Who will win the 2013 Booker Prize?

The BookDepository

This year’s Booker prize has been different from previous years. There were no literary heavy weights guaranteed a place on the shortlist; no book that stood out above the rest before the longlist was announced (mainly because the best books hadn’t even been published then!) I especially enjoyed the pre-longlist discussions as no-one could agree who deserved a place on the list. This meant that the debates were far more interesting than in previous years when the choices seemed obvious. It also meant there was none of the vicious “It’s a travesty that (insert name of well known author)  wasn’t longlisted!” Anyone could win and trying to decide who should was an interesting and rewarding experience.

I have now sampled all the books on the Booker shortlist and am impressed by the literary talent on display. They weren’t all to my taste, but the judges have done a fantastic job of selecting books that really are among the best published in the last 12 months.

Here are my brief thoughts on the shortlisted books:

We Need New Names

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

Five words from the blurb: shanty, Zimbabwe, mischeif, dreams, challenges

We Need New Names begins with a compelling account of a child growing up in a Zimbabwean shanty town. The voice was distinctive, believable and heartbreaking. Unfortunately I found the book deteriorated as it continued. The second half was good, but lacked the originality and the magic spark of the opening. I can’t see this winning the Booker, but NoViolet Bulawayo is an author to watch and I look forward to reading more from her in the future.



Harvest by Jim Crace

Five words from the blurb: village, outsiders, fire, witchcraft, scattered

Harvest is a beautifully written book that vividly depicts life in a small 18th century English village. It contains themes of belonging and power; weaving them with biblical symbolism to create an impressive, but frequently slow narrative. The plot was too meandering for me, but it had literary depth hiding beneath its deceptively simple plot. I suspect this one will be in the top two and the judges will have an interesting debate about whether or not to award it the title. In the end I suspect it will be pipped at the post.


The Lowland

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Five words from the blurb: Calcutta, childhood, tragedy, rebellion, transformed

The Lowland is the story of two brothers who grow up in Calcutta. One becomes politically active, whilst the other moves to America to pursue a career in science. The book is beautifully written and contains some poignant scenes, but it failed to hold my attention. I think it would benefit from being shorter, but perhaps I’m just tired of immigration stories? I don’t think this book is bold or original enough to justify a Booker win, but judging panels sometimes work in mysterious ways!


A Tale for the Time Being

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Five words from the blurb: diary, girl, tsunami, change, life

A Tale for the Time Being is an ambitious novel that combines Japanese surrealism with atmospheric Canadian fiction and quantum physics. It didn’t quite work at the end, but I admired the ambition and found the reading experience very enjoyable. I don’t think this book is polished enough to win the Booker, but it was the shortlisted book that I most enjoyed reading and it deserves a wider reading audience than it has had so far.


The Testament of Mary

The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín

Five words from the blurb: grief, lost, myth, religion, lifetime

The Testament of Mary is a novella about the mother of Jesus Christ. It is a bold, powerful and angry account of Mary’s life after Jesus’ crucifixion. I normally love this sort of dark, emotional writing, but unfortunately I couldn’t connect with Mary and so didn’t care about her story. This book appears to divide opinion so I think it is unlikely to get unanimous agreement from the judges. I see it sitting comfortably in the middle of the list.


The Luminaries

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Five words from the blurb: New Zealand, crimes, vanished, historical, mystery

The Luminaries is a massive book, both in terms of scope and size. It is a beautifully written story of murder and intrigue set during New Zealand’s gold rush. Unfortunately it was too slow for me, but I think the writing quality and vision of this book mean that it is heads and shoulders above the other contenders. I would be surprised if The Luminaries didn’t win the Booker Prize this year.

logo_book_peopleAll six books from the Booker Shortlist can be bought as a set from The Book People for just £30 – a saving of £65.94 on buying them individually!*



*Full Disclosure: I love The Book People and frequently buy books from them. It is for this reason that I agreed to promote the above set in exchange for a book from their site. 

Who do you think will win the Booker Prize?

Do you agree with my prediction?




Send to Kindle


  1. David says:

    Well, since ‘The Luminaries’ is likely to be the only one I won’t have read before the winner is announced, it is of course bound to win!
    I was planning on reading it this week, but then Alex Miller’s new novel dropped through the letterbox all the way from Australia and I just couldn’t resist. Hopefully I’ll be able to squeeze ‘We Need New Names’ in before Tuesday though.

    By the way, I agree with you about ‘The Lowland’ – in a year in which I’ve read several immigration-themed novels, Lahiri’s – despite its slickly perfect writing – doesn’t stand out.

    1. Jackie says:

      David, I’ve read a lot of immigration novels, which is why I am becoming tired of them. In a way the perfection of ‘The Lowland’ makes it even less memorable. I didn’t like the immigration aspect of ‘We Need New Names’ but its weirdness (what was that porn section doing there?!) made it stick out and I vividly remember it weeks after finishing it. Most of ‘The Lowland’ is already fading from my memory, which perhaps means that NoViolet’s flawed novel had more impact and so is the better one?

  2. I’m slogging through The Luminaries right now and reaching the point (about 20% on my egalley) where I feel like I might DNF it. I really appreciate the writing, but I don’t feel very invested and hate that it’s taking so long to catch my interest. It could be that I recently finished The Goldfinch, which grabbed me from page 1 and held me through all of its 700+ pages.

