The 2021 International Booker Prize – The Shadow Shortlist

It’s been just over two weeks since the official shortlist for this year’s International Booker Prize appeared, so some of you may have been wondering what the Shadow Panel has been up to.  Well, even though this year’s longlist featured a number of short works, we still needed a little extra time given that we first had to source most of the books, and with delivery taking far longer than has been the case in the past, we’ve also been busy asking publishers for ecopies and seeing what the local library has to offer.

However, we’ve just about got there, and after an extra couple of weeks, and our first ever Shadow Panel Zoom meeting (attended by six of the nine judges, with representatives based in Australia, England, India and the US), we’re finally ready to announce our shortlist.  So how does it compare with the official version?  Let’s take a look…


David Diop (France) & Anna Moschovakis
– At Night All Blood is Black (Pushkin Press)

Benjamin Labatut (Chile) & Adrian Nathan West
– When We Cease to Understand the World (Pushkin Press)

Olga Ravn (Denmark) & Martin Aitken
– The Employees (Lolli Editions)

Adania Shibli (Palestine) & Elizabeth Jaquette
– Minor Detail (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Maria Stepanova (Russia) & Sasha Dugdale
– In Memory of Memory (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

Andrzej Tichý (Sweden) & Nicola Smalley
– Wretchedness (And Other Stories)

Well, was that what you were expecting?  A few thoughts…

As you can see, there is some overlap with the official list, with four books impressing both sets of judges.  Our shortlist has Minor Detail and Wretchedness replacing The Dangers of Smoking in Bed and The War of the Poor, and we think that’s a fair improvement.  All six of our choices are published by small presses (both Fitzcarraldo and Pushkin see their two longlisters progress here), and while the list is still dominated by European writers, it does have gender parity.

We’re also fairly confident that we’ve done all the books justice, even if our amateur status means we didn’t have time for everyone to cover everything.  Two judges did manage to read the whole longlist, and most finished at least ten of the thirteen selections.  In terms of the books, with one exception, all of them (including the whole Shadow Shortlist) were covered by at least seven judges, meaning you can be confident in our decision.

It’s time to look ahead, so what do the next few weeks bring?  Well, we’re now focusing on the shortlist (ours, not theirs!), and we’ll be doing a bit of rereading (and for any judges who didn’t manage to get around to one of the books, now’s the time) and sharing thoughts online.  In about three weeks’ time, we’re hoping to have another Zoom meeting to examine the final six in more detail and really get down to discussing what’s good (or bad…) about them.  Then, just before the official announcement, we’ll be voting and proclaiming our Shadow Laureate.

Now, though, it’s time to breathe and prepare for the job ahead.  We’ve already achieved a lot, but there’s still work to be done – so be sure to come back later for more news of our shadowy reading endeavours 😉

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