Who will win this year’s Booker? Here’s our indispensable guide to the shortlist

MILKMAN by Anna Burns (Faber £14.99)

MILKMAN by Anna Burns (Faber £14.99)

MILKMAN by Anna Burns (Faber £14.99)

MILKMAN

by Anna Burns (Faber £14.99)

PLOT: The Troubles provide a subtle backdrop of simmering threat to this inventively written novel, set in Belfast in the Seventies and narrated by an unnamed 18-year-old, whose semi-abusive relationship with a creepy older man is the subject of prurient gossip among the close-knit community.

What the critics said: ‘Against a bomb-shattered landscape, rendered toxic by a climate of prejudice, intimidation, suspicion and half-truths, Burns explores to exhilarating effect the treacherous nature of language.’ Daily Mail

WASHINGTON BLACK by Esi Edugyan (Serpent¿s Tail £14.99)

WASHINGTON BLACK by Esi Edugyan (Serpent¿s Tail £14.99)

WASHINGTON BLACK by Esi Edugyan (Serpent’s Tail £14.99)

WASHINGTON BLACK

by Esi Edugyan (Serpent’s Tail £14.99)

PLOT: Beginning on a 19th-century cotton plantation in Barbados, this genre-mashing historical romp is the story of an artistically gifted teenage slave who endures great brutality at the hands of his master. When he is taken under the wing of his master’s brother, a scientist and explorer, he manages to escape, setting the stage for a quasi-fantastical run across Europe and North Africa.

What the critics said: ‘Fascinating and enjoyable, but rather like the hot air balloon that took Black from Barbados, it sometimes drifts off course.’ The Guardian

EVERYTHING UNDER by Daisy Johnson (Cape £14.99)

EVERYTHING UNDER by Daisy Johnson (Cape £14.99)

EVERYTHING UNDER by Daisy Johnson (Cape £14.99)

EVERYTHING UNDER

by Daisy Johnson (Cape £14.99)

PLOT: The debut novel from 27-year-old Johnson is a modern-day reworking of the mythical story of Oedipus with a feminist twist. Gretel’s mother left when she was a teenager and now Gretel is an adult, she wants to find her — a search that takes her back to the semi-lawless marginal world of Oxford’s boat-dwelling communities, where she grew up.

What the critics said: ‘For all the atmosphere of menace, Johnson’s handling of her Sophoclean themes can be remarkably clumsy.’ The Times

‘Hums with an electricity pylon-charge of danger.’ Daily Mail

THE MARS ROOM by Rachel Kushner (Cape £16.99)

THE MARS ROOM by Rachel Kushner (Cape £16.99)

THE MARS ROOM by Rachel Kushner (Cape £16.99)

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THE MARS ROOM

by Rachel Kushner (Cape £16.99)

PLOT: A former stripper, Romy is serving two life sentences after killing her stalker. There’s not a great deal of plot in this cacophonous novel which, alongside Romy, features the voices of fellow inmates to give a rare insight into America’s punitive justice system.

What the critics said: ‘The final terrible pages left me in tears.’ Daily Mail

‘Kushner revels in her characters’ vitality, showing how they work the system to their advantage and exploit every loophole.’ Financial Times

THE OVERSTORY by Richard Powers (Cornerstone £18.99)

THE OVERSTORY by Richard Powers (Cornerstone £18.99)

THE OVERSTORY by Richard Powers (Cornerstone £18.99)

THE OVERSTORY

by Richard Powers (Cornerstone £18.99)

PLOT: Multiple stories make up this epic, centuries-spanning environmental novel in which a wide cast of characters, from a Vietnam vet to a party-loving undergraduate, are brought together across time and space through their shared determination to save America’s last remaining acres of virgin forest.

What the critics said: ‘Powers, always a writer of big ideas, has dropped one of the most thoughtful and involving popular novels I’ve read for years.’ The Telegraph

‘There is a great deal of evangelism to absorb.’ The Standard

THE LONG TAKE by Robin Robertson(Picador £14.99)

THE LONG TAKE by Robin Robertson(Picador £14.99)

THE LONG TAKE by Robin Robertson(Picador £14.99)

THE LONG TAKE

by Robin Robertson(Picador £14.99)

PLOT: Not a novel, but a 223-page-long narrative poem, this is the story of Walker, a Canadian itinerant D-Day veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder who, after the war, goes across the U.S. in search of work — and himself.

What the critics said: ‘Robertson’s The Long Take shows it is perfectly possible to write poetry which is both accessible and subtle.’ The Scotsman

‘Builds to a bravura climax but lacks the pace to carry off pages of exposition.’ The Sunday Times

The Man Booker Prize winner will be announced on October 16.

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