The team at The Reading Agency have had the pleasure of reading this year’s International Booker Prize shortlist ahead of the winner’s announcement on Tuesday, 23 May. Find out what we thought about the books and decide which one you’re going to pick up for your next read!
You can watch the winner announcement live at 21:40, Tuesday 23 May, on The Booker Prizes YouTube channel.
Boulder by Eva Baltasar, translated from Catalan by Julia Sanches
As someone who rarely enjoys shorter books, this book completely took me by surprise. The story completely entrenches you in a different life, and almost makes you forget yourself.
It is difficult to pinpoint what made this book so lovely. It’s a book of passion, pain, resignation. A book that breaks down sentimental notions and replaces them with cold reality. A book that highlights all imperfections of human selfishness. And yet, it’s a book that left me feeling strangely content; it lead me to a place of acceptance, rather than judgement.
While there are many ways of understanding this book, I understood it as a story that pushes you think about what a relationship really is. What makes it real? What makes it last? Those are the questions I was left with once I finished reading.
Whale by Cheon Myeong-Kwan, translated from Korean by Chi-Young Kim
I began by reading a chapter each night as they felt like their own special short story that I could then think about for the rest of the night before I began the next. This meant I could gradually feel the connection by the three female characters. The strength for me was in their characterization – I knew I could see them all and even though you don’t like them, you understand them. It’s a fascinating mix of timelines, filled with horror at times and humour in others so I was constantly on my toes, never knowing where it was going to take me. The sense of place in Whale is strong. The writing shows what it was like in Korea for the people living there during a time of rapid change.
Even with the strong magical realism and fantasy aspects of the writing, it felt very real. I can’t think of another book I’ve read like it.
The Gospel According to the New World by Maryse Condé, translated from French by Richard Philcox
I read it in one sitting, this book was captivating and riveting. It read much like a lucid dream, responsive and vivid.
Entering into the story, I had a very vague idea of what the book might be about but was intrigued as I began to read. This book takes you through a journey where you follow a man’s life, seeing him through each trial, tribulation, and success. Pascal is utterly relatable, but somehow inhuman, and teeters along that line the whole book: sometimes falling to one side more than the other. The most poignant part of the story was the overarching message, something that kindled a deep feeling of introspection. By the end of the book, I felt probed to question my own understanding of life and the connections that hold us together as human beings.
Standing Heavy by GauZ’, translated from French by Frank Wynne
It is a really interesting book, providing insights into the perspective of undocumented workers from Côte d’Ivoire in the security industry in Paris. I loved the way the fragmented narrative gives witty and thoughtful comments on society and consumerism, really making you consider your own attitudes and interactions with shopping and fast fashion. However, it did make following the narrative tricky at times. The book spans decades, highlighting many political issues and events that I was unaware of and became deeply interested in, but I became lost in the satirical sections of brief observations. Overall, the book is well worth a read. GauZ’s use of critical humour towards life and thought provoking perspectives of the lives of migrants navigating their new environment through many fast-paced political changes results in you viewing the world slightly differently after reading.
Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov, translated from Bulgarian by Angela Rodel
It’s been a while since I’ve read a book that I couldn’t put down. Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov explores the fine line between now and then in a peculiar story bringing the past to the present to aid people suffering from Alzheimer’s. Gospodinov’s writing is both amusing and astute as he creates an inviting opportunity to escape the modern world. I found myself feeling nostalgic, as characters in the book found respite in curated living rooms identical to ones from their childhood homes. Gospodinov perfectly captures the fleeting nature of time and made me reflect on how important it is to, as much as possible, live in the now.
Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel, translated from Spanish by Rosalind Harvey
I liked this book more than I expected. It began abruptly with reflections on motherhood and more specifically, why one would choose not to parent a child. This directness reflects the Nettel’s tone throughout – clear and practical, but wonderfully emotive and enthralling. The short vignettes pace the novel well and make the sometimes heavy subject matter easier to digest.
This book is about Laura, who does not see motherhood as part of her future and her friend who goes through fertility troubles and then faces a unique pregnancy. It is beautiful to see how the love of friendship is represented through Laura’s perspective of her friend’s struggles. As both women face troubling situations, they are forced to face uncomfortable emotions that challenge their perceptions. As the blurb says, this book artfully explores the ‘contradictions that make up the lived experiences of women’. This is a quietly powerful and resonant novel.
You can find reading guides to the books on the International Booker Prize 2023 shortlist on the International Booker Prize website.
Find out more about the titles and why they were selected for the list with the Six things to know about the 2023 shortlist.
Librarians and teachers we have a free promotional pack to help you celebrate the International Booker Prize available in our shop.
Your reading group can select one of the shortlisted titles for your next reading group pick! You can find reading guides to support your discussion here.
Have you read any of the shortlisted books? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter and Instagram using #InternationalBooker2023, or click on a title above to leave a review.
The Booker Prizes’ Book of the Month
Each month the Booker Prizes’ Book of the Month shines a spotlight on a different work of fiction from among the 600+ titles in the Booker Library, through reading guides, extracts, opinion pieces, competitions and discussions on our social channels. We will be updating this page on our website every month. Find out more here.