Sunday, November 26, 2023

The 2023 Booker Prize Marathon

For the past couple of years, I have read the Booker Prize shortlist and shared my thoughts about each title here on the blog. As well as keeping a 'diary' as I made my way through each novel, I wrote about betting on the books I enjoyed the most.

I am once again doing the journey through the Booker shortlist this year and - as I did in 2022 - I will avoid the betting markets until I have read everything. 

This year's ceremony is scheduled for Sunday November 26th. The diary started the morning after the shortlist was revealed.

Friday 22 September
I watched the livestream of the shortlist announcement last night. As soon as I knew which titles are in the running for this year's award, I put an image of their respective covers on a Word file to replicate what I did last year.

For those who weren't here in 2022, what I did was printed out little images of the covers, folded them and then placed them in a dog bowl that is no longer in use (RIP Spiky!). I then used a 'Lucky Dip' approach to selecting each title.

Here are the six books:

Booker Prize 2023 Shortlist

Notice how there are three authors named Paul?

I have folded each bit of paper up and placed them in the bowl ready for the first selection.

2023 Booker Prize Diary

And now it's time to select the first book I will read from this year's contenders. It's...

This Other Eden by Paul Harding

Paul Harding's This Other Eden. 

I'm not surprised I had a book by a Paul with my first pick! This Other Eden is described as a novel which 'celebrates the hopes, dreams and resilience of those deemed not to fit in a world brutally intolerant of difference'. 

Monday 25 September
I've read the first book from this year's shortlist - This Other Eden by Paul Harding.

The novel is a bout a colony of black people who live on Apple Island, off the coast of Maine. Generations  have inhabited the island. However, people from the inland set about to evict the islanders from their home. 

This Other Eden is a work of fiction that draws its narrative from real events that took place on Malaga Island on the coast of Maine in the early 20th Century.

I found the novel somewhat difficult to get into initially. I suppose this was due to being introduced to so many characters from the start and having to learn how they are all linked to each other. By the mid-point, I found that I was immersed and - as cliché as this may appear - I couldn't put the book down because I was intrigued enough to see what happened to a young male character who departed the island in order to live on the mainland some time before his family and neighbours were removed.

As you can see, this is the first book I have read for this year's Booker Prize. This will obviously become the one I grade the next title I read next to (and so on). I suspect I might end up enjoying other titles more than This Other Eden. 

But - I also have a feeling that this could be the one the judges will grant as the 2023 winner.


Tuesday 26 September
It's time to select the next title from the bowl.

Prophet Song by Paul Lynch

It's another one of the Pauls.

This time, it's Prophet Song by Paul Lynch,

The Booker Prize website writes 'a mother faces a terrible choice as personal freedoms are eroded and society heads towards collapse' in this novel.

Saturday 30 September
I was gripped by Paul Lynch's Prophet Song.

Set in Ireland, Prophet Song is about a lady whose husband has been taken from her by the country's government in the midst of civil unrest. We see Eilish try to keep herself and the remaining members of her family together while everything around her is chaotic.

I was hooked from the start. There was one scene later in the book where I legit let out a huge sigh of sorrow. That should indicate just how much I was enthralled by this work.

It should go without saying that this is the one I now believe will win the award. It's ahead of This Other Eden by a nose.


 I have started out with two fine books this year. 

Sunday 1 October
I would really like to pull The Bee Sting out of the bowl next because it'll mean I would have scored the 'Paul' hattrick in my first three draws.

Here goes..

The Bee Sting by Paul Murray


I swear.. I 100% did not fix this. How funny!

The Bee Sting is the longest book on this year's list with a page count of 640 according to the Booker Prizes website. 

The site goes on to state that Paul Murray 'presents an unforgettable Irish family in the grip of multiple crises, emotional, financial and existential' in The Bee Sting. 

Another Paul and another Irish family.

Thursday 12 October
It is late on Thursday night as I enter this part to the 'diary'. I have finally completed The Bee Sting by Paul Murray

I did not expect to finish this book until the weekend because, only a few days ago, I was only half-way through. What made me beat my estimated time of finishing was the way The Bee Sting concluded. The final few chapters genuinely had me gripped hence me staying up late when I noticed the end was in sight.

Ironically, the story kind of does not end. Well, not in a resolution way. It's left open-ended, I guess. More on that in a bit.

The main part of the story focuses on an Irish family. The Barnes are, you could say, dysfunctional and each of the four characters in the 2.4 children family holds their own secrets that could implode their relationships.

Dickie - the patriarch of this family - is in financial trouble due to the recession. His wife, Imelda, is a housewife who is finding the new struggle difficult to navigate and then there are their offspring: Cass and her younger brother - PJ.

To cut a long story short, and trust me: this is a long story, the family members - in their own way - are split apart emotionally mainly due to outside forces and the denouement of the book sets a scene where they could potentially find themselves bonded together. Only, we don't get to see whether that transpires.

That is the best I can say without giving away any spoilers.

