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Read extracts from The Orwell Prize for Political Fiction finalists
Your guide to the year's best political fiction
The Orwell Prize for Political Fiction rewards outstanding novels and collections of short stories, first published in the UK or Ireland, that illuminate major social and political themes, present or past, through the art of narrative.
The eight novels nominated for this year’s award encompass the political life of people in society on many levels, from many angles, as their authors confront the deepest fears and hopes that drive individuals and communities today.
They do so, Chair of Judges Boyd Tonkin writes: “as George Orwell would have wished, not by preaching, lecturing or veiled propaganda but in engrossing narratives full of wonder, surprise, delight, tragedy and comedy. We hope that you read, and enjoy, all of them.”
This year, we’ve teamed up with Exact Editions to offer readers exclusive extracts from all the Orwell Prize finalists. Read on for quick taste of each novel.
The overall winner will be announced on 22nd June. Before then, we have The Orwell Festival 2023 to look forward to, in London and online with highlights including an evening with Succession creator Jesse Armstrong, an opening lecture from Gary Younge and the return of our guided tours of Orwellian locations in London.
Click on the link below for the full schedule - and to secure your tickets.
Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (Faber)
First, I got myself born. A decent crowd was on hand to watch, and they’ve always given me that much: the worst of the job was up to me, my mother being let’s just say out of it.
On any other day they’d have seen her outside on the deck of her trailer home, good neighbors taking notice, pestering the tit of trouble as they will. All through the dog-breath air of late summer and fall, cast an eye up the mountain and there she’d be, little bleach-blonde smoking her Pall Malls, hanging on that railing like she’s captain of her ship up there and now might be the hour it’s going down. This is an eighteen-year-old girl we’re discussing, all on her own and as pregnant as it gets.
Small Worlds by Caleb Azumah Nelson (Viking)
Since the one thing that can solve most of our problems is dancing, it only makes sense that here, following the shimmer of Black hands, raised in praise, the pastor invited us, the congregation, to pray, and we allowed that prayer to make space, allowed ourselves to explore the depths and heights of our beings, allowed ourselves to say things which were honest and true, Godlike even. Allowed ourselves to speak to someone who is both us and the people we want to be, allowed ourselves to speak quietly, which is a call to give up the need to be sure, and ask, when was the last time we surrendered? When was the last time we were this open? And before we could try to answer, the drums start off, sudden and sure.
A House for Alice by Diana Evans (Chatto and Windus)
Cornelius Winston Pitt, in the evening of his life, eyebrows white and wild, eyesight dysfunctional, moved with a dancy small-foot shuffle along his hallway, holding a pork pie. In the other hand was a cigarette shedding ash onto his route, over the slip mat, into the kitchen, where pausing he became freshly alarmed at the absence of his wife, an absence he felt most strongly in this room, its floor still sounding of her slippers, its toaster still evocative of her sadly buttered crusts. Where was she? Then he remembered. Kilburn.
Birnam Wood by Eleanor Catton (Granta)
The Korowai Pass had been closed since the end of the summer, when a spate of shallow earthquakes triggered a landslide that buried a stretch of the highway in rubble, killing five, and sending a long-haul transport truck over a precipice where it skimmed a power line, ploughed a channel down the mountainside, and then exploded on a viaduct below. It was weeks before the dead could be safely recovered and the extent of the damage properly assessed; by this time the temperature was dropping, and the days shortening fast. Nothing could be done before the spring.
Bournville by Jonathan Coe (Viking)
The air did not smell of chocolate, but chocolate was in the air. Nobody needed to put a name on the factory that stood at the heart of the village. They simply called it ‘the Works’. And inside this factory, they made chocolate. They had been making chocolate there for more than sixty years. John Cadbury had opened his first shop in the centre of Birmingham back in 1824, selling ground cocoa beans for hot drinking chocolate: a devout Quaker, like his brothers, he saw the drink not only as a nutritious component of breakfast, but as a healthy substitute for alcohol later in the day. The business had grown steadily, the workforce had expanded, bigger premises had been acquired and then, in 1879, his sons decided to move production out of Birmingham altogether. The area they chose largely consisted, at the time, of sloping meadowland.
The Story of the Forest by Linda Grant (Virago)
In the olden times, in the old country of Latvia, a girl walks out of the city into the forest to gather mushrooms in a basket, like a child in a fairy tale.
Her name is Mina Mendel, just turned fourteen years old.
She's on the brink of something but doesn't know it. Folk tales begin when a person sets out on a journey; then a story is in the making, with a beginning, a middle and a satisfactory conclusion ending in a marriage and the defeat of all your enemies. Peace reigns, fortunes are restored, wrongs are righted. Granted, these tales of myth and legend generally concern young men embarking on heroic deeds and quests, but on this occasion it's a curly-haired Jewish girl who picks up her basket, steps from the house and walks with purpose along the streets until the city runs out.
After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz (Galley Beggar)
The first thing we did was change our names. We were going to be Sappho.
Who was Sappho? No one knew, but she had an island. She was garlanded with girls. She could sit down to dine and look straight at the woman she loved, however unhappily. When she sang, everyone said, it was like evening on a riverbank, sinking down into the moss with the sky pouring over you. All of her poems were songs.
The New Life by Tom Crewe (Chatto and Windus)
He was close enough to smell the hairs on the back of the man’s neck. They almost tickled him, and he tried to rear his head, but found that he was wedged too tightly. There were too many bodies pressed heavily around him; he was slotted into a pattern of hats, shoulders, elbows, knees, feet. He could not move his head even an inch. His gaze had been slotted too, broken off at the edges: he could see nothing but the back of this man’s head, the white margin of his collar, the span of his shoulders. He was close enough to smell the pomade, streaks of it shining dully at the man’s nape; clingings of eau de cologne, a tang of salt.