    1. Jackie says:

      Shannon, I didn’t finish it either. :-( I often DNF short books if they are that slow so it is more to do with glacial plot pace than length, but those that love slow books are raving about The Luminaries. I can see why they love it – she has a special writing talent that shines through. I look forward to trying The Goldfinch later in the year!

  3. Sandy says:

    As usual, I’ve read none of these (even though I do have Lahiri’s as a “want to read”…I love her). I just thought it was funny that the book photo that comes up for this post is “We Need New Names”…my first thought was “hmmm…Jackie doesn’t like any of the nominees!”.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, LOL! Well that is often my response to these lists!

  4. Shan says:

    I’ve only read Ozeki’s novel and Crace’s novel so I can’t really make a prediction however there’s been lots of talk over here about how both Ozeki and Catton were not nominated for any of the our three major prizes this year, but have been shortlisted for the Booker. It will be interesting if either of them win.

    1. David says:

      Shan, I assume you’re in Canada? Catton is on the Governor General’s shortlist, isn’t she?

      1. Shan says:

        You’re right. I realized after I posted that she is indeed on that one. I think I was just thinking Giller since I’m in the middle of that longlist. Was coming back to post again, thank you for pointing out that I missed that.

        1. Jackie says:

          Shan, It is interesting how the prizes all pick different books. 419 won the Giller and didn’t even make the Booker longlist. I quite like it that way – more books to investigate!

  5. Eric says:

    Great summary and I agree with your predictions almost entirely. I’ve read all but the Lahiri. I really agree with you about not being able to connect with Mary. I think it all passes so quickly it didn’t leave much of an impression. The Luminaries is so amazingly ambitious and well achieved. I think it definitely deserves it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Eric, Thanks for the kind words of agreement. Let’s hope The Luminaries wins :-)

  6. I loved your synopsis of each. I haven’t gotten to dig into any of the shortlist this year, but I’m looking forward to trying several.

    1. Jackie says:

      Thanks Andi! I hope you enjoy any you decide to try!

  7. Annabel says:

    I’ve only read and loved ‘Harvest’ still – but I would be delighted for Crace to win as he is an author I greatly admire. I will read ‘Luminaries’ eventually…

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I’d be happy if Crace won – he is a fantastic writer and deserves it too.

  8. Loved reading this rundown. I have, unfortunately, not read any of the contenders this year, but the one I am most interested in is the Catton as I loved her previous novel and I think she’s an amazing novel. The Ozeki novel also sounds really intriguing—I like books that push the envelope and tackle high-concept scientific ideas, so I will need to look for that one. I personally feel like Lahiri writes the exact same stuff over and over again and I don’t understand why she is constantly being praised for this tactic. Even when I read her last short story collection, Unaccustomed Earth, literally every single story was not just about the same thing (immigrants in America!) but nearly all of them followed the exact same plot. Yawn!

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I think you’ll love the Ozeki and probably the Catton too. Enjoy!

  9. Although most every book on this list in in mile pile to read – Ive yet to get to them. Secretly, I’m hoping Lahari wins as she grew up in my town and even worked at our library in high school. I loved her previous work.

    1. Jackie says:

      Diane, Everyone loves a local win :-) I hope she pops back to your town and you get to met her!

  10. I’d like to see Crace (read) or Catton (in progress) win. I’ve also read Lahiri and wouldn’t be surprised if she won. I have mixed feelings about it. I can actually see it as a Booker winner but perhaps not for MacFarlane. Ozeki I didn’t get very far into, but it was an egalley and I don’t read on screen so it had an unfair disadvantage. Haven’t read Toibin, having filled my Bible-related quotient for 2013. I’m making slow progress through Cdn shortlists and then want to go onto the Goldsmiths Prize.

    1. Jackie says:

      Slightly Bookist, I can see The Lowland winning other book prizes, but not the Booker. I’m not really sure why I say that, its just a feeling I have. I could be proved wrong though!

  11. Alex says:

    I daren’t predict anything other than ‘Harvest’ having discovered last week that I have been attending lectures with the author’s wife without even knowing it:)

    1. Jackie says:

      Alex, LOL! I hope you’ll be able to celebrate together next week!

  12. Markbooks says:

    I’m in two minds about this year’s shortlist. I think it’s very strong and worthy, but lacks the zap of previous winners like (randomly) Life Of Pi or White Tiger. If We Need New Names had maintained its early promise throughout, it would have been my winner. But like you said, it fell away in the second half. I thought The Lowland really rewarded persistence and was quite beautiful in a slow-burning way. I couldn’t get into the Ozeki or The Luminaries, and the Crace was good but not as good as it could have been – a bit flat. I’m racing through the Toibin right now, loving it, but fear it may be too short. In short, I’d be happy with Lahiri or (I think) Toibin.

    1. Jackie says:

      Mark, I agree with you about a lot of the books lacking that originality and spark, but I think The Luminaries does have that. It isn’t really like anything I’ve read before and although it wasn’t quite to my taste I thought it had an impressive structure. I’m very pleased it won!

  13. JoV says:

    Amazing short and punchy reviews. You got it right Jackie and I hope one day the Man Booker Prize committee invites you on the judging panel! :D


  1. Eleanor Catton wins the 2013 Booker Prize! – Farm Lane Books Blog

Leave a Reply