Debut novelists make Booker Prize 2023 longlist as star writers miss out

Ms Lloyd-Barlow's novel was praised as a 'poetic debut'
Ms Lloyd-Barlow's novel was praised as a 'poetic debut'

A debut novelist whose work draws on her experience of being autistic has been longlisted for the Booker Prize.

Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow is one of four first-time novelists on a list that misses out superstar writers such as Zadie Smith and Sir Salman Rushdie.

Her book, All the Little Bird-Hearts, is written from the perspective of an autistic mother living in the Lake District.

Lloyd-Barlow has said that she found school difficult both socially and academically, although she loved reading. She left school with no qualifications but, after having her children, took an access course which led to her gaining a literature degree from Open University.

Now with a PhD in Creative Writing, Lloyd-Barlow has presented her doctoral research on autism and literary narrative at Harvard University.

The judges praised her book as “a poetic debut which masterfully intertwines themes of familial love, friendship, class prejudice and trauma with psychological acuity and wit.”

The list of 13 authors comprises four British writers, four from Ireland, two from America and one from Nigeria, Malaysia and Canada.

Booker Prize 2023 longlist
Booker Prize 2023 longlist

Three of the British authors were selected for their debut novels. In addition to Lloyd-Barlow there is Siân Hughes, whose book, Pearl, was inspired both by a medieval poem and her experience of postpartum psychosis.

The protagonist in Chetna Maroo’s debut, Western Lane, is an 11-year-old girl whose family is dealing with bereavement, and who finds solace in playing squash.

The fourth British author, Scotsman Martin McInnes, was nominated for In Ascension, his third novel.

Sebastian Barry and Tan Twan Eng are the best known names on the list and both have been shortlisted for the Booker Prize before.

Sebastian Barry's Old God’s Time has been longlisted
Sebastian Barry's Old God’s Time has been longlisted

But Sir Salman Rushdie, who won the ‘Booker of Bookers’ for Midnight’s Children, did not make the list with his most recent work, Victory City. Nor was there recognition for Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton, who won in 2013 with The Luminaries.

Other writers tipped for inclusion, but who did not make the cut, include Zadie Smith for The Fraud and Barbara Kingsolver for Demon Copperhead. The latter recently won the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

Esi Edugyan, the novelist and chair of the judges, said: “We read 163 novels across seven months, and in that time whole worlds opened to us.

“The list is defined by its freshness - by the irreverence of new voices, by the iconoclasm of established ones. All 13 novels cast new light on what it means to exist in our time, and they do so in original and thrilling ways.

“Their range is vast, both in subject and form: they shocked us, made us laugh, filled us with anguish, but above all they stayed with us.

“This is a list to excite, challenge, delight, a list to bring wonder. The novels are small revolutions, each seeking to energise and awaken the language.”

The other judges are Adjoa Andoh, the writer and Bridgerton actress; Mary Jean Chan, the poet, lecturer, editor and critic; James Shapiro, the author and professor; and Robert Webb, the writer and Peep Show actor.

The shortlist will be announced on September 21 and the winner on November 26.