Paul Murray uses some interesting techniques to form the narrative. The first few chapters focuses on each of the main family members through their vantage points. However, the author does this by sticking with a third-person narration. One of the most fascinating parts of this approach was how Murray wrote the chapters with Imelda as the focus. Punctuation is not used and is free flowing in Imelda's section. I don't know what the exact purpose was, but it made me wonder if we're supposed to see the mother of the family as being ungovernable or something. This style of narration was not too dissimilar to the prose in Prophet Song.

The third act of the book jumps from one character to the next with the authorial voice speaking in the second person. As I stated in the beginning of this entry, the scene setting in this part of the book had me trapped and forced me to stick with it in order to see how everything played out at the end.

I thought the 'Three Pauls' thing was more of a publicity gimmick for those in charge of the Booker Prize when I first realised the trio in the shortlist. Now that I've read all three of their novels, I have to admit I was wrong to believe that. This has been one of the best back-to-back-to-back runs of enjoyable books I have read out of all three of the Booker Prize marathons I have done. I wonder if the good path continues with whichever book is drawn next.

In regards to my current favourite after reading half of the books on the shortlist, I still feel Prophet Song is the one to beat. It's still a very close race, though.


Friday 13 October
It's time to draw out the fourth book from the list. Next up is...

Chetna Maroo's Western Lane

..Chetna Maroo's Western Lane.

The Booker Prize website writes 'in her tender and moving debut novel, Chetna Mario captures grief, sisterhood and a teenage girl's struggle to transcend herself'.

This is also the shortest book on this year's shortlist. It coming immediately after I drew this year's longest book, in The Bee Sting, is not lost on me.

Sunday 15 October
I have finished reading Western Lane by Chetna Maroo.

This novel is about a young girl - from an Indian family living in Britain - whose mother has recently passed away. Guided by her father, Gopi and her sisters play squash at a local courts named Western Lane. We see the father deal with grief of losing his partner and attempt to move on. Squash is the thing which helps the girls with their grief.

Western Lane isn't only about grief. It's also a coming of age story - especially as it pertains Gopi - as you see her mature almost instantly through her loss. The same goes for one of Gopi's sisters, who briefly becomes the main breadwinner in their household.

The squash aspect was interesting. Although, at times, it felt like it was too much part of the story. But then again, if we're to believe that squash is what helps the girls through the loss of their mother, then maybe the excessive coverage of the sport was needed.

I think a low three stars is the best I can give to Western Lane. It's my least favourite book of the shortlist so far.


Monday 16 October
It's time to find out what the fifth book I'll read is. At the same time, it'll give away what number six is because it'll be the only one left.

Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein

The next book to read is Study for Obedience by Sarah Bernstein.

'In her accomplished and unsettling second novel, Sarah Bernstein explores themes of prejudice, abuse and guilt through the eyes of a singularly unreliable narrator' reads the Booker Prize website.

I shall start this one this evening.

Tuesday 17 October
When I finished reading Western Lane a couple of days ago, I expected it to have been the book I liked the least from this year's shortlist. 

I was wrong.

Sarah Bernstein's Study For Obedience is now at the bottom of the books I have so far ranked. 

The novel is written in the first person and is about a woman who has arrived in an unnamed area to look after her older brother. The setting of the book is foreign to both the main character and the reader despite it being a place where the character's family originated from. 

Upon arriving at the town, a lot of things happen to some of the animals in the area and the finger of blame appears to point towards the foreigner.

As I read this book, I felt like I was missing something big. Ironically, it made me feel like I was the foreigner and was missing the point of what was in front of me.

Was she the xenophobe for thinking everyone she encountered was xenophobic? 

I was so lost after finishing the book, I had to look around at reviews to see what the consensus reaction is. I found that it was evenly-matched with some loving Study For Obedience and others disliking it. One went so far as to quit on the book a quarter of the way through reading it.

Another suggested that it may be like Marmite. I thought that summed it up. I'm in the dislike camp. 

It should be noted - I like Marmite, though.

If I scored Western Lane a low three, I have to go under that.

It should come as no surprise, with only one book left to select, that If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery is the next book to be drawn.

If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery

The blurb on the Booker Prize website states that If I Survive You is 'An exhilarating novel-in-stories that pulses with style, heart and barbed humour, while unravelling what it means to carve out an existence between cultures, homes and pay cheques'.

It's the morning of Tuesday 17 October as I write this part of the diary. I expect to begin this novel by the end of the day.

Friday 20 October
I have finished reading If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery. By completing this book, I have now finished the Booker Prize Marathon of 2023.

Things closed out with a very good book. 

If I Survive You is a bit unconventional in a way because - on the surface - it appears as though this is a collection of short stories that piece each other together to create a novel. I didn't really approach the book in that way, though. It felt like a novel first to me. 

With that said, there is a story which could act as an interlude of sorts which is about the cousin of the main character in the book. This spin-off did not feel out of place in the story, to be fair.

Anyway, I am getting ahead of myself by mentioning the story about the cousin and his relationship with family and America. But, then again, am I?

The entire book is about Jamaican descendants trying to find their identity in America. The main focus is on the character of Trelawny - the youngest son of the Jamaican family. He is more 'Americanised' than the others, but - to the American's eye - he isn't. 

Farce and dark humour is thrown in for added flavour.

