Ahead of the announcement of The 2022 Booker Prize this evening, our Shadow Readers Group share their thoughts on this year’s shortlisted titles, pick their favourite and discuss who they think the judges will pick.

Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo

Glory was one of the longer books on this year’s shortlist and fittingly, it was the one several members took the longest to read and some didn’t finish, feeling it almost a chore to pick it up and continue reading. At 400 pages, it’s a book that charts the history of revolution and protest in a country ruled by animals. The influence of Animal Farm is clear and, while the book has many very relevant themes and messages, our readers didn’t get on with the narrative.

One group member had listened to the eAudio and felt this was a better way of consuming the book – it allowed you to hear the different voices. Similarly, for another reader, the occasional switch to social media posts helped to break up the book and give different viewpoints in a short and sharp format.

Overall, this wasn’t one our our group’s favourites, though the cover was one of the most eye-catching.

The Trees by Percival Everett

As with many of the shortlist, The Trees was a novel with a strong message about today’s world that didn’t hold back in its language and imagery. Despite the difficult topics covered, this provoked an animated discussion and came out close to the top of our group’s leader board. It features some very dark humour, strong language and supernatural elements that the group thought made this an unusual shortlist pick.

It was an engaging read and very readable, making its point incredibly well, though with an ending that left some of our readers puzzled. Some of the writing was very powerful – making readers stop and think – while other elements, such as the names of characters bought some light hearted and almost tongue in cheek moments.

One that the group felt would draw readers in through its compelling and still wholly relevant message that racism and unconscious bias exist in everyday life.

Treacle Walker by Alan Garner

During discussions, Treacle Walker was the book the group spent most time on. For some, particularly those who were very familiar with Garner’s work, this was a joy to read and the fact that he has been nominated for The Booker prize felt deserved and timely. For others, there was confusion about the book’s message – while the group agreed it posed a number of philosophical questions, just what they were was debated.

Treacle Walker was one of the shorter books on this year’s list and for some members, they felt it almost had the rhythm of a prose poem rather than a novel. It was lyrical and some members, after hearing others thoughts, felt that a second read might be needed to get to grips with the messages and allegories of the book.

For many of the group, they would love this to win – to mark Alan Garner’s career and reflect the impact his work has had. We shall see this evening!

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

This was one Shadow Readers’ clear favourite from the shortlist – another book with themes of death and the afterlife and that poses questions about our society and how hatred can do so much damage. The influence of folklore, as in other novels on the shortlist was also clear and the novel inspired one reader to delve into Sri Lankan history that they previously knew little about.

Not everyone got on well with it though – some found it difficult to get into, confusing in places. Its twists and turns did, however, keep our readers hooked as just when they felt they knew where the story was going, it flipped and went in another direction. Another novel featuring dark humour and with an intriguing voice and one that was rated relatively highly by our Shadow Readers (though not their favourite).

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

This novel was by the far the group’s favourite – perfectly formed with not a wasted word and a punch packed into every sentence. One member commented that it was “beautifully rendered” with no padding and despite its short length, the novel packed in a great amount to spark conversation.

While on first glance, the story seemed to be another dark topic, after reading, the novel’s vivid portrayal of its characters and believable story made this a winner in our Shadow Readers’ eyes. Its story is simple yet complex, with parallels amongst characters and their lived experiences, thought-provoking commentary about how we judge others and a timely reminder how the kindness of one person can be so impactful.

The one concern the group did have was if this is too short to be a winner – it’s novella length rather than novel length, although it is hoped that that won’t stand in its way as our Shadow Readers felt Small Things Life These was one that certainly should be widely read.

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

If you are going to read Oh William!, our Shadow Readers’ advice is to ensure you’ve read the previous Lucy Barton novels so you know more about her backstory and her voice. For those of the group who hadn’t, this novel didn’t make a great impact. They had no connection to the characters and felt it was just a bit “meh”.

It did provoke discussions about the consequences of the actions we take, though we did question the realism of Lucy taking a trip with her ex. The writing didn’t grip the group and it all felt a little dreary. For those members who had read and enjoyed other books by Strout such as Olive Kitteridge, this was deemed unconvincing.

And the winner is…….

So, who will win? If you’re reading this after Monday 17th October, 2022, you’ll know already but for now, here’s the final judgement of our Shadow Readers:

The Shadow Readers Favourite: Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Who the group think judges will pick: this year, our Shadow Readers couldn’t call it. The field of books on the shortlist was too open – several common themes emerged but from very different books with, as one member commented, a “heck of a lot of dead people in these novels”.

We’ll be tuning in later to find out who wins.