From 'Everything Under' To 'Overstory': The 2018 Man Booker Prize Shortlist

Sep 20, 2018
Originally published on September 20, 2018 12:40 pm

Updated at 1:30 p.m. ET

Judges have unveiled their finalists for the 2018 Man Booker Prize on Thursday, whittling the prestigious fiction award's possible winners to a shortlist of just half a dozen novels: Anna Burns' Milkman, Esi Edugyan's Washington Black, Daisy Johnson's Everything Under, Rachel Kushner's The Mars Room, Richard Powers' The Overstory, and Robin Robertson's The Long Take.

Once awarded only to authors from the U.K. and Commonwealth countries, the prize has opened its gates in recent years, recognizing exemplary fiction by writers of any nationality writing in English and published in the British Isles.

And this year it's the language that takes center stage, according to the chair of the judging panel, Kwame Anthony Appiah.

"All of our six finalists are miracles of stylistic invention," the philosopher said in a statement released Thursday. "In each of them the language takes centre stage. And yet in every other respect they are remarkably diverse, exploring a multitude of subjects ranging across space and time."

The novelists include two Americans (Kushner and Powers) and three authors from the U.K. (Burns, Johnson and Robertson). Edugyan, a Canadian, fills out the list.

The winner of the roughly $66,000 prize will be announced Oct. 16. Until then, you can get to know the finalists. Find a list below, complete with excerpts from the judges' citations and, where available, links to NPR's previous coverage of the authors and their works.


Anna Burns, Milkman

"The language of Anna Burns' Milkman is simply marvellous; beginning with the distinctive and consistently realised voice of the funny, resilient, astute, plain-spoken, first-person protagonist. From the opening page her words pull us into the daily violence of her world — threats of murder, people killed by state hit squads — while responding to the everyday realities of her life as a young woman, negotiating a way between the demands of family, friends and lovers in an unsettled time." — Chair of judging panel Kwame Anthony Appiah


Esi Edugyan, Washington Black

"Esi Edugyan's ravishing third novel is narrated by its title character–an eighteen-year-old freeman recalling his escape from life as a child slave on a sun-scorched sugar plantation in Barbados, British West India, during the 1820s. ... It is a novel of ideas but also of the senses, a yarn and a lament, a chase story that doubles as an intellectual quest, a history lesson in the form of a fairy tale. Moments of horrifying cruelty and violence sit alongside episodes of great tenderness and deep connection. A majestic grandeur is achieved with the lightest touch." — Judge Leo Robson


Daisy Johnson, Everything Under

"The single word that sums up this beautifully written debut novel is 'fluidity.' It's set in a world of waterways; nobody's character remains fixed from start to finish; gender and memory are as fluid as the waters themselves; the flow of myth and folklore runs through it; and even words themselves slither away from attempts to pin down their meaning." — Judge Val McDermid


Rachel Kushner, The Mars Room

"In this seemingly hopeless world [of a women's prison], some of the prisoners learn to manage, even accept, their circumstances, and the reader's interest in their lives is driven by a propulsive plot that keeps you turning the pages despite your anger at the many injustices they contain. Kushner insists that we face the reality of what is being done in our names; and the energy and imagination of her craft enthrals on every page." — Chair of judging panel Kwame Anthony Appiah


Richard Powers, The Overstory

"The Overstory, a novel about trees and people who understand them, is the eco-epic of the year and perhaps the decade. Unlike the Lorax, who spoke for the trees, Richard Powers prefers to let them do their own talking. Instead of a middle distance or landscape, he offers portraits: a gallery of species — Chestnut, Mulberry, Banyan, Redwood — placing his human characters correctly in scale with that royalty. The trees tell of cellular ancestry and transmission, cycles that take place along spans of time we cannot imagine, though Powers can and does." — Judge Leanne Shapton


Robin Robertson, The Long Take

"This is a genre-defying novel. Cutting from battlefield to building demolitions in San Francisco and LA, to the killing of black men on the streets of America today, it imports into the very form of the writing one of the most famous film techniques: cross-cutting. You could be in the cinema, or listening to an elegy, or reading the story of one man's devastating experience as he tries to rebuild the shards of his life after the war. A pageant of loss, The Long Take is also a lyrical tribute to the power of writing and image to convey, and somehow survive, historic and ongoing suffering and injustice." — Judge Jacqueline Rose

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