The 2020 Booker prize winner has been announced

Shuggie Bain on our Catalogue

Rain was a natural state of Glasgow. It kept the grass green and the people pale and bronchial.

Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart

The 2020 Booker prize has been won by Scottish-American author Douglas Stuart with his debut novel Shuggie Bain.  He is only the second Scot ever to have won the prize — the first being James Kelman in 1994 with his book How Late It Was, How Late, which incidentally is a book Douglas cites as having “changed his life”.

Shuggie Bain is semi-autobiographical — set in 1980s Glasgow, it deals with some weighty issues including poverty, parental alcoholism and a young boy’s struggle to come to terms with his sexuality. It’s a challenging read written in an emotionally nuanced style, but it’s ultimately also a very compassionate read. Shuggie Bain was turned down by 30 editors before finding a publisher and going on to win the Booker.

Shuggie Bain / Stuart, Douglas
“It is 1981. Glasgow is dying and good families must grift to survive. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life. She dreams of greater things: a house with its own front door and a life bought and paid for outright (like her perfect, but false, teeth). But Agnes is abandoned by her philandering husband, and soon she and her three children find themselves trapped in a decimated mining town. As she descends deeper into drink, the children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest.” Also available as an eBook and an Audiobook (Summary adapted from Catalogue)


Below are a few other books set in Glasgow. Enjoy!


How late it was, how late. / Kelman, James
” “How Late It Was, How Late” opens one Sunday morning in Glasgow, Scotland, as Sammy, an ex-convict with a penchant for shoplifting, awakens in a lane and tries to remember the two-day drinking binge that landed him there. Then, things only get worse. Sammy gets in a fight with some soldiers, lands in jail, and discovers that he is completely blind. His girlfriend disappears, the police probe him endlessly, and his stab at Disability Compensation embroils him in the Kafkaesque red tape of the welfare system. ” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The cutting room / Welsh, Louise
“An auctioneer by profession, Rilke is an acknowledged expert in antiques. When he comes upon a hidden collection of violent, and highly disturbing, erotic photographs, Rilke feels compelled to unearth more about the deceased owner who coveted them. What follows is a compulsive journey of discovery, decadence and deviousness.” ( Adapted from Catalogue)

Also available as an eBook.

Garnethill : a novel / Mina, Denise
” There the unlucky Maureen O’Donnell wakes up one morning to discover her therapist-boyfriend dead in the living room. She now finds herself the prime suspect in his murder. Maureen O’Donnell wakes up one morning to find her therapist boyfriend murdered in the middle of her living room and herself a prime suspect in a murder case. Desperate to clear her name and to get at the truth, Maureen traces rumors about a similar murder at a local psychiatric hospital, uncovering a trail of deception and repressed scandal that could exonerate her – or make her the next victim. ” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Buddha Da / Donovan, Anne
“Painter and decorator Jimmy McKenna develops  an keen interest in Buddhism after a chance meeting in a Glasgow sandwich bar with a Buddhist monk, but how will Jimmy’s family react to his new found faith and how will this new approach to life change Jimmy?”  (Adapted from Catalogue)

Strange loyalties. / McIlvanney, William
Strange Loyalties begins with Jack Laidlaw’s despair and anger at his brother’s death in a banal road accident. But his nagging doubts about the dynamics of the incident lead to larger questions about the nature of pain and injustice and the greater meaning of his own life. He becomes convinced there is more to his brother’s death. His investigations will lead to a confrontation with his own past and a harrowing journey into the dark Glasgow underworld.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Also available as an eBook.

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine / Honeyman, Gail
Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything. One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Also available as an eBook.

Pitch black / Gray, Alex
“The new DCI Lorrimer novel When Chief Inspector Lorimer returns from his holiday on the Isle of Mull, he feels a welcome sense of calm. But it doesn’t last long. Kelvin FC’s new midfielder is found brutally stabbed to death in his own home and, with his wife apprehended trying to leave the country, a seemingly straightforward new case begins.” (Catalogue)

The Booker Dozen is Announced!

It is an unusually high proportion, and especially surprising to the judges themselves…

The above quote is from Gaby Wood, Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation, and relates to the number of debut novelists whose work has been included in this year’s Booker longlist. The eight debutantes include Kiley Reid with Such a Fun Age (included in Wellington City Libraries’ #StayAtHome Fest) as well as C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills is Gold.

Despite this, the majority of the Booker publicity has focused on two-time winner Hilary Mantel and the third book in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, The Mirror and the Light. The Guardian called the work a “masterpiece” and a “shoo-in” for the Booker, while Mantel herself has said that if she fails to win “it will be cast in terms of a disaster”. So who will make it through to the next round? The shortlist will be announced on 15 September!

The new wilderness / Cook, Diane
“Bea’s five-year-old daughter, Agnes, is slowly wasting away. The smog and pollution of the overdeveloped, overpopulated metropolis they call home is ravaging her lungs. Bea knows she cannot stay in the City, but there is only one alternative: The Wilderness State. Mankind has never been allowed to venture into this vast expanse of untamed land. Until now.” (Publisher)

This mournable body : a novel / Dangarembga, Tsitsi
“Anxious about her prospects after leaving a stagnant job, Tambudzai finds herself living in a youth hostel in downtown Harare. She moves to a widow’s boarding house and eventually finds work as a biology teacher. But at every turn in her attempt to make a life for herself, she is faced with a fresh humiliation, until the contrast between the future she imagined and her daily reality ultimately drives her to a breaking point.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Who They Was / Krauze, Gabriel
Who They Was is an electrifying autobiographical British novel: a debut that truly breaks new ground and shines a light on lives that run on parallel, but wildly different tracks.” (Catalogue)

