Booker Prize 2020: Longlist Thoughts and Plans

It’s here! It’s likely you’ve already seen the 2020 Booker Prize for Fiction longlist and various reaction posts, but I always have a good time talking about lit prizes with you lovely readers! So here we are.

I’ve only read one of the longlisted titles so far, own one more, and ultimately am not expecting to have as much coverage for this prize this year as I did for this year’s Women’s Prize. I just am not interested enough to fully commit right now. Although, I believe I said the same thing last year and ended up reading 12 of the 13 titles, so who knows! Matters are further complicated this year by the fact that I’m not sure interloan services are up and running at my library, which will affect how many of these titles I can read.

Okay, let’s look at the list!

The New WildernessThe New Wilderness by Diane Cook

Pub: Aug. 11 2020 US ~ Sept. 3 2020 UK

Sci-fi/Dystopia in which a polluted City is fast becoming uninhabitable; there is one area of open land left, where our protagonist and her 5 year-old daughter volunteer to live with a small group in a sort of experiment to determine whether humans can exist in raw nature without destroying it.

My stance: Other than the focus on the mother/daughter relationship, all of this appeals to me. It’s not out yet and it doesn’t look like my library has it on order, but it might appear there closer to its release. I’d love to read this one.

This Mournable BodyThis Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga

Pub: Aug. 7 2018 US ~ Jan 16 2020 UK

Literary fiction set in Zimbabwe, following a protagonist whose hope and potential turns into a struggle for survival as she searches for an appropriate job and is eventually forced to return to her parents’ impoverished homestead. Themes revolve around the toxicity of colonialism and capitalism.

My stance: I’m excited about this one! I read Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions in a postcolonialism class in college and remember liking the experience. This newer release actually follows the same protagonist from Nervous Conditions, later in her life. If I can get this via interloan at my library, I am tentatively planning to reread Nervous Conditions and follow it with this one. There is apparently one more novel between these two- the jury’s out on whether I’ll be able to track down a copy (it’s not in my library’s catalog) or resign myself to reading the books out of order. I’m getting the sense that while they are sequential they also stand alone, so I won’t let the missing second book (The Book of Not) deter me from picking this one up.

Burnt SugarBurnt Sugar by Avni Doshi

Pub: unknown US ~ July 30 2020 UK

This is the story of a wild young woman who abandons a loveless marriage, joins an ashram, becomes a beggar, and chases an artist. It is also the story of her daughter, who, when grown, must return, “caring for a woman who never cared for her.”

My stance: I’m less interested in this one. It seems very focused on the mother/daughter relationship, which I learned with this year’s Women’s Prize list just isn’t where my interest lies right now. I’ve added this book to my TBR mainly to keep it on my radar- I’ll look for reviews and keep an eye out for availability before determining whether or not to give it a go, but initially I’m not prioritizing this one.

Who They WasWho They Was by Gabriel Krauze

Pub: unknown US ~ Sept 3 2020 UK

Literary fiction featuring the youth of London who scrape the bottom of the barrel and live in the moment.

My stance: Not sure. I can’t see when/if this will be available in the US, and I’m not getting a great sense of what it’s really about from the synopsis. Troubled people whose stories don’t typically get told? Does it dig into race, class, etc.? I need more info, and reasonable availability. Initially, I’m not drawn to this title based on its scant synopsis.

The Mirror & The Light (Thomas Cromwell, #3)The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

Pub: March 10 2020 US ~ March 5 2020 UK

Historical fiction covering the final months of Thomas Cromwell’s stint as Henry VIII’s right hand man. This is the third volume in Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy, which opens with Wolf Hall and continues with Bring Up the Bodies.

My stance: I’ll be reading this for sure. I am planning to finish and review both the second and third books in this series before the Women’s Prize winner is announced in September; I’ll probably work on this throughout August, but I’ll be shocked if it’s not shortlisted so I’m not feeling particularly rushed in relation to its Booker standing.

ApeirogonApeirogon by Colum McCann

Pub: Feb. 5 2020 US ~ Feb 25 2020 UK

Two men- one Palestinian and one Israeli- build a friendship based on loss. In a story that spans centuries and continents and tests the line between fiction and nonfiction, this is a grand tale told in small pieces, born in a world of violence.

My stance: Unsure. If interloan services are running I could easily read this, but I’m not including it in my test run of holds. I’m not especially drawn to it or the author, but here’s the thing: every year there seems to be a rather long, ponderous book written by a man that makes it to the shortlist that I maybe got something out of but did not ultimately enjoy- I think this is 2020’s version of that book. I’m torn because I suspect this is a book I might appreciate having read, but not appreciate actually reading it. So, to be determined. Please persuade me one way or the other!

The Shadow KingThe Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste

Pub: Sept. 24 2019 US ~ Jan. 30 2020 UK

Historical fiction chronicling Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, specifically focused on women’s untold role in the early days of WWII. This is a tale of female power that “breathes life into complicated characters on both sides of the battle line, shaping a heartrending, indelible exploration of what it means to be a woman at war.”

My stance: Sure, why not? It’s a piece of history I’m not familiar with and I always like a good story of powerful women. I’ve placed a library hold through interloan services, so I’ll pick this up if/when it comes in.

Such a Fun AgeSuch a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Pub: Dec. 31 2019 US ~ Jan. 7 2020 UK

Contemporary fiction set in the US. A young African American woman babysitting a small white child is confronted in public and accused of kidnapping the child. Responses to the incident highlight racial tensions in America.

My stance: I’m so unsure about this one! I’ve seen rave reviews, I’ve seen some readers detest it, and I’m entirely uncertain about whether this will work for me or not. I haven’t been faring well with non-literary contemporary novels in general this year, but I was intrigued by the synopsis. If I can get it through the library, I might give it a try, but it looks like I’ve got a bit of a wait with the holds list so I have time to change my mind several times.

Real LifeReal Life by Brandon Taylor

Pub: Feb. 18 2020 US ~ Aug. 27 2020 UK

Literary fiction following a gay black man’s difficult decision over whether or not to stay in his biochemistry grad program while dealing with casual racism from everyone involved in his school and social circles.

My stance: This is the one I’ve read! I loved it! Highly recommend, and I’d be thrilled to see it shortlisted. Very deserving of its place on the longlist, and this positive experience is essentially why I’m feeling generous enough about the longlist to want to read what I can. You can find my review here if you missed it.

Redhead by the Side of the RoadRedhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

Pub: Apr. 7 2020 US ~ Apr. 9 2020 UK

Contemporary fiction featuring a “creature of habit” man who is faced with some sudden major surprises- like his woman friend confessing that she faces eviction, and the son he didn’t know he had showing up at his door. This is a story of “misperception, second chances, and the sometimes elusive power of human connection.”

My stance: I’m sorry, but I hate the cover image, hate that font, and am not at all interested in the synopsis. Everything about this is turning me off. This is obviously not a reflection of the book’s merit, as I haven’t read it yet. In fact, I’ve never read Anne Tyler. This is under 200 pages and as available through interloan services as any of the others, so maaaaaaybe I’ll end up taking a chance?

Shuggie BainShuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Pub: Feb 11 2020 US ~ Aug. 6 2020 UK

Historical fiction in which a young boy spends his 1980’s childhood in Glasgow with an alcoholic mother who can’t quite care for her children the way they need her to. The two remain close through the years even as they struggle with addiction, sexuality, and the flaws within their own relationship.

My stance: I’ve seen mixed reviews, but have been interested in this one for a while and am happy for the nudge to pick it up and see for myself. If interloan is working, I will be reading this one for sure.

Love and Other Thought ExperimentsLove and Other Thought Experiments by Sophie Ward

Pub: unknown US ~ Feb. 6 2020 UK

Literary fiction in which two women hoping to have a baby have a bitter fight instead, when one of them wakes up convinced that an ant is stuck in her eye and the other doesn’t believe the claim.

