To celebrate 50 years of the Man Booker Prize, there’s a nice feature going on over at online literary magazine Shiny New Books. They’re going through the prize winners decade by decade, featuring short guest reviews on many of the books.

I contributed a short review of Graham Swift’s 1996 winner Last Orders, which you can read on the page of 1990s winners. Here’s a little excerpt:

It feels like the sort of story you’d be told by an old man sitting at the bar nursing his half-finished pint on a slow Tuesday afternoon in one of those old-fashioned pubs where there’s no music or TVs to drown out the melancholy thoughts that quiet drinking can bring on. You can feel the longing in the characters, sad and resigned to what their lives have become but still remembering what they would have done, if only they could see and choose.

Man Booker Prize winner Last Orders

Check out the other reviews too. There are loads of good books in the list, of course, and I find that those short reviews give a really good introduction to them. As usual, I am now noting down even more books to read…

Of course, there’s a lot more hoopla around the 50th anniversary, including the awarding of a ‘Golden Booker’, which I find somewhat pointless. If the annual prize is, as Julian Barnes famously called it, “posh bingo”, then how random will the selection of the best book from all 50 years be?

Nevertheless, I find the Man Booker Prize to be a useful guide to noteworthy books, as long as I keep in mind that many great books never made the shortlists. I’ve discovered some excellent books, both from the winners and the shortlists, such as The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, and more.

Do you read many of the winners or shortlisted books for the Man Booker Prize? If so, what are some of your favourites? Have you discovered mostly good books, or have you been disappointed?

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