Anna Burns wins the 2018 Man Booker Prize for literature
Northern Ireland writer Anna Burns has won the 2018 Man Booker Prize for literature for her novel Milkman.
The announcement of the winner, during this 50th anniversary year of the prestigious prize, was made at a gala ceremony in London’s medieval Guildhall on Tuesday.
Burns’ book, a story of family, community and violence set during Northern Ireland’s deadly Troubles, was an underdog to win, according to pre-award speculation and the UK’s bookies.
The frontrunners for the prize were American writer Richard Powers’ arboreal novel The Overstory, Canadian novelist Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black — about a slave who escapes from a sugar plantation in a hot-air balloon — and British author Daisy Johnson’s Greek tragedy-inspired family saga Everything Under. The 50,000 pound ($85,000 Cdn.) prize, which has a reputation for transforming writers’ careers. Johnson, at 27, is the youngest author ever to make the Booker shortlist.
The other finalists were U.S. novelist Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room, about a woman serving life in prison; and Robin Robertson’s The Long Take, a verse novel about a traumatized D-Day veteran journeying through troubled post-war American cities.
Edugyan was the only writer on the this year’s shortlist nominated before, in 2011 for her novel Half-Blood Blues, which went on to win the Giller Prize.
Only three Canadians have previously won the prestigious prize. This year, Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight made the longlist but did not make the cut to the shortlist. He previously won in 1992 for The English Patient, which just this past summer was also awarded The Golden Man Booker, chosen as the public’s favourite Man Booker prize winner in celebration of the prize’s 50th anniversary. The other Canadian winners of the prize were Margaret Atwood in 2000 for The Blind Assassin (although she has been nominated five separate times over three decades) and Yann Martel in 2002 for Life of Pi. Previous Canadian finalists include Alice Munro, Mordecai Richler, Rohinton Mistry, Patrick deWitt, Madeleine Thien, Eleanor Catton and Brian Moore.
The prize, subject to intense speculation and lively betting, usually brings the victor a huge boost in sales and profile.
Founded in 1969, the prize was originally open to British, Irish and Commonwealth writers. Americans have been eligible since 2014, and there have been two American winners — Paul Beatty’s The Sellout in 2016 and George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo in 2017.
This year’s finalists include three U.K. authors, two Americans and a Canadian. A third consecutive American victor might have revived fears among some U.K. writers and publishers that the prize is becoming too U.S.-centric.
With files from the Star’s wire services
Deborah Dundas is the Star's Books editor. She is based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @debdundas