My stance: I am so intrigued by this absurd situation, and by the fact that it’s inspired by philosophical thought-experiments. Unfortunately I can’t seem to find it in the US and have no idea when/if I might. This is the one I’m most tempted to buy.

How Much of These Hills Is GoldHow Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang

Pub: Apr. 7 2020 US ~ Apr. 9 2020 UK

Historical fiction in which two Chinese immigrant siblings whose parents have died find themselves on the run from their Western mining town in the dying days of the American gold rush. The book combines Chinese symbolism with American history and explores race in an expanding country.

My stance: This was already on my TBR and one of the titles here I’m most looking forward to reading, if interloan services pull through!

And that’s the list! (If you happen to know/find any of the US pub dates missing in my list above please let me know so I can add them in, there were a few I failed to locate, if they exist!)

Overall thoughts: There are a few titles I’m familiar with that I’m particularly happy to see (namely, Real Life, though I’m also happy for the extra nudge with Shuggie Bain, How Much of These Hills is Gold, and The Mirror and the Light), a couple of new titles I’m now particularly interested in (Love and Other Thought Experiments, This Mournable Body, The New Wilderness, and The Shadow King), and a few that likely wouldn’t have made the list if I were in charge (Redhead by the Side of the Road, Burnt Sugar, Who They Was, Apeirogon– no shade to them, they just don’t excite me at the moment). Of course, having only read one title so far and basing the rest off of hasty first impressions, my opinions are entirely subject to change.

On the whole though, while I’m happy with some of these, this is not my favorite Booker longlist. I’m fairly certain I won’t like all of these (if I were to read them all), and there aren’t a lot of themes and premises here that really hook me and call to my particular reading taste. Which isn’t to say it’s a bad list or that someone else won’t enjoy it more than I do. Time has been so unaccountable this year that I barely have any grasp on which books were even eligible this year, so I suppose it’s a plus that I didn’t have a list of predictions I was attached to that didn’t make the cut. There were a few Women’s Prize books I wouldn’t have minded seeing here that have been omitted (Hamnet, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line) but to be honest I’m not too surprised not to see them, and aside from the fact that I’ve yet to read The Mirror and the Light I’m content to be putting the 2020 Women’s Prize behind me, with the exception of the winner announcement still coming up.

Anyway, I’m confident I won’t be able to read all of these before the shortlist announcement on the 15th of September; depending on availability and my excitement level I might try harder to read the shortlist at least. In the meantime, I’m happy with the diversity here and pleased to see quite a few debuts! Not too many already-big authors, and more than half of the list was written by women, always a plus in my book. I’ll read what I can, but at this point the only guarantee I can make (barring whatever curveball 2020 throws at us next) is The Mirror and the Light, which is already in my possession.

What do you think of the list? Which titles have you read or do you plan to read?


The Literary Elephant

43 thoughts on “Booker Prize 2020: Longlist Thoughts and Plans”

  1. I was so surprised to see Such a Fun Age make the longlist, mostly because I consider it to be commercially successful but not necessarily up for a major literary prize like the Booker (I think it’d make more sense as a Women’s Prize pick). However, not so surprised to see Hilary Mantel make the cut! Overall, I think it’s a pretty diverse selection that definitely showcases the diverse range in the judge’s tastes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree, I was as surprised to see Such a Fun Age here as I was *not* to see it feature with the Women’s Prize! I think the Booker does like to have at least one book that’s more commercial (last year, My Sister the Serial Killer and/or The Testaments) but I do hope there will be some satisfying depth to it as well.

      I was also expecting to see Mantel feature! It would’ve been a shock if she’d been omitted.

