Alan Garner has become the oldest author to be shortlisted for the Booker prize, and is the only British writer on this year’s list.
He is joined on the shortlist, described by chair of judges Neil MacGregor as six books that “speak powerfully about important things”, by one Irish writer, two Americans, a Zimbabwean and a writer from Sri Lanka.
Historian MacGregor said the judges were looking for books in which “something momentous happens”, as well as novels that would “demonstrate how great writing gives the human predicament a shape”.
MacGregor was joined on the judging panel by academic and broadcaster Shahidha Bari; historian Helen Castor; novelist and critic M John Harrison; and novelist, poet and professor Alain Mabanckou.
If Garner goes on to win for his novel Treacle Walker, about a young boy who is visited by a wandering healer, he will receive the award on his 88th birthday. Treacle Walker is also the shortest book on the list, coming in at around 15,000 words.
The judges called it a “mysterious, beautifully written and affecting glimpse into the deep work of being human”, and said the book had made some of them cry.
Also making the cut are former shortlistees NoViolet Bulawayo and Elizabeth Strout. Zimbabwean Bulawayo, who was shortlisted in 2013 for her debut We Need New Names, is through to the final six again with the Animal Farm-inspired political satire Glory, narrated by a chorus of animals. The judges called it “a magical crossing of the African continent, in its political excesses and its wacky characters”.
American author Strout was shortlisted in 2006 with My Name is Lucy Barton. The title on this year’s list, Oh William!, is also part of her Lucy Barton series and sees the character reconnect with her first husband. The judges described it as “one of those quietly radiant books that finds the deepest mysteries in the simplest things”.
Shehan Karunatilaka’s The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is about a photographer caught up in the horrors of civil war, and is his second novel, published 10 years after his first. He is the second Sri Lankan author in two years to make the Booker shortlist, and has written a novel “full of ghosts, gags and a deep humanity”, say the judges.
American writer Percival Everett’s The Trees is about detectives who investigate a series of gruesome murders in Money, Mississippi, where Emmett Till was lynched 65 years earlier. The judges said it was “horrifying and howlingly funny” and that it “asks questions about history and justice and allows not a single easy answer”.
Irish author Claire Keegan is shortlisted for the slim Small Things Like These, set in the run-up to Christmas in a small Irish town. The panel said Keegan was “measured and merciless as she dissects the silent acquiescence of a 1980s Irish town in the Church’s cruel treatment of unmarried mothers”.
There had been, said director of the Booker prize foundation, Gaby Wood, “virtually no arguments, no proper rows” between the judges when deciding on the list. They had chosen books that bring history to life and, said Bari, “books that use humour as a strategy”.
Half of the titles on the list are published by independents: Small Things Like These by Faber, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Sort Of, and The Trees by Influx.
The 2022 winner will be announced on Monday 17 October in an awards ceremony held at the Roundhouse in London. The six shortlisted authors each receive £2,500 and a specially bound edition of their book; the winner will receive £50,000.