Many of us spend our days clock-watching and frantically attempting to check items off a never-ending to-do list. It can feel overwhelming and exhausting.
Taking time out for yourself will do wonders for your well-being and productivity. And what better way to relax than by putting your feet up with a good book?
But, with so much outstanding fiction to choose from, picking your next read can feel like one more task to check off. That’s why we’ve done the leg work for you by picking our top five Booker nominated books to curl up with this autumn.
Whatever your preferred genre or subject matter, there’s a perfect choice for you. And a Booker nomination means you’re practically guaranteed a brilliant read.
1. A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry, shortlisted, 1996
Mistry has had three novels shortlisted for the Booker prize, which demonstrates the calibre of his work. So, it’s surprising that his name remains relatively unknown to many readers.
A Fine Balance is set in 1975, India. When the government declares a state of emergency, four strangers are thrown together.
Dina Dalal, a spirited Parsi widow who is determined to maintain her financial independence and avoid a second marriage, takes in a boarder and two tailors to help run the sweatshop she has set up in her home.
As these four strangers battle to survive political turmoil, financial uncertainty, and tragedy, they form a kind of family. Each one must face a difficult choice to “maintain a fine balance between hope and despair” while saving their newly found relationships from destruction.
Tragedy and sorrow are cleverly intertwined with wisdom and laughter making this compulsively readable modern classic akin to the work of Dickens.
2. The Bee Sting, Paul Murray, shortlisted 2023
Murray’s tragicomic novel injects some welcome humour into this year’s shortlist. Set in Ireland in 2009, the story centres around the Barnes family and their struggles to survive the impact of the financial crash.
When dad, Dickie Barnes’ car business fails, he escapes to the woods and builds an apocalypse-proof bunker. His exasperated wife Imelda resorts to selling jewellery on eBay to keep the family afloat. Meanwhile, their children, teenager Cass and 12-year-old PJ, face their own battles and try to find ways of escaping reality by binge drinking and planning to run away.
Each chapter tells the story of a different family member, and the author uses flashbacks to create a layered story that gradually develops the details of each character and their relationships with one another.
The Bee Sting is bleak at times and contains challenging themes, but the characters are so well drawn and the story is told with such wit, that this is a dream autumn fire-side read.
3. A Little Life, Hanya Yanagihara, shortlisted 2015
At 736 pages long with themes of abuse, addiction, heartbreak and loss, this sprawling novel is no light summer read. But there’s a reason it has topped best-seller charts and scooped multiple nominations and awards.
Yanagihara’s masterful storytelling quickly absorbs the reader in the lives of four American college graduates whose complicated relationships develop over several decades.
There’s Jude, a successful yet broken lawyer; JB, a party-loving and sometimes callous artist; the sensible but frustrated Malcolm; and Willem the beautiful actor.
While the book is filled with dark themes, heart-rending tragedies and at times, almost unreadable cruelties, it is the love and friendship between these characters that drives the story forward and makes this book hard to put down and even harder to forget.
4.Fingersmith, Sarah Waters, shortlisted 2002
Now a popular BBC drama, Fingersmith is a historical tale of mystery and suspense set in Victorian London.
Orphan, Sue Trinder is raised in a den of “fingersmiths” or petty thieves, under the protective watch of Mrs Suksby, who cares for dozens of orphaned babies.
A con man posing as a “gentleman” entices Sue to gain a position as a maid to a wealthy yet naïve young lady whose inheritance he plans to steal.
Waters masterfully crafts a plot that makes the reader feel part of the story, a genuine observer in real-time. There are constant twists and turns with confidence trick inside confidence trick.
Authentic dialogue and beautifully written prose bring London 1862 to life with all of its dark corners, secrets and betrayal.
Fingersmith is all at once a page-turning thriller, a tender love story, an enigmatic mystery, and an atmospheric historical drama.
5. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell, shortlisted 2004
According to the Evening Standard, Mitchell’s third novel is “a masterful feast” while the Spectator described it as “shamelessly exciting”. Cloud Atlas has won over both critics and readers and, in 2012, it was made into an epic Hollywood film starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry.
So, why all the fuss?
The narrative focuses on the lives of six characters: a reluctant voyager; a disinherited composer; a high-minded journalist; a debt-riddled publisher; a young Pacific islander; and a genetically modified “dinery server” on death row.
This futuristic tour de force is almost impossible to sum up in a few lines. It has been described as sci-fi, but it’s so much more than that. The back cover proclaims, “Cloud Atlas erases the boundaries of time, genre and language to offer an enthralling vision of humanity’s will to power, and where it will lead us”.
The narrative is broken into six separate but related stories that blend real and imaginary events. It’s not always an easy read and those who favour traditional prose structure may feel frustrated by Mitchell’s style. But if you’re eager to step outside your comfort zone and try something a little bit different, this is the one.
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