      And I think you’re right about the diverse selection revealing the tastes of the panel, it looks like a great group of judges this year and I’m very pleased with the optics of this list!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am so glad you’re doing a bit of Booker coverage! I always enjoy reading your thoughts even if I am super bad at actually reading longlisted books and keeping up with blogs.
    I read an Ann Tyler book (something something Blue Spool? A spool of blue thread??) and found it utterly unremarkable and surprisingly boring, so I am not jumping at picking up any of her other books.
    I am super intrigued by Love and Other Thought Experiments because I always love good interconnected short stories but I do absolutely hate the title.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much! ☺️ I always enjoy chatting about prize books so I’m glad it looks like I’ll be able to read a few of them at least, even if I’m not going through the full list this time around. Love and Other Thought Experiments is one of the few that most grabbed my attention, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to track down a copy! I’d love to see your thoughts on it if you end up having the chance. And I agree about the title, i wasn’t expecting much when I saw that but was pleasantly surprised by the synopsis!

      Ooh, that’s interesting re: Anne Tyler. Tbh her name is big enough that I feel like I *should* read her work, more than I actually am interested in her titles. A Spool of Blue Thread is the one I see recommended most often, but it’s been on my radar for years and I’ve never felt the urge to pick it up. Maybe if I read this short one for the Booker I can just cross her name off my list once and for all. 😅


  3. “I’m happy with the diversity here and pleased to see quite a few debuts! Not too many already-big authors, and more than half of the list was written by women” – That’s definitely the big plus with this year’s list for me as well. Like you, it hasn’t got me fired up with excitement on the whole, but there are a few that intrigue me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It sounds like we’re very much on the same page. I’d definitely be interested in your thoughts on any of the longlist titles you might pick up this year, of course! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I read on one site that half of the books are debut novels, so that’s cool. I’ve said before that I get tired of seeing the same already commercially successful authors on these lists, even if I like them. Salman Rushdie, for example. I really enjoyed Such a Fun Age and thought it gained a lot from being an audiobook instead of reading the text copy.

    I’m not sure what the rules are in your state with inter-library loans, but typically you cannot get them until the book is at least 6 months old because there will already be interested at the library that purchased the book. However, I always encourage people to request their own library buy the book. Collection services works to purchase books their own local community wants, and readers voicing their interests and needs is helpful to the library.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! I believe 7/13 are debuts, which is great. I am also easily frustrated when authors who don’t need the attention make the cut, but I was already braced to see Mantel here, and I think she’s actually the only author from this year’s list I’ve read a previous book from, which I like.

      Thanks for the tip re: Such a Fun Age! There were two holds ahead of me on a single hardback through the library, but the next day they got three more in so I already have a physical copy on the way. 😅 Looks like I’ll definitely be reading it, and if I struggle with it I’ll know to hunt down the audio! I think the largest branch in my local library system may operate more like you’re saying, where they tend to primarily keep their own books for their own patrons. But the rest of the branches are much smaller and we do a lot of sharing. When I log into my account to view the catalog it shows all the books in all of the connected branches, and whoever gets the first hold placed gets the book first with very few exceptions, no matter where and when. I’ve definitely gotten the first read of a book from another branch, more than once. It’s easy enough to work with, so I tend to only request books that aren’t in the system at all yet, and my branch is small enough that in the end they really only get the most popular choices anyway. I’m very grateful for our interloan services!


      1. OH! So, typically “inter-library loan” applies to your library asking an entirely different library system, maybe even one in a different state, to borrow a book. Borrowing from different branches within the same system is all the same “library.”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ah, I wasn’t aware of that distinction, thanks! I know my library calls the sharing we do “interloan services” but didn’t know that could mean different things in different places. All of the branches in my library’s system are within the same state; most of them are county libraries, some over an hour away. I know that I can use my library card and return checked out books to any library in my county, but I can’t do that at other libraries in the system outside of my county. Generally the sharing happens amongst each county’s biggest branch, and those are what show up in the catalog. I’m glad that more books are available to me this way, but I do miss the city library I used in college, where everything was nicely collected in one place! I suppose it makes sense for a rural area that our books would have to be more spread out.


