Subversive Novels Dominate Shortlist for International Booker Prize

An erotically charged novel about lovers in Iceland and a look at the lives of Black security guards in France are among the six titles shortlisted for this year’s International Booker Prize, widely regarded as the world’s most important award for fiction translated into English.

The nominees were announced on Tuesday at the London Book Fair.

Maryse Condé, an 86-year-old Guadeloupean novelist often touted for the Nobel Prize in Literature, is perhaps the highest-profile author to appear on the shortlist. She is nominated for “The Gospel According to the New World,” translated from French by Richard Philcox, about a child abandoned in Martinique who grows up to become a Christlike figure.

Anderson Tepper, in a profile of Condé for The New York Times, wrote that the novel “feels like a capstone work” to the author’s lengthy career.

The shortlisted titles also include Eva Baltasar’s “Boulder,” translated from Catalan by Julia Sanches, about two women who settle in Iceland together and the challenges that they face after deciding to have a child. Greg Mania, in a review for The New York Times, wrote that it “tugs at your heartstrings.”

The International Booker Prize is separate from the better-known Booker Prize, which is awarded to a novel originally written in English. Both awards have the same prize money of 50,000 pounds, or about $62,000. For the international prize, that fund is split equally between the winning book’s author and its translator.

Leïla Slimani, a novelist and the chair of this year’s judging panel, said in an online news conference before Tuesday’s announcement that the shortlisted novels were all “bold, subversive, nicely perverse — there is something sneaky about a lot of them.”

They were also all “very sensual,” Slimani said, adding that readers would “feel them physically.”

Alongside Condé and Baltasar’s novels, the four other nominated titles are:

  • “Standing Heavy” by GauZ’, an author from Ivory Coast who uses a pseudonym. The novel, translated from French by Frank Wynne, follows the lives of undocumented immigrants in France who work as security guards. Lucy Popescu, reviewing the book for The Financial Times, said the satire “entertains as much as it informs.”

  • “Still Born” by the Mexican author Guadalupe Nettel. Translated from Spanish by Rosalind Harvey, it follows two best friends who share an aversion to motherhood only for one to fall pregnant. Miranda France, writing in The Times Literary Supplement, compared Nettel’s writing to Elena Ferrante’s and said that “Still Born” was “highly original.”

  • Cheon Myeong-kwan’s “Whale,” translated from Korean by Chi-Young Kim. Originally published in South Korea in 2004, this magical-realist novel follows the life of an ambitious young woman who builds a movie theater designed to look like a whale. Reviewing the novel for The Financial Times, Christian House wrote that it succeeds thanks in part “to its multisensual atmosphere of strangeness.”

  • Georgi Gospodinov’s “Time Shelter,” translated from Bulgarian by Angela Rodel, is a complex novel in which a psychiatrist creates historical spaces for dementia patients to help them retain memories. The experiment proves so successful that soon whole countries are considering living in the past. Adrian Nathan West, in The New York Times, said that when reading “Time Shelter” it was impossible not to think of “the reactionary sentiments behind Brexit and MAGA.”

The winner of this year’s prize will be announced on May 23 at a ceremony in London.

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