THE 2023 ORWELL PRIZE FOR POLITICAL FICTION
Boyd Tonkin, chair of this year's judging panel, talks us through the eight novels that made the shortlist of the 2023 Orwell Prize for Political Fiction
Q. For those of us who don’t know the Orwell Prize for Political Fiction, can you tell us a bit about the prize and what kind of books the judges were looking for?
Boyd Tonkin: There's been an Orwell prize for nonfiction books for almost 30 years now and a few years ago, it was thought that it would be a good idea to create a separate award for political fiction.
It's been running for a few years now and what's been remarkable, I think, is the incredibly wide definition of political fiction that the judges will always look for. There are fairly obvious categories—utopias and dystopias, advocacy books, books based on a particular issue or historical event, books that alert their readers to particular problems or crises that they might not have been aware of, in fictional form.
But, of course, once you start to look at how fiction works, then the boundaries of what is political can extend almost infinitely far. A good example of that, I think, is last year's winner, which is a gorgeous book, Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan. On the face of it, it isn't an advocacy book. It isn't a book about some burning social issue—until you look beneath the surface. It's a very quietly voiced but beautifully written story of a man faced with the possibility of doing something about a fairly terrible, abusive institution on his own doorstep. It's about the process of making a decision to go against the crowd and to defy convention, as much as it is about any political ideology or principle. It's a lovely book, it's been enormously popular and it's still something that people recommend to friends. For me, it's almost the perfect definition of what we're looking at for this prize.
Q. It's been a real treat hearing you talk about all the books on the 2023 shortlist (see below). It made me want to read quite a few of them.
Boyd Tonkin: They're really good books and I think it's a great shortlist. Let's see who wins on June 22nd!