In a year that’s become somewhat tainted, we’ve seen some breakthroughs in the literary world.
The Booker Prize saw its most diverse shortlist, with more than half the authors being debut novelists and four of the six finalists being women.
While Marieke Lucas Rijneveld became the youngest author to ever be crowned the International Booker Prize winner, and Candice Carty-Williams was the first black author to win book of the year at the British Book Awards, something that she felt both “proud” and “sad” about.
The joy of these literary awards is that they act as the perfect reminder that storytelling transcends languages, cultures, and ways of experiencing the world, and gives us access to different places and characters.
They also illuminate the fact that fiction has a unique power to transport us beyond our current state of mind and take us on a journey to new unchartered territories. Something many of us are in need of today, and always.
With this in mind, this year’s awards have brought a bumper crop of titles to the forefront, which makes buying books for other people a rather tricky business. To help you navigate the world of literature and gift the joy of reading this Christmas, we’ve compiled a round-up of the award-winning books of 2020.
Whether you choose to champion and support women writers with the Women’s Prize for Fiction winner, or back the International Booker Prize victor, there’s something for everyone.
You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
Booker Prize winner: ‘Shuggie Bain’ by Douglas Stuart, published by Picador
Set in Eighties Glasgow, this is the unforgettable story of young Hugh "Shuggie" Bain who spends his pivotal years in run-down public housing. Exploring Thatcher's politics, it is a heartbreaking story of addiction, love and sexuality. Stuart's portrayal of a working-class family is so rarely seen in fiction, for him to do so in such a powerful and all-important way is noteworthy. This is a story between Shuggie and his mother is hard to forget, it’s intimate, challenging and compassionate.
Buy now £8.36, Amazon
Women’s Prize for Fiction and Waterstones Book of the Year winner: ‘Hamnet’ by Maggie O’Farrell, published by Headline Publishing Group
Written by one of the greatest living novelists, this is the heartbreaking story behind one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. Through impeccable and emotional prose, it’s a fictional account of the short life of the Bard’s son, Hamnet, who died at the age of 11. At its very core, it’s a novel of love and loss and speaks volumes of grief and how people find their way through it. Written with raw honesty, Hamnet showcases O’Farrell’s unflinching ability as a truly versatile writer.
Buy now £14.00, Amazon
British Book Awards Book of The Year winner: ‘Queenie’ by Candice Carty-Williams, published by Orion
Filled with wit, warmth, wisdom and urgency, Carty-Williams’s dazzling debut follows the life of Queenie, a young black woman who has just broken up with her long-term boyfriend. It’s a coming-of-age tale that explores black female identity and politics in contemporary Britain, as well as meditating between friendship, family and love. A fresh, funny and at times painful read, but one that is an absolute must.
Buy now £6.99, Foyles
International Booker Prize winner: ‘The Discomfort of Evening’ by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld translated by Michele Hutchison, published by Faber & Faber:
Intensely lyrical, raw, and gritty, The Discomfort of Evening explores what life is like within a devout Christian family in the Netherlands. It's told from the perspective of 10-year-old Jas, whose brother dies in a sudden accident after she wishes him dead instead of her pet rabbit. It’s a dark portrait of childhood and is awash with compelling imagery of a family dislocated and destroyed, not just by grief, but by a failure to acknowledge and articulate it. Rijneveld's debut carries heavy themes with confidence through wildly pervasive prose.
Buy now £7.37, WHSmith
Comedy Women in Print Prize winner: ‘Reasons to Be Cheerful’ by Nina Stibbe, published by Penguin Books Ltd
Set against the bright(ish) lights of Eighties Liverpool, Reasons to Be Cheerful tells the story of teenage Lizzie Vogal, who’s started a new job as a dental assistant and is attempting to leave her "alcoholic, nymphomaniacal, novel-writing” mother behind. Triumphantly funny, Stibbe crafts a charming and gorgeously uplifting novel. The perfect antidote to the year we’ve had.
Buy now £8.36, Bookshop
YA Book Prize winner: ‘Meat Market’ by Juno Dawson, published by Hachette Children’s Group
Having worked as a journalist on the fringes of the fashion industry, Dawson started to realise there were problems – namely, models were often very young, nameless and simply bodies who were not treated well by those around them. Meat Market is a gripping page-turner, an exposé of the dark and often seedy side of the industry, addressing timely themes around #MeToo and #TimesUp.
Buy now £7.99, Waterstones
If this didn’t satiate your lust for literature, take a look at our guide to the debut novels released in Super Thursday