It’s the most prestigous prize in literature, so you know all these books are worth your time.
The Booker Prize, first awarded in 1969, is among the most prestigious prizes in the book world and is awarded annually to the best novel of the year published in English in the United Kingdom.
The prize, known until recently as the Man Booker thanks to its sponsorship by The Man Group, was for many years only open to writers from Commonwealth countries and the Republic of Ireland. But in 2014 it changed the rules to allow writers of any nationality to enter, leading to worries it would become dominated by Americans.
One thing that has remained consistent through the years has been the awarding of the prize to excellent literature. Here, we look at all the books published by Penguin Random House that have won. Start at the beginning, or skip to the decade of your choice here:
Saville by David Storey, which won the prize in 1976, was Penguin Random House’s first win. It is the story of Colin Saville’s struggle to come to terms with his family and to escape the stifling heritage of the raw mining community into which he was born.
Paul Scott’s Indian-set Staying On won the Booker in 1977. Staying On is the sequel to The Raj Quartet books (of which The Jewel in the Crown is arguably the best known), it introduces Colonel Tusker and Lucy Smalley, who decide to stay on in the hills of Pankot after Indian independence deprives them of their colonial status. Exploring class tensions and loneliness, this book is about both the marriage of its two main characters, and the “divorce” of Britain and India.
Iris Murdoch’s now classic novel The Sea, The Sea took the award in 1978. The Sea, The Sea is about Charles Arrowby, who retires from London’s theatre world to an isolated home by the sea where he plans to write a memoir about his great love affair with Clement Makin, and to amuse himself with actress Lizzie. But none of his plans work out, and working on his memoir causes disruption to his world.
The Sea, The Sea
Life & Times of Michael K was J.M. Coetzee’s first Booker Prize win, in 1983. Set in a South Africa torn apart by civil war, its focus is the title character, who sets out to take his ailing mother back to her rural home. On the way she dies, leaving him searching for meaningful connections and a life lived with dignity.
Hotel du Lac, by Anita Brookner, took the Booker in 1984 and is about Edith Hope, who writes romance novels under a psudonym. But when Edith’s own life begins to resemble the plots of her works, Edith flees to the Hotel du Lac in Switzerland, which promises to restore her to her senses. Instead, Edith finds herself sequestered with an assortment of love’s casualties and exiles.
Kingsley Amis, father of novelist Martin Amis, won the prize in 1986 for The Old Devils. It’s about Alun Weaver and his wife Rhiannon, who move into a quiet retirement community only to find it full of people they used to know, resulting in the resurgence of old ambitions and energies.
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, won the Booker in 1987. The book is the life story of Claudia Hampton, who is dying. Lively takes us through her life, from a childhood just after the First World War onwards, and through the people who have known and loved her.
Life And Times Of Michael K
J M Coetzee
Hotel du Lac
The Old Devils
A.S. Byatt’s Possession won the Booker in 1990, and was the first of six years in a row where Penguin Random House won. Possession is the story of Maud Bailey, a scholar researching the life and work of her distant relative, a little known 19th-century poet named Christabel LaMotte, and Roland Mitchel, who l is looking into an obscure moment in the life of another Victorian poet, Randolph Henry Ash. As the pair research further, they find a connection between their subjects, and also find themselves falling in love.
Ben Okri’s The Famished Road won the award in 1991. It is narrated by Azaro, an abide or spirit child who exists between life and death in the Yoruba tradition of Nigeria. Kirkus Reviews said of the novel: “Okri’s tale is a beautifully rendered allegory, enriched by its African setting, of love powerful enough to defy even death and his minions.”
The Booker Prize in 1992 was awarded jointly to Michael Ondaatje for The English Patient and Barry Unsworth for Sacred Hunger. The latter is set in the 1700s and follows the entangled fortunes of two cousins. The English Patient is set in 1945 and explores the lives of four very disparate war-torn people.
Following the joint win, the Booker instituted a new rule that only one book could win, although that rule was broken in 2019…
Roddy Doyle’s Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha was awarded the Booker in 1993. Set in 1968, its central character is 10-year-old Patrick Clarke, who sees everything but doesn’t always understand it. Reviewing the book, The Independent said: “The novel’s boldest feature is its infantile style of narrative… Paddy’s account may be inefficient, incoherent and chronologically incapable, but there is never a glimpse of the author at his shoulder, directing operations or forcing him to dwell on portentous moments.”