      3. Ohhhh. I think Jackie was telling me something similar with Wisconsin, that their library is really across the state, which sounds so weird to me but I suppose makes sense if there are many rural areas.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Ah, ok, I’m glad I’m not the only one! I’m sure it depends on the area, but I’m glad you explained how it works differently elsewhere because I didn’t have the context and don’t want to talk about it in posts in a way that’s confusing for others.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m really excited to follow your Booker coverage! I have similar overall thoughts about this year’s list – not jumping for joy or anything, but some of the titles really interest me. And the diverse authorship is encouraging, too.

    Also – I thought of you when I saw Real Life on the list, since your glowing review of it (which then inspired Gil’s glowing review) brought that book to my attention last month!! I think its being longlisted for the Booker prize is the push I need to finally read it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It’s always so much fun chatting about the prize books with other readers.

      Yay! Real Life has been a major highlight for me this year, I’m so glad I was able to help spread the word about it. And I really was so excited to see it make the cut for the longlist! 🙂 I hope you’ll love it too if you get the chance to pick it up!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m excited to see your thoughts on the ones you haven’t read yet! Although I’ve seen a rather scathing review of Such A Fun Age that makes me pretty surprised it made the cut. Anyway, this was a great post ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much! 🙂 I am very curious about Such a Fun Age, opinions on it seem so divided. Even before reading it I don’t much expect to see it make the cut for the shortlist, but I’m intrigued enough to want to see what the buzz is all about.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Yay, I’m glad you’re doing a bit of Booker coverage!

    Even though I hated Such a Fun Age I actually would recommend picking it up just because it’s such a quick read, so not a huge time investment and then you’ll be able to see for yourself once and for all!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! My library just got extra copies of Such a Fun Age so it looks like I’ll be reading it after all, sooner rather than later. I am curious since it seems so polarizing, but it’s a relief to know it’s quick read either way!


  8. what an interesting longlist from the man booker judges this year!! ive only read Real Life, Shuggie Bain, and Such a Fun Age–i didnt much like the latter 2 but of course loved Real Life! im really interested in reading A New Wilderness (Roxane Gay gave it a glowing review) though like you, im not super into the focus on the mother/daughter relationship…the writing seems promising though so hopefully it wont disappoint!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is an interesting list! I’m SO happy to see Real Life featured, and trying not to let my ONE good experience so far raise my expectations for the rest of the titles to unreasonable levels. They can’t all fit my tastes that well! But I am particularly excited about The New Wilderness- I hadn’t seen Gay’s review but that’s very encouraging! I hope we’ll both enjoy it. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. It’s so great that you wrote this, most of these titles were completely new to me and I was hoping someone I know would comment on them to help me make up my mind whether they’re worth adding to my TBR or not, and this was super helpful. I have to say the list doesn’t look very exciting, and by now I’ve lost interest in McCann’s book completely, but I’m happy to see the diversity of this list. From a quick glance, I can’t really see any book that is too threatening to Mantel’s third Booker win, but anything could happen really!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, and I’m glad it helped! I always have a good time putting prize posts together but I’m glad I’m not the only one who enjoys them lol. I feel much the same about not being super into the list as a whole, despite being pleased with the diversity! Someone on Instagram mentioned that a Palestinian American author also had a Booker-eligible title that should have been considered against McCann this year that ultimately didn’t make the list- Susan Abulhawa’s Against the Loveless World. I will definitely be prioritizing that title over McCann’s; it sounds really good and I would’ve been happier to see it longlisted!


  10. The only one I’ve read is Apeirogon. I really like McCann’s work and while this wasn’t my favourite I thought it was very good. It has an unusual format and is based on two real men. I thought it offered a unique perspective on Israel-Palestine relationships and it’s a book I’ve thought about several times since I read it in March.

