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Booker’s golden run

Which Man Booker winner will stand the test of five decades?

George Saunders with the Man Booker Prize 2017. Photo: Getty Images
George Saunders with the Man Booker Prize 2017. Photo: Getty Images

At the Hay Festival in Wales recently, a shortlist of the “Golden Five", culled from five decades of Man Booker Prize winners, was released. Chosen by a jury of writers and critics after re-reading the winning titles from each decade, the names include the éminence grise of the literary establishment, but also a few that will raise eyebrows: Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger (which won the prize in 1987) is in the running, for instance, instead of Anita Brookner’s Hotel Du Lac (1984), which was much more acclaimed in the 1980s. From the 1990s, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient (1992) has been picked, an outstanding novel no doubt, but, to my mind, one that pales before J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, which won the prize in 1999.

A best of Man Booker list is hard to conceive of without Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children (1981). The novel has won two special prizes to mark the 25th and 40th anniversaries of the Booker, in 1993 and 2008, respectively. Although it has been left out of the Golden Five (one secretly thanks the jury for this decision), there is another Indian-origin writer on the list: V.S. Naipaul, for his novel In A Free State (1971), hauntingly framed by three stories of migration.

From the decades closer to us, Hilary Mantel’s historical thriller Wolf Hall (2009) and American writer George Saunders’ Lincoln In The Bardo (2017) grace the shortlist. The five titles, whether you agree with the jury or not, do provide a fascinating insight into the gradually changing character of the prize—from the shifting themes every decade to the inclusion of American writers, as the prize was opened up in 2014 to anyone who writes in English. If you have a personal favourite among the shortlisted five, you have the chance to vote for them on the Man Booker website till 25 June (

The winner will be announced on 8 July in London.

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