A S Byatt
The Famished Road
The English Patient
Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
James Kelman’s How Late It Was How Late, which won the prize in 1994, is about Sammy, whose bad week has included losing his wallet, being beaten up by the police, fighting with his girlfriend – and going blind. The stream-of-consciousness novel was described by The Independent as “unexpectedly compelling”.
The final novel in Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy, The Ghost Road, won the prize in 1995. A devastating account of the closing months of the First World War, it follows army psychiatrist William Rivers as he tries to work out what can be done help the young men in his care.
Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam took the 1998 prize. It’s about two old friends who meet at the funeral of Molly Lane. Both men, now successful in different fields, had been Molly’s lovers when younger. In the weeks following the funeral the lives of the men become bound together in ways neither could have imagined.
J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace took the 1999 Booker Prize. It follows a middle-aged university professor in Cape Town who has an impulsive affair with a student. When the affair sours, he resigns and retreats to his daughter’s smallholding, where eventually a savage and disturbing act brings into focus the faultiness in the father and daughter’s relationship.
In winning, Coetzee became the first person to be awarded the prize twice in its 31-year history.
How Late It Was How Late
The Ghost Road
J M Coetzee
In 2006, Kiran Desai won the prize for The Inheritance of Loss, becoming – at the time – the youngest woman to have won the award (that record is now held by Eleanor Catton, whose book The Luminaries won in 2013). Desai won a prize which had eluded her mother, the novelist Anita Desai, who was shortlisted three times.
Desai said: “The debt I owe to my mother is so profound that I feel the book is hers as much as mine. It was written in her company and in her wisdom and kindness.”
The Inheritance of Loss follows the intertwining stories of a judge in a mansion in the Himalayas, his cook, and the cook’s son, who is working at a restaurant in New York.
Anne Enright’s The Gathering, which won the prize in 2007, is the story of the Hegarty clan, which gathers in Dublin for the wake of wayward brother Liam. The book is narrated by Veronica, one of Liam’s siblings, as she faces up to the fragile and turbulent history of her family, and of what happened to Liam as a boy in his grandmother’s house in 1968.
Chair of the judging panel, Howard Davies, said of the book: “It’s accessible. It’s somewhat bitter – but it’s perfectly accessible. People will be pretty excited by it when they read it.”
The Inheritance of Loss
Julian Barnes was shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times before winning in 2011 for The Sense of an Ending.
The book was his first novel for six years, and is about a man revisiting his past in later life and discovering his memories are less than perfect.
Dame Stella Rimington, chair of the 2011 judges, said: “Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending has the markings of a classic of English Literature. It is exquisitely written, subtly plotted and reveals new depths with each reading.”
Richard Flanagan became the third Australian author to win the prize, when his book The Narrow Road to the Deep North took the 2014 award.
The book is the harrowing tale of prisoners at a Japanese POW camp, working on the Burma Death Railway.
Chair of judges AC Grayling said: “The two great themes from the origin of literature are love and war: this is a magnificent novel of love and war. Written in prose of extraordinary elegance and force, it bridges East and West, past and present, with a story of guilt and heroism. This is the book that Richard Flanagan was born to write.”
After the Booker Prize was jointly awarded to Barry Unsworth and Michael Ondaatje in 1992, the rules were changed so that the prize couldn’t be split between two books again. But that didn’t stop the judges for the 2019 prize, who simply couldn’t decide and gave the prize to Bernardine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other and Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments. Head judge Peter Florence said: “It was the collective will of the jury to say that we could not abide by the rules.”
The year was also remarkable in other ways, marking the first time a Black woman of any nationality had won the Booker. Florence said that Girl, Woman, Other “has something magical about its cast of 12 women, mostly black, mostly British, and representative of many women today who haven’t been represented in contemporary British literature”.
Of The Testaments, a sequel to Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Florence said the book “looks more urgent than ever before. It is what resistance looks like.”