Booker Prize: Read this year’s winning novel and the previous top titles

Eva Waite-Taylor
·6-min read
<p>It’s a truth universally acknowledged that books have the power to transport you to places far beyond the here and now</p> (The Independent)

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that books have the power to transport you to places far beyond the here and now

(The Independent)

Douglas Stuart has been crowned this year’s winner of the Booker Prize for Fiction, taking the award for his debut novel Shuggie Bain. A beautiful story set in working-class Glasgow that follows the heartbreaking and emotive relationship between Hugh "Shuggie" Bain and his mother, Agnes.

Chair of judges for the prize, Margaret Busby, said it “is destined to be a classic — a moving, immersive and nuanced portrait of a tight-knit social world, its people and its values."

She added: “Gracefully and powerfully written, this is a novel that has impact because of its many emotional registers and its compassionately realised characters.”

Before saying it "can make you cry and make you laugh — a daring, frightening and life-changing novel”.

Douglas Stuart beat five other titles from the most diverse shortlist yet – debut novelists dominated, four of the six finalists were women and apart from Tsitsi Dangarembga, all are from the US or hold joint US citizenship.

The award is widely regarded as the UK’s most prestigious literary award, recognising the best fiction written in the English-language and published in the UK and Ireland between 1 October 2019 and 30 September 2020.

For the first year, the ceremony was a digitalised event and broadcast in partnership with the BBC from London’s Roundhouse. It saw a pre-recorded message from Barack Obama who noted that it is fiction’s power that means we can "put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, understand their struggles, and imagine new ways to tackle complex problems and effect change”.

While The Duchess of Cornwall shared her thoughts on the importance of reading during the pandemic, noting that “as long as we can read, we can travel, we can escape, we can explore, we can laugh, we can cry and we can grapple with life’s mysteries”.

Other key speakers included Booker Prize and Nobel Prize for Literature winner author Kazuo Ishiguro, along with Bernardine Evaristo and Margaret Atwood, last year’s joint victors.

The topics covered within this year’s shortlisted novels were wide-ranging, including stories about climate change, the hardship of life in Zimbabwe, dementia and women soldiers in 1935 Ethiopia. What is clear from the scope is that books provide us with the opportunity to be immersed in storytelling and marvel at what unheard voices have to say. It truly is magical.

Often the very best books are the ones that evoke emotion and eloquently touch on important issues, and that’s exactly what this year’s winning novel does so well. In honour of the Booker Prize announcement, we take a look at Shuggie Bain and the previous five top Booker titles that preceded it, all of which showcase the wonders of the written word.

You can trust our independent roun-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

Read More

Douglas Stuart wins Booker Prize 2020 for ‘Shuggie Bain’

Booker Prize 2020: The shortlisted novels you need to read

Women’s Prize for Fiction: Read this year’s winning novel

Super Thursday: As 600 books are published, read these debut novels

The independent bookshops to buy from instead of Amazon

2020 winner: ‘Shuggie Bain’ by Douglas Stuart, published by Picador

Set in Eighties Glasgow, this is the unforgettable story of young Hugh "Shuggie" Bain who spends his pivotal years in run-down public housing. Exploring Thatcher's politics, it is a heartbreaking story of addiction, love and sexuality. Stuart's portrayal of a working-class family is so rarely seen in fiction, for him to do so in such a powerful and all-important way is noteworthy. This is a story between Shuggie and his mother is hard to forget, it’s intimate, challenging and compassionate.

Buy now £13.94, Bookshop

2019 joint winner: ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernardine Evaristo, published by Penguin Books

Shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2020, Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and loves of 12 black, British, cisgender and gender-queer women, illuminating an image of modern British life. It's about struggle, but also about love, sex, friendship, joy, and imagination. Evaristo's powerful and compelling prose weaves through time and space with sheer originality. Its thanks to this unique voice that allows the reader to truly feel connected to the characters.

Buy now £8.36, Bookshop

2019 joint winner: ‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood, published by Chatto & Windus

This eagerly anticipated sequel was published 35 years after Atwood’s seminal The Hand Maid’s Tale and answers the questions that were left unfinished – notably, what did happen to Offred? Critiquing gender, oppression and authoritarianism at pace, this is a dystopian masterpiece you need to devour.

Buy now £5.00, Amazon

2018 winner: ‘Milkman’ by Anna Burns, published by Faber & Faber

Set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, Milkman is told by an 18-year-old unnamed narrator. While she reads 19th century literature obsessively, she does not care much for the political turmoil around her and attempts to avoid the unwanted attention from a man many years her senior. Through short and arresting prose, it’s a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. Prepare to feel instantly immersed.

Buy now £6.29

2017 winner: ‘Lincoln in the Bardo’ by George Saunders, published by Bloomsbury Publishing

With the backdrop of the American Civil War, Lincoln in the Bardo unfolds over the course of a single night and is the story of president Abraham Lincoln’s grief after his 11-year-old son, Willie, dies. Set in a cemetery that’s populated by a teeming horde of spirits, Saunders crafts an emotionally powerful, heartbreaking and wildly imaginative story.

Buy now £8.99, Waterstones

2016 winner: ‘The Sellout’ by Paul Beatty, published by Oneworld Publications

The first American author to win the prize, this novel is packed with surprising and galvanizing satire on race relations in the US. When we first meet Beatty’s narrator, an unnamed Black man, he’s in front of the Supreme Court on charges for keeping a slave named Hominy and reintroduce segregation. What ensues is his account of the events that preceded this point. A powerful novel that will stay with you long after you’ve put it down.

Buy now £8.36, Bookshop

2015 winner: ‘A Brief History of Seven Killings’ by Marlon James, published by Oneworld Publications

Set against the backdrop of the reggae culture, disco and sex of the Seventies, this gripping and inventive novel traces the lives and deaths of seven of the would-be killers in the failed 1976 assassination attempt on Bob Marley. Weaving fiction and fact, the prose read with musical rhythm, making this a mesmerising book.

Buy now £9.99, Amazon

If this didn’t satiate your lust for literature, take a look at our guide to the debut novels released in Super Thursday or our round-up of the Women’s Prize for Fiction winners from the past six years