The Man Booker Prize is one of the most prestigious book prizes in the world – kind of like the literary version of the Oscars. Winners are almost guaranteed worldwide attention, and some pretty bumper sales as well. Sometimes (though not often), one of the nominees will outsell the winner. Some authors will get nominated for years and never win a prize, and sometimes an author will grab it on their first nomination. The winner is announced October 17, and the 2017 shortlist looks pretty exciting (the books are Autumn by Ali Smith, Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, History of Wolves: A Novel by Emily Fridlund, Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, 4 3 2 1: A Novel by Paul Auster and Elmet by Fiona Mozley). In this list, however, we look at some of the previous winners and books they’ve gone on to write.
The most recent Australian author to win this respected prize is Richard Flanagan with The Narrow Road to the Deep North. This 2014 winner is a noel of the cruelty of war, and tenuousness of life and impossibility of love. Set between modern Tasmania and a Japanese POW camp on the Thai-Burma railway, this book will stay with you long after reading. In quite a different direction, his latest novel First Person, is the story of a young and penniless writer who is offered $10,000 to ghostwrite the memoir of a notorious conman.
In 2002, Yann Martel won with the superb Life of Pi. The story of one boy, one boat and one tiger… After the tragic sinking of a ship, we are told a tale of originality and survival. He then later went on to write The High Mountains of Portugal. Set in Lisbon in 1904, then thirty five years on, then fifty years on, these three stories are interwoven to provide an exploration of great love and great loss.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy has been described as one of the greatest Indian novels. Set against the background of political turbulence in Kerala, this is the story of twins Esthappen and Rahel, as they try and craft a childhood for themselves. Ten years later, we finally have her next novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. This is a love story, of heroes past and present, broken and then mended by love.
Peter Carey has been nominated four times, and won twice – and in 2001 the win was for The True History of the Kelly Gang. This is a highly original novel based on Ned Kelly’s flight from the police. A outlaw and a hero, this is a quintessential Australian work. His new novel is also set in Australia, this time in the 1950s, called A Long Way From Home. Irene and her husband enter the Redex Trial, a brutal race around this ancient continent, where we learn a history that the characters never knew themselves.
Ian McEwan took the prize in 1998 for Amsterdam. Two friends meet outside a crematorium paying their last respects to Molly Lane, having previously both been her lovers. They make a pact that will have enduring consequences in this contemporary morality tale, this book has been called one of McEwan’s most enjoyable pieces of work. But perhaps his best known books is Atonement; the story of three lives changed forever after becoming victim of a young girl’s imagination.
And last (but certainly not least), Margaret Atwood won in 2000 with The Blind Assassin. This is the story of sisters Laura and Iris. Iris is now poor and eighty-two, and reflects on her life, including the novel her sister wrote, earning her a cult following. This is a story, within a story, within a story, and is a brilliant accomplishment and a masterpiece of a novel. She actually wrote this next book earlier, but it’s certainly getting a lot of attention at the moment; her first work nominated for the Booker was The Handmaid’s Tale. Now a successful TV series, this is a dystopian view of the future where Offred is given only one option, to breed or to be sent to die. But desire cannot be obliterated…