10 of the best very short books from the Booker Prizes library

May 4, 2023
Dimitris Passas

NOTE: This list is a republication- Source: The Booker Prizes Website (by Donna Mackay-Smith & Gazelle Mba).

As the late, great Beryl Bainbridge once said, ‘Unless a writer is superb, I don’t think it’s enough just to go wuffling on’. A distinctive feature of Bainbridge’s novels - five of which were shortlisted for the Booker Prize - is that they were usually brief and to the point. ‘I write twelve pages to get one page,’ she said, ‘and I cut all the time.’

For her, every word had to count, with all superfluous detail jettisoned, but she was far from unique among the writers in the Booker canon in her approach. Dozens of Booker-nominated authors have been able to say more in roughly 200 pages (or less) than most writers manage to convey in novels three times that length.

Penelope Fitzgerald’s Offshore, which won the prize in 1979, is the shortest-ever book to win, at 141 pages. Anita Brookner’s witty 1984-prize winner Hotel du Lac is almost as short, while Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, shortlisted in 2007, barely breaks 200 pages. Muriel Spark’s 1970 novella The Driver’s Seat, shortlisted for the Lost Man Booker, is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 102 pages.

Beyond these inimitable works, we’ve rounded up ten short novels from the Booker archives for those who love reading, but who think the best books needn’t outstay their welcome. From recently shortlisted works to hidden gems, these books show you that the best fiction often comes in the smallest packages.

Beryl Bainbridge at home in Camden Town, London,1998

© David Levenson/Getty Images

Small Thing Like These by Claire Keegan

At a mere 116 pages, Claire Keegan’s Small Things like These became the shortest book ever to be nominated for the Booker Prize when it made the shortlist in 2022. Set in the run-up to Christmas in 1985 in County Wexford, it tells the story of local coal merchant Bill Furlong, who must decide whether to speak out against the complicit silence of his close-knit community after he makes a shocking discovery at a local convent. Keegan’s novel, set against the scandal of the Magdalene laundries, in which thousands of women and children were incarcerated, blends the conventions of historical fiction with a poignantly-written character study. Many have described Small Things as having a Dickensian quality and this elegiac read encapsulates the economic hardship of the time, while concluding with a dash of much-needed hope.

You can read the full list here

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