Golden Man Booker prize shortlist announced, featuring The English Patient, Wolf Hall and Moon Tiger

Jack Shepherd
All 51 of the former Booker Prize winners were considered by a panel of five judges

The English Patient and Wolf Hall are among the five books shortlisted for the “Golden” Man Booker prize, the special one-off award that will see a novel crowned the best work of fiction released over the last 50 years. In a Free State, Moon Tiger, and last year’s Man Booker Prize for Fiction winner Lincoln in the Bardo complete the shortlist, which was announced at Hay Festival.

All 51 of the former Booker Prize winners were considered by a panel of five judges, each tasked with reading the winning novels from one decade of the award’s history. The “Golden five” will now be put to a public vote to decide the ultimate winner, which will then be announced on 8 July at the Southbank Centre, London.

In a Free State by VS Naipaul marks the earliest release on the shortlist, having reached bookstores back in 1971. Writer Robert McCrum selected the work – a collection of three short stories linked by common themes – describing it as “outstandingly the best novel to win the Booker Prize in the 1970s, a disturbing book about displaced people at the dangerous edge of a disrupted world that could have been written yesterday, a classic for all seasons.” Naipaul, who has also won the Nobel Prize for Literature, is the oldest living Booker Prize winner.

Poet Lemn Sissay chose the winner from the 1980s, selecting Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger, a novel that sees a dying woman tell of her former struggles with love and loss. Facing stiff competition from Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, the favourite to win having already won the Best of Booker award 10 years ago, Sissay called Moon Tiger “a unique book about a fascinating unpredictable woman way ahead of her time and yet absolutely of her time”.

Novelist Kamila Shamsie selected The English Patient as best work of the 1990s. Michael Ondaatje’s war drama – famously adapted into an Oscar-winning film – is a “rare novel which gets under your skin and insists you return to it time and again, always yielding a new surprise or delight. Few novels really deserve the praise: transformative. This one really does.” The book originally tied with Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger in 1992, hence why there were 51 books in contention on the prize’s 50th anniversary,

Wolf Hall, written by Hilary Mantel, was selected by Simon Mayo as the best novel of the 2000s. The broadcaster said the fictionalised Thomas Cromwell biography may be “set hundreds of years ago” but “seemed to me to be the most contemporary, in its questioning of what England is and how it can disengage from Rome, of who should rule and where power should be held”.

Mayo added that the book was “as anguished as any essay about Brexit you’ll read in the papers”.

Finishing the shortlist is Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders, as chosen by Hollie McNish. The most recent winner of the Booker Prize focuses on Abraham Lincoln and the former president’s grief over his dead son. Saunders, who was known for short stories, had never published a full novel beforehand, with McNish saying: “I have never read a book like Lincoln in the Bardo… it was so funny, imaginative and tragic, but also a piece of genius in its originality of form and structure.”

Book sellers — including all major retail outlets, 66 independent bookshops, and 300 libraries – are supporting the award, with Moon Tiger and Wolf Hall’s publishers releasing re-jacketed editions of the books. Baroness Helena Kennedy, chair of the Booker Prize Foundation, said of the shortlist: “I’m confident these wonderfully evocative novels will appeal to the readers of today and hope that this campaign helps to find these authors many new fans.”

The Booker Prize was started in 1969 and has been awarded to numerous modern classics, including Oscar and Lucinda, The Remains of the Day, and Life of Pi. The 2018 long list for the regular prize will be announced later this year.