“It’s a very difficult process,” Maya Jasanoff, a historian and chair of the Booker Prize judges, said on Tuesday when asked about those books that failed to make the shortlist. “What I can say is every book is judged on its merits.”
The six shortlisted novels appear to have little in common, but Jasanoff said they all resonated in a year in which many readers had been forced to stay at home because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The novels are immersive, she said — “stories that you can get absorbed in, voices that get inside your head, which feels quite reflective of the experience of reading in lockdown.” Many also engaged with death, she added, which “feels quite poignant and prudent in this catastrophic year.”
The Booker Prize is awarded each year to the best novel written in English and published in Britain or Ireland. In 2019, Bernardine Evaristo and Margaret Atwood shared the prize, while Douglas Stuart won last year for “Shuggie Bain,” his debut novel about a gay child in Scotland with an alcoholic mother.
The finalists this year were evenly divided between women and men. “The Promise” is Galgut’s third book to make the Booker shortlist, following “In a Strange Room” in 2010 and “The Good Doctor” in 2003. “Bewilderment” is Powers’s second appearance on the shortlist after “The Overstory” was named a finalist in 2018.