And the (Shadow) IBP 2021 Winner Is…

When I looked back and saw that the longlist for the 2021 International Booker Prize was only revealed on the 30th of March, I was quite surprised as I seem to have been living with the thirteen books announced on that day for far longer than two months.  Mind you, given that I’ve been reading, rereading, reviewing and discussing them virtually non-stop, it’s hardly surprising that the whole affair seems to have been going on for ever!  However, the finishing line is in sight, and later today, at a virtual affair (inconveniently timed for the middle of the Australian night…), you’ll all find out which book has been crowned as this year’s best in class.

Before that, however, in a tradition that has now extended to a decade, our Shadow Panel will have their say as to the pick of the bunch.  While we weren’t initially convinced by the longlist selections, we put aside our reservations and did our best to cover all the books in a timely manner, eventually coming up with a shortlist that overlapped with the official selection in four places (and – in our view – improved upon it elsewhere).  This year, for the first time, thanks to the ubiquitous nature of Zoom, we were even able to ‘meet up’ a couple of times to discuss the books face to face, and these sessions (in which we had representatives from four countries on as many different continents) certainly helped us to move towards selecting a champion.

But what did we eventually decide?  Well, let’s find out:)


Adania Shibli’s Minor Detail
(Fitzcarraldo Editions, translated by Elisabeth Jaquette)

Yes, you heard right.  As our reading starts at the longlist stage, we never confine ourselves to the official judges’ shortlist, so Minor Detail was still eligible for our prize, and was actually a fairly comfortable winner.  Shibli’s impressive two-part work, focusing on a forgotten atrocity and a woman who goes off in search of the past, is the first shadow winner not to be featured on the official shortlist since Jón Kalman Stefánsson’s The Sorrow of Angels (tr. Philip Roughton: MacLehose Press) took out our IFFP award back in 2014.

When I first read the book, just before the longlist announcement, I wasn’t actually that impressed, but it was a story that stayed with me, and when I eventually came to reread it, it impressed me far more.  In fact, it was one of only a couple of books that really improved on a second examination, and that’s what’s required to win a prize of this nature.

Let’s spare a thought, though, for another of our shortlisters.  This year’s honourable mention goes to:

Maria Stepanova’s In Memory of Memory
(Fitzcarraldo Editions, translated by Sasha Dugdale)

While the debate over the suitability of Stepanova’s collection of musings for a prize dedicated to fiction will rumble on for some time, there’s no doubting its quality.  I read it twice, and enjoyed it both times, but I felt that its white cover was accurate attire, and despite its Sebaldian influences, the book didn’t quite venture far enough into that shadowy space spanning the real and the invented.  Still, it impressed most of our judges and finished as a clear runner-up in our voting.

As you may have noticed, that makes it a shadow one-two for Jacques Testard and his crew, and it’s testament to the work Fitzcarraldo do that they released several other books during the eligibility period that could easily have slotted into the longlist, and probably done quite well, too.  They’re usually there or thereabouts on both the Shadow and official shortlists (in fact, they’ve now taken out four of the last five Shadow Prizes!), and we’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate them on all the great work they’ve done over the past few years.

In terms of the voting, this year the Shadow Panel changed to a new method (nicknamed the Eurovision voting), where each judge ranked the six books on the Shadow Shortlist and awarded each book points: ten for the best, seven for the next best, then five, three, two and one.  With nine judges participating, this meant each book could get a maximum of ninety points and a minimum of nine points – and here are the final results:

                                  1st) Minor Detail (68 points)
                                  2nd) In Memory of Memory (56 points)
                                  3rd) When We Cease to Understand the World (39 points)
                                  4th) The Employees (37 points)
                                  5th) At Night All Blood Is Black (31 points)
                                  6th) Wretchedness (25 points)

Four of the nine judges had Shibli’s book as their top pick, and all but one had it in their top three.  Overall, then, it’s a popular, and well-deserved winner 🙂

And that’s just about it for another year!  As mentioned above, this was a special year for the Shadow Panel, and this tenth edition has once again been great fun.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost a decade since Stu Allen called together the first group of bloggers to take a closer look at the longlisted titles for the 2012 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.  Since then, twenty-six different people have helped out at one time or another, and we’ve crowned ten Shadow Laureates, of which only three have been the same as the official choice – and we already know that this year won’t see a fourth!  It’s always great fun discussing the books with the other judges, and after taking last year off to do my own thing, it was wonderful to rejoin the gang this time around.

Of course, we’d also like to thank all the readers out there who join us on our vicarious literary journey.  It’d be a bit dull if we were broadcasting into silence, so all the likes, retweets and comments are most gratefully received.  I’m always happy to get feedback on my thoughts, even if you disagree completely, so a big thanks go out to everyone who got in touch along the way.

And last, but (hopefully) not least, we have the official judges.  Much as we might criticise them at times, they have the thankless job of reading *all* the books first – if they didn’t, we wouldn’t have a longlist to work our way through at all…  So, a big thank you goes out to the five people responsible for choosing the official winner (and doing their best not to drop the extremely fragile-looking trophy).  Oh, and one last thing…

…try not to choose the wrong book tonight, yeah?  You know which one I’m talking about…

4 thoughts on “And the (Shadow) IBP 2021 Winner Is…

  1. Ah! So great to see Minor Detail come out on top. Such a brilliant novel and one of my favourite books from last year. I totally agree that a second look at it brings out so much more and shows how artful it is. All of you must have had some wonderful conversations about these titles. It’s been a pleasure following your public responses.


    1. Eric – Thanks for the kind words 🙂 As I said, it really improved second time round, and we’re a little sad that it didn’t make the official shortlist. Still, at least it took out our prize 😉


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