Most of If I Survive You reminded me, in a slight way, of The Bee Sting because some of the narration is done in the second person. The short stories sometimes shifting away from other characters in the book also made me contrast this work with The Bee Sting.

If I Survive You is close enough to The Bee Sting in my rankings. So, it gets an equal number of stars. It's hard to decide which one I prefer better out of those. I suppose.. well, I suppose I have to give the nod to The Bee Sting only because of how gripped I was at the story's conclusion.

With all that said, Prophet Song is the novel I believe will win this year's Booker Prize.


Saturday 21 October
I noticed something interesting last night after I looked at the 'My Books' page on Good Reads.

Before I point it out, I'll show you the section of the page.

Booker Prize 2023 - Good Reads
What I have found interesting is all of the novels almost appear to be rated in the same order I liked them. My order goes like this. I shall put the respective ratings in parenthesis be

1. Prophet Song (4.20)
2. The Bee Sting (4.06)
3. If I Survive You (3.74)
4. This Other Eden (3.85)
5. Western Lane (3.52)
6. Study For Obedience (3.24)

The only contrast is between This Other Eden and If I Survive You. The former was in the hunt along with Prophet Song and The Bee Sting right up to when I completed If I Survive You last night.

I hadn't graded each book until after I had completed the shortlist because I wanted to see the numbers before I added mine. 

Another thing I tend to do when I am in the midst of reading the shortlist is not look for any of the betting markets for the prize winner because I do not want to see anything that could sway my opinion either way. Today is my first opportunity to browse the markets.

Booker Prize 2023 Betting Odds

BetWay was the first website I checked out because I had punted on the Booker Prize with that firm in the past. I was not disappointed - there was indeed a market available when I visited.

I find it unsurprising to see Prophet Song listed as the favourite. What is a shock, however, is to see The Bee Sting with the longest odds.

If we were to disregard my opinion that The Bee Sting is the next best on the list, the Good Reads consensus has it as the second-favourite.

And for that reason alone, I think it's far too high at 7s. 

I'll have a wager on both Prophet Song and The Bee Sting.

That didn't go to plan - my Betway account was locked when I tried to login. I last used the account to wager on the 2022 Booker Prize, so I don't know what has happened in the meantime.

Thursday 26 October
This has turned into a farce.

I still haven't been able to get my account unlocked by Betway. The live chat function has had me in the high 50s and 60s whenever I've attempted to reach the staff in that way and an email I sent over the weekend has gone unanswered.

To add even more frustration, Ladbrokes/Coral have a market available and Prophet Song is 11/4. I no longer have accounts with Ladbrokes or Coral.

Like I started out - a farce.

Or maybe it's a sign Prophet Song, or The Bee Sting, are not going to win.

My fingers are crossed that another betting firm will open markets.

Booker Prize 2023 Tweet

I have thrown down the gauntlet to my favourite bookmakers.

Saturday 28 October
I am still unable to gain access to my Betway account. However, I have noticed William Hill has created a market.

Booker Prize 2023 Betting

I have placed my first wager for the award on The Bee Sting. The 13/2 is slightly shorter than Betway's offer, but - if the business isn't replying to my emails and have live chat queues with fifty-plus people in front of me - I had no choice.

Will have to bet on Prophet Song now.

Sunday 29 October
I now have a bet on Prophet Song at odds of 11/4.

Tuesday 14 November
It has been a while since I looked over the betting odds. Here's an update concerning William Hill's market.

William Hill's Booker Prize 2023 Odds

The Bee Sting's odds have been cut from 13/2 into 7/2.

Both Prophet Song (5/2 FAV) and This Other Eden (3/1 Second-FAV) remain where they were. The remaining three selections have all drifted with If I Survive You moving to 5/1 from 9/2, Study For Obedience now 11/2 from 9/2 and Western Lane increased from 11/2 to 13/2.

Saturday 25 November
There have been more adjustments made to William Hill's market.

William Hill's Booker Prize 2023 Odds

The Bee Sting is now a 2/1 joint-favourite. 

This Other Eden (2/1 from 3/1) and Study For Obedience (11/2 into 4/1) have also leap-frogged the early favourite - Prophet Song (4/1 from 5/2 FAV).

Western Lane is another novel that has had a price reduction. It was 11/2 in October, but rose to 13/2 by mid-November. It has now dipped into 6/1.

If I Survive You has now moved up to 8/1. It initially moved out from 9/2 to 5/1 sometime between October 28th and November 14th.

I've had another look at Oddschecker. More bookmakers have created markets since I last checked in. Here are the best prices for each book:

This Other Eden by Paul Harding 7/2 
The Bee Sting by Paul Murray 4/1
Prophet Song by Paul Lynch 4/1
Study For Obedience by Sarah Bernstein 5/1
Western Lane by Chetna Maroo 13/2
If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery 8/1

I am sticking with Prophet Song or The Bee Sting even though the former has drifted out.

Sunday 26 November
They're about to announce the winner. And it's........

Prophet Song!

As I had written above, it was the one I felt would win (The Bee Sting was my second). It really was the best of this list and obviously deserved the W. 

Hopefully, I'll get to do this again next year.

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