Education and Skills

The Booker Prize 2023 has a winner. Here's a summary of the novel and a round-up of the runners-up

Here are summaries of all the books on the Booker Prize 2023 shortlist.

Here are summaries of all the books on the Booker Prize 2023 shortlist. Image: Unsplash/rey_7

Ian Shine
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This article was first published in August 2023, updated in September 2023 and again in November 2023.

  • The Booker Prize 2023 has a winner, Prophet Song by Paul Lynch, which is set in a version of Ireland descending into totalitarianism.
  • The book is said to capture some of the central anxieties of our time, while several other novels nominated acknowledge rising concerns about the world’s climate and biodiversity crises.
  • Potential future water shortages could spark humanitarian and ecological crises, as outlined in the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2023.

Maine, Penang, Lagos, Luton and the deepest depths of the Atlantic Ocean. These were just some of the destinations that the 2023 Booker Prize judges were transported to by the 163 novels nominated for the prestigious literary award.

The winning novel, however, was set in a reimagined version of Ireland – one that is descending into totalitarianism. Described by the chair of judges as a book that “captures the social and political anxieties of our current moment”, Prophet Song by Paul Lynch marks the fifth time an Irish writer has won the prize.

But it is the first time Lynch has won the award, and like all the other authors on this year's Booker Prize shortlist, he had never made the final six before. The longlist also featured 10 first-time Booker nominees and a heavy focus on water and the natural world – perhaps unsurprisingly, in an era when the effects of the world’s climate and biodiversity crises are being felt ever more intensely.

Potential future water shortages are also a focus of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2023, including how they could spark humanitarian and ecological crises – from water wars and famines to a slowdown in climate mitigation and adaptation.


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Figure illustrating the compounding environmental crises.
Global risks around water are coming under increasing focus. Image: World Economic Forum

Here are summaries of the winning novel, plus all the other books on the Booker Prize 2023 shortlist and longlist.

The Booker Prize 2023 winner

Prophet Song by Paul Lynch

The secret police knock on an Irish scientist’s door asking to speak with her husband. What follows is a dystopia about an Ireland tipping into tyranny. “Lynch is brilliant at capturing people’s disbelief and denial throughout the slow slide into totalitarianism,” The Guardian says. “An urgent, important read.”

Prophet Song book by Paul Lynch. Booker Prize 2023 winner
Prophet Song is a dystopia about an Ireland tipping into tyranny. Image: Simon & Schuster

The Booker Prize 2023 shortlist

Western Lane by Chetna Maroo

Chetna Maroo was born in Kenya and lives in London. Western Lane, her first novel, is about an 11-year-old girl whose mother dies and whose father tries to turn her into a squash champion. “The game of squash becomes a way into Gopi’s grief and her attempts to process it,” The New York Times says. Booker nerds might remember another novel with a squash enthusiast in it that made it onto the prize’s longlist in 2005 – Ian McEwan’s Saturday.

Western Lane book by Chetna Maroo.
Chetna Maroo’s novel tells the story of a young squash enthusiast using the game to process grief. Image: Pan Macmillan

The Bee Sting by Paul Murray

Can one stroke of bad luck change a life forever? That’s the question at the centre of the fourth novel by Paul Murray, a 650-page family saga that has led to him being billed as Ireland’s version of renowned US novelist Jonathan Franzen. The Bee Sting also packs in plenty of humour, says The Guardian, as well as a character who is building an apocalypse-proof bunker.

This Other Eden by Paul Harding

Off the coast of the US in the late 1700s, people cast out by society set up home on Apple Island. Their descendants remain there, until the civilization that threw them off the mainland decides to also evict them from their new home. “So real it could make you weep,” says The New York Times.


Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein

A woman moves to a remote community to become a housekeeper to her brother after his wife leaves him. Suspicion about the new arrival spreads among the locals, and that’s not the only thing spreading. Crops, cattle and the protagonist’s brother are hit by strange illnesses in a novel that transports the reader to “unsettling and unknowable worlds”, according to The Financial Times.

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

It’s 1979. Three Jamaicans flee their home country for Miami because of political violence. Eight interconnected stories unfold over the next 40 years, showing the struggles of a family of immigrants in the US. Racism, a hurricane and a financial crisis are among the obstacles. Escoffery relays them all with “style, heart and barbed humour”, the Booker website says.

The other books that were on the Booker Prize 2023 longlist

A Spell of Good Things by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀

Wealth and power in modern-day Nigeria are at the centre of this novel by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀. The plot centres on two very different families – one forced into begging because of unemployment, another with no worries at all when it comes to money. Adébáyọ̀’s debut, Stay with Me, was translated into 20 languages and named a book of the year by newspapers around the world.

A Spell of Good Things book.
A Spell of Good Things is about wealth and power in modern-day Nigeria. Image: Round Table Books

Old God’s Time by Sebastian Barry

A retired policeman is forced to confront an old case in this novel by Booker shortlist regular Sebastian Barry. Set on the Irish coast, the story is told by an unreliable, reclusive narrator who has almost no contact with other people. UK newspaper The Guardian described Old God’s Time as a “dreamlike novel about the impact of trauma on memory”.


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How to Build a Boat by Elaine Feeney

Irish writer Elaine Feeney has written more poetry collections than novels. How to Build a Boat is her second novel. It centres on a 13-year-old boy who wants to create a perpetual motion machine – one that requires no external source of energy – to try and connect with his mother, who died when he was born. Booker judges described it as “an absorbing coming-of-age story”.

In Ascension by Martin MacInnes

Here’s another Irish writer (there were four in total on this year’s Booker longlist), but this book is not set in Ireland. Instead, we’re in a newly discovered trench in the Atlantic Ocean with a marine biologist, looking for evidence of Earth’s first life forms. “What she finds calls into question everything we know about our own beginnings,” the Booker website says.

Pearl by Siân Hughes

Siân Hughes is almost 60, but this is her debut novel. She’s written poetry collections before, and her first novel is inspired by a medieval poem also called Pearl. A young girl’s mother goes missing. She’s sure her father is keeping secrets from her. “A ghost story, a folk story, a story of loss and familial haunting,” according to one reviewer.

Pearl: Longlisted for the Booker.
A young girl’s mother goes missing in Pearl by Siân Hughes. Image: The Indigo Press

All the Little Bird-Hearts by Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow

Viktoria Lloyd-Barlow left school at 16 with no qualifications and told UK newspaper The Times that she wrote a lot of her debut novel on her phone while waiting for appointments. The book follows an autistic mother and her daughter who is about to leave home. Lloyd-Barlow herself was diagnosed as autistic later in life, and her novel is set in the 1980s when understanding of the condition was less widespread than it is today.

The House of Doors by Tan Twan Eng

“A drama of love and betrayal under the shadow of Empire,” is how Tan Twan Eng’s third novel is billed. Set in Colonial Malaysia, it is inspired by a short story by W Somerset Maugham, and features Maugham as a character. The famous author is struggling to find inspiration to write, but at the same time is being told facts fit for the pages of fiction, about the case of an Englishwoman charged with murder in Kuala Lumpur.

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