The mirror & the light / Mantel, Hilary
“England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Apeirogon : a novel / McCann, Colum
“Rami is Israeli. Bassam is Palestinian. Rami’s license plate is yellow. Bassam’s license plate is green. It takes Rami fifteen minutes to drive to the West Bank. The same journey for Bassam takes an hour and a half. Both men have lost their daughters. Rami’s thirteen-year-old girl Smadar was killed by a suicide bomber while out shopping with her friends. Bassam’s ten-year-old daughter Abir was shot and killed by a member of the border police outside her school. The men become the best of friends.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The shadow king / Mengiste, Maaza
“With Mussolini preparing to invade Ethiopia, Emperor Haile Selassie heads into exile, and orphaned servant Hirut helps disguise a peasant as the emperor to bring people hope. Soon Hirut becomes his guard, as Mengiste shows us the brutal reality of ordinary people fighting a better-armed foe.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Such a fun age / Reid, Kiley
“Alix is a woman who gets what she wants. So she is shocked when her babysitter, Emira, is confronted while watching the Chamberlains’ toddler in their local supermarket. The store’s security guard, seeing a young black woman out with a white child, accuses Emira of kidnapping. Alix resolves to make things right, but both women find themselves on a crash course that will upend everything they think they know about each other.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Real life / Taylor, Brandon
“Almost everything about Wallace, an introverted African-American transplant from Alabama, is at odds with the lakeside Midwestern university town where he is working toward a biochem degree. For reasons of self-preservation, Wallace has enforced a wary distance even within his own circle of friends, but a series of confrontations conspire to fracture his defenses, while revealing hidden currents of resentment and desire that threaten the equilibrium of their community.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Redhead by the side of the road / Tyler, Anne
“Micah Mortimer isn’t the most polished person you’ll ever meet. His numerous sisters and in-laws regard him oddly but very fondly, but he has his ways and means of navigating the world. But then the order of things starts to tilt. When a teenager shows up at Micah’s door claiming to be his son, Micah is confronted with a surprise he seems poorly equipped to handle…” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Shuggie Bain / Stuart, Douglas
“It is 1981. Glasgow is dying. Agnes Bain has always expected more from life. She dreams of greater things. But when she’s abandoned by her philandering husband, she finds herself trapped in a decimated mining town. As she descends deeper into drink, her three children try their best to save her, yet one by one they must abandon her to save themselves. It is her son Shuggie who holds out hope the longest…” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Love and other thought experiments / Ward, Sophie
Rachel and Eliza are hoping to have a baby. The couple spend many happy evenings together planning for the future. One night Rachel wakes up screaming and tells Eliza that an ant has crawled into her eye. She knows it sounds mad – but she also knows it’s true. Eliza won’t take Rachel’s fear seriously and they have a bitter fight. Suddenly their entire relationship is called into question. Told in ten interconnecting but self-contained chapters, Love and Other Thought Experiments is a story of love lost and found across the universe.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

How Much Of These Hills Is Gold / Zhang, C Pam
“Ba dies in the night; Ma is already gone. Newly orphaned children of immigrants, Lucy and Sam are suddenly alone in a land that refutes their existence. Fleeing the threats of their western mining town, they set off to bury their father in the only way that will set them free from their past. Along the way, they encounter giant buffalo bones, tiger paw prints, and the specters of a ravaged landscape as well as family secrets, sibling rivalry, and glimpses of a different kind of future.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The Booker Shortlist: Our Predictions!

The Booker shortlist has been announced! Six books vying to be crowned the best novel of the year written in English. As the Booker Prize Foundation note, to win is to have your life transformed, with a substantial increase in readership, sales and publicity.

Of course, this transformation doesn’t apply to all on this year’s shortlist: both Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie are previous winners, with Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children winning the Booker of Bookers in 2008. But to win–or even make it onto the shortlist–still requires a phenomenal feat of writing.

And that brings us to the question of the moment: who will win?! We checked in with staff here at Wellington City Libraries and rounded up some predictions. Take a look below and see what you think. Do you agree? What’s your prediction for Booker 2019?

Dusty’s Prediction:

My choice for this year’s Booker goes to the multilayered novel Girl, Woman, Other. Bernadine Evaristo’s interconnected stories speak with the voices of twelve unique beings across generations throughout Britain. This book has been hailed as “Exceptional. Ambitious, flowing and all-encompassing, an offbeat narrative that’ll leave your mind in an invigorated whirl . . . unites poetry, social history, women’s voices and beyond.” So for something other than the bitter interminable grind of bleak pseudoreality, here is an iconic and unique voice, filled with warmth, subtlety and humanity.

Neil’s Prediction:

I usually like to support the dark horse books and would love to see An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma win, but this year I cannot see past the obvious favourite The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. It hasn’t even been released yet but has already been hailed as a landmark work: “a savage and beautiful novel” is what the judges said. You can read a sneak preview and judge for yourself by clicking here. The momentum around this work is so big I think the judges will want to award the prize to the book that could well be regarded in the future as the seminal book of its time.

Paul’s Prediction:

My pick is Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann. How could you not choose a 1,000+ page book which is made up of almost one long sentence?! (Especially when part of the story is narrated by a mountain lion.) In truth though, Ducks, Newburyport is a fantatic work: as Parul Sehgal said in her review, it “has its face pressed up against the pane of the present; its form mimics the way our minds move now: toggling between tabs . . . between news of ecological collapse and school shootings while somehow remembering to pay taxes and fold the laundry.”

The Full Booker Shortlist:

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Quichotte by Salman Rushdie

An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak