innermost workings of Gilead, with each woman forced to come to terms with who she is, and how far she will go for what she believes.

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JOINT WINNER: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of 12 very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years. Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, dynamic and utterly irresistible. Lauded by Candice Carty-Williams, author of Queenie; Diana Evans, author of Ordinary People; and Ali Smith, author of How to be Both, this is essential reading.

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Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann

Latticing one cherry pie after another, an Ohio housewife tries to bridge the gaps between reality and the torrent of meaningless info that is the United States of America. She worries about her children, her dead parents, African elephants, the bedroom rituals of ‘happy couples’, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and how to hatch an abandoned wood-pigeon egg. Is there some trick to surviving survivalists? School shootings? Medical debts? A scorching indictment of America’s barbarity, past and present, and a lament for the way we are sleepwalking into environmental disaster, Ducks, Newburyport is a revolutionary novel. 

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An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma

Partly based on a true story, An Orchestra of Minorities is also a contemporary twist on Homer’s Odyssey. In the mythic style of the Igbo literary tradition, Chigozie Obioma weaves a heart-wrenching epic about the tension between destiny and determination. In Umuahia, Nigeria, Chinonso – a young poultry farmer – sees a woman attempting to jump to her death from a highway bridge. Horrified by her recklessness, Chinonso joins her on the roadside and hurls two of his most prized chickens into the water below to demonstrate the severity of the fall. The woman is moved by his sacrifice. Bonded by this strange night on the bridge, Chinonso and Ndali fall in love. But Ndali is from a wealthy family, and when they officially object to the union because he is uneducated, Chinonso sells his possessions to attend college in Cyprus. Once there, he discovers all is not what it seems.

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Quichotte by Salman Rushdie 

Inspired by the classic Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, Quichotte is the story of an ageing travelling salesman who falls in love with a TV star and sets off to drive across America on a quest to prove himself worthy of her hand. He wishes an imaginary son, Sancho, into existence, while obsessively writing love letters to a celebrity he knows only through his screen. Together, father and son set off across America in Quichotte’s trusty Chevy Cruze to find the TV star and convince her of his love. Quichotte’s tragicomic tale is one of a deranged time, and deals, along the way, with father-son relationships, sibling quarrels, racism, the opioid crisis, cyber-spies and the end of the world. 

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10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World by Elif Shafak

For Leila, each minute after her death brings a sensuous memory: the taste of spiced goat stew, sacrificed by her father to celebrate the long-awaited birth of a son; the sight of bubbling vats of lemon and sugar, which the women use to wax their legs while the men attend mosque; the scent of cardamom coffee that Leila shares with a handsome student in the brothel where she works. Each memory also recalls the friends she made at key moments in her life – friends who are now desperately trying to find her. A powerful new novel from the bestselling author of The Bastard of Istanbul and Honour. 

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