Saville by David Storey (1976) 

The Booker Prize was established in 1969, and Saville, the first Vintage winner, was awarded the prize in 1976. It’s the story of Colin Saville, a young boy growing up in a Yorkshire village during and after World War II. Colin tries to escape the mining community in which he grew up, but he feels like an outsider at the grammar school in town and in 1940s middle-class society.

On winning, Storey said, ‘Prizes tend to be rewarded to the reliable rather than the liabilities, and the liabilities are the people who matter in the end.’

The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch (1978)

‘Time, like the sea, unties all knots.’

Iris Murdoch’s nineteenth novel won the Booker in 1978. It follows the retired actor, director and playwright Charles Arrowby as he moves away from the London theatrical scene where he made his name to a remote house on the coast, determined to write a memoir about his great love affair with his mentor, Clement Makin. But a series of unexpected visitors and strange happenings shake his ego and disrupt his plans.  

Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)

Winner of the 1981 Booker Prize, the 1993 ‘Booker of Bookers’ and the 2008 ‘Best of the Booker’, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is a masterpiece that explores modern India through the story of protagonist Saleem Sinai. Born at the stroke of midnight at the exact moment of India’s independence, Saleem has telepathic powers that connect him with 1,000 other ‘midnight’s children’, all of whom are endowed with unusual gifts. 

Life and Times of Michael K by J. M. Coetzee

The first of J. M. Coetzee’s two Booker Prize-winning novels, Life and Times of Michael K won the accolade in 1983. Set in a South Africa torn apart by civil war, it follows Michael K as he tries to take his ailing mother back to her rural birthplace. But after she dies en route, Michael K finds himself alone, surrounded by brutal roving armies. Despite later being imprisoned, he escapes, determined to live with dignity.

The Old Devils by Kingsley Amis (1986)

Alun Weaver (writer, ‘professional Welshman’ and minor celebrity), and his wife, Rhiannon, move back to Wales and into a retirement community inhabited by several old friends. Drinking together through the afternoons, they share unreliable memories, find ways to forgive each other for past misdeeds, and reconnect romantically. Kingsley Amis’s novel won the Booker Prize in 1986.

Possession by A. S. Byatt

The 1990 Booker winner, Possession, is simultaneously a literary detective novel and an exhilarating love story. A pair of young academics, Maud and Roland, are researching the lives of two Victorian poets. Following a trail of letters, journals and poems, they uncover a passionate affair – and also find themselves falling in love with one another. 

The Famished Road by Ben Okri (1991)

In this epic novel published in 1991, Azaro is an abiku, a spirit child, who exists between life and death. Despite belonging to the carefree kingdom of the spirits, Azaro chooses to stay in the painful – but often joyful – land of the Living. Accepting the award, Okri said, ‘I dedicate this prize to all those who struggle and who suffer in silence and in public and who never stop fighting and always keep on dreaming.’

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle (1993)

Set in 1968, Roddy Doyle’s book chronicles a series of unruly episodes in 10-year-old Paddy Clarke’s life, told from his own perspective. He plays football. He discovers swear words. He and his best friend Kevin write their names with sticks in wet cement, all over Barrytown. But while his life is full of playful antics, there is growing discord between Paddy’s parents – and Paddy begins to understand the world less and less. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha won the Booker Prize in 1993.

How Late it Was, How Late by James Kelman (1994)

Sammy awakens in the street on a Sunday morning in Glasgow, following a drinking binge that has clouded his memory. Over the course of this 1994 Booker Prize-winning novel, Sammy is arrested and beaten up by the police, his girlfriend disappears, and he loses his sight. What’s more, his attempt at Disability Compensation sees him caught up in the never-ending bureaucracy of the welfare system.  

 

Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (1998)

Acclaimed modern composer, Clive, and successful newspaper editor, Vernon, reunite at the North London funeral of the fascinating Molly Lane, a woman with whom they both had past relationships. In the weeks that follow, Clive and Vernon’s lives become bound together in ways neither could have imagined. Ian McEwan’s darkly humorous Amsterdam won the Booker in 1998.

Disgrace by J. M. Coetzee (1999)

J. M. Coetzee was the first author to win the Booker Prize twice – once in 1983 and once in 1999. In Disgrace, the second of his winning novels, he charts the downfall of a poetry professor in post-apartheid South Africa. David Lurie, middle-aged and twice divorced, seeks refuge at his daughter Lucy’s remote smallholding after an affair with a student. But a disturbing attack throws David and Lucy’s relationship into sharp relief.

The Gathering by Anne Enright (2007)

‘There are so few people given us to love. I want to tell my daughters this, that each time you fall in love it is important, even at nineteen. Especially at nineteen.’

In Anne Enright’s family epic, which won the 2007 Booker Prize, the children of the Hegarty clan gather in Dublin for the wake of their wayward brother Liam. It wasn't the drink that killed him – although that certainly helped – it was what happened to him as a boy in his grandmother's house, in the winter of 1968. 

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (2011)

The Sense of an Ending won the Booker Prize in 2011. Tony Webster, now retired, looks back on how he and his friends first met Adrian Finn at school in the 1960s and how they used to navigate their girl-less sixth form together, sharing jokes and vowing to remain friends for life. Since then, Tony’s had a career, a marriage and a calm divorce. He’s certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. 

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (2013)

‘A good book, he had concluded, leaves you wanting to reread the book. A great book compels you to reread your own soul.’

Winner of the prize in 2014, Richard Flanagan’s story of love, death, war and truth centres around surgeon Dorrigo Evans, who – in the despair of a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp on the Burma Death Railway – is haunted by his earlier love affair with his uncle’s wife. 

 

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman (2014, translated into English by Jessica Cohen 2016)

A Horse Walks into a Bar was the winner of the International Man Booker Prize in 2017, which awards outstanding books translated into English. In a comedy club in Netanya, Israel, middle-aged stand-up comic Dovaleh G takes to the stage – and starts an uncomfortable set which provokes a mixture of repulsion and empathy from the audience. One of his childhood friends is in the room, and watches as Dovaleh exposes a wound he’s been living with for years.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (2019)

In 2019, 35 years after The Handmaid’s Tale left readers desperate to know what lay ahead for Offred, Margaret Atwood gave us the electrifying sequel. Made up of the testaments of three female narrators, it picks up the story 15 years after the end of the first book. The Republic of Gilead is beginning to rot from within and two women with radically different experiences of the regime come face to face with the ruthless Aunt Lydia. 

The Promise by Damon Galgut (2021)

The Promise by Damon Galgut charts the crash and burn of a white South African family, living on a farm outside Pretoria. Winner of the Booker Prize 2021, it was described by the judges as "a book that is a real master of form and pushes the form in new ways, that has an incredible originality and fluidity of voice, and a book that’s really dense with historical and metaphorical significance."

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