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The Near Misses of The Man Booker Prize

Looking back at some of the world's renowned authors who didn't quite make it to the top spot...

1974: Ending Up – Kingsley Amis

In true Amis style, Ending Up uses piercing wit and black humour to make light of the indignities of old age. The novel is the tale of a group of elderly people sharing a home in their final years, with Amis depicting their interactions and personal traits in his typically hilarious manner. Ending Up lost to Nadine Gordimer’s The Conservationist, but Amis managed to win the prize twelve years later in 1986 with The Old Devils.

1980: The Beggar Maid – Alice Munro

It won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013, but didn’t manage to win the Booker Prize back in 1980. The Beggar Maid is a collection of short stories that follow Rose's life as she leaves her impoverished roots to forge her own path in the world, despite her mother’s anxieties. Losing out to William Golding’s Rites of Passage, Munro has since proved that slow and steady definitely does win the literary race.

1986: The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Perhaps the most surprising title to feature on this list is this. Atwood’s classic speculative dystopian fiction novel won a whole host of prizes including the first Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1987, but was seemingly unable to beat Kingsley Amis’ The Old Devils to win the Booker. Set in the near future in the totalitarian Republic of Gilead where women have become subjugated to men, The Handmaid’s Tale paved the way in the world of feminist literature and science fiction alike, and continues to be revered today. 

1991: Time’s Arrow – Martin Amis

Following in his father’s footsteps, Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow lost to Ben Okri’s The Famished Road. This novel follows the life of a German holocaust doctor in impressive reverse chronology, so that both we and the protagonist experience life backwards. Concentration camps become a place for people to heal, innocent doctors appear to be doing harm to ill patients and pimps give prostitutes money. The novel is tricky to follow in places but utterly worth it to witness both life and morality inverted.

2001: Atonement – Ian McEwan

McEwan’s heartbreaking novel revolves around love, war and, of course, atonement. Caught up in the chaos of the Second World War and a complicated, misunderstood love between social classes, this title is one of McEwan’s most moving works, written with the ease and style that makes the author a true master of English prose. Atonement was unable to win against Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang, but has since become a major motion picture. 

2004: Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

Mitchell’s multi-layered expansive book takes readers on an inter-connected journey spanning from the 17th century all the way to a cyber-dystopian future, exploring how individual lives impact one another throughout the past, present and future. Cloud Atlas is a hugely remarkable literary - and now also cinematic - accomplishment, losing only to Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty.

This year’s shortlist will be announced on 15th September, with the winner revealed on 13th October this year. It remains to be seen who will take away the top prize and who will be left in the same position as these authors, but if there’s one thing that their losses have proved, it’s that you don’t need to win The Man Booker Prize to be a literary sensation.   

Posted in Blog by Carmen Jimenez