    The titles that grab me here though are probably Real Life and How Much of These Hills.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting! Since writing this post I’ve seen an accusation of assault from another writer (a woman) against McCann, and have learned that an Own Voices novel from a Palestinian American woman was also eligible for the Booker this year, though it wasn’t longlisted. (And of course the public can’t know whether her publisher submitted her work, so there’s no certainty that McCann won the spot in opposition to her and even if he did the fault doesn’t lie with him.) For these reasons I’m less interested in reading McCann at present and leaning more toward picking up the book by the Palestinian American, which is Against the Loveless World by Susan Abulhawa- it sounds great! I may end up reading both to compare/contrast because I am getting the sense that a lot of readers consider Apeirogon worth the read, but since I wasn’t as interested in it to begin with and am now less than thrilled about the author I don’t think I’ll be making McCann a priority. I am intrigued by the unusual format and the fact that its main characters are based on real people though, and knowing that it’s stuck with you since March bodes well. I know I can get it through my library, so being able to pick it up without purchasing may help nudge me into checking it out.

      I highly recommend Real Life, and How Much of These Hills is one of the titles I find most appealing as well! I’d love to see your thoughts on both if/when you manage to pick them up. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The news that McCann has been accused of assault is definitely disappointing as he’s a writer whose work I’ve enjoyed. I do think it’s good to question when white men write books about BIPOC but what I did appreciate about Apeirogon was its focus on two real men who are still very much alive and active. Against the Loveless World sounds excellent though and I think I’ll be adding that to my TBR.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am glad to hear you’ve enjoyed his work though, despite the situation; if he shows up on the shortlist (or if I run out of other available longlistees to read) I may still check Apeirogon out from the library. I probably wouldn’t bother if the reviews didn’t seem so positive, but I am intrigued about the format and the way it brushes so closely against nonfiction. I’ll definitely read Against the Loveless World alongside it if I do pick it up (and even if I don’t); I hope you’ll enjoy it also, it does look promising!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Very true. Hopefully people will be encouraged to read further as well. Thanks for weighing in, having read the book!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, I’ll look forward to your thoughts, when you get to them! I will probably take a casual approach to the longlist and readjust my plan when the shortlist is announced, so perhaps we’ll end up reading some of these around the same time. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. the only one i have solid plans for as far as timing is Real Life (which i’m so excited for!), as i have a hold at the library that should come in sometime this month. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ah, I’m so eager for more people to read Real Life!! I hope you’ll enjoy the read, and will keep an eye out for your review! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  11. I have to say that when I saw the longlist, my reaction was just… meh. It didn’t excite me or anything and I might just MAYBE read the shortlist. But I am SO GLAD REAL LIFE MADE IT! Such a Fun Age was definitely a surprise—it’s so popular with book clubs that I didn’t think the Booker would pick it up. I was hoping MDV would turn up on it, but no dice.

    Also: “every year there seems to be a rather long, ponderous book written by a man that makes it to the shortlist that I maybe got something out of but did not ultimately enjoy”—I lolled at this 😂 This captures my thoughts exactly about that book, especially when it came out. Just a huge bleh.

    Im glad you also noted the ones you find interesting—honestly so many titles here are unfamiliar to me and wasn’t sure if I would look them up. I look forward to reading your thoughts on them! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It seems a lot of people are feeling meh about the longlist this year. I think I will be more willing to commit to the shortlist as well. And I completely agree about Real Life, that’s really what made the list worth getting excited about for me! I was also surprised to see Such a Fun Age here, I would’ve expected it more with the WP, and I would’ve LOVED MDV to be the more “commercial” pick for the Booker this year!

      Haha I’m glad I’m not alone with my thoughts on Apeirogon! There’s been some outcry against McCann lately so maybe he won’t make it to the shortlist after all and the trend will be broken, but… we shall see. It’s not really grabbing my attention but I’ve had several people tell me it’s maybe worth the read after all, so who knows.

      Thank you!!

      Liked by 1 person

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