Which of the three Pauls nominated for the Booker prize will win? There’s only one Paul for me

It’s a nailbiting time for readers. Five Irish authors have won the Booker since it began in 1969

This year, three out of the six people shortlisted for the soon to be announced Booker prize are called Paul. I’m terrible at maths, but I think this means there’s a 50 per cent chance a Paul will triumph at the life-changing literary event in London on Sunday.

Two of the Pauls, Paul Lynch who wrote Prophet Song and Paul Murray who wrote The Bee Sting, are Irish. Paul Harding, author of This Other Eden, is American. So at least we know which Pauls Irish readers will be cheering for this Sunday. #COYPIG. (Come on you Pauls in Green.)

If a Paul does in fact win then which Paul is it most likely to be? Glad you asked. I have only read one book on the shortlist which renders me laughably unqualified to write about what might happen, but feck it, I’m going to try. I’m going to try because the only book on the shortlist that I have read gave me such immense pleasure that I am now entirely confident that none of the others could possibly compete. Hint: It was written by one of the three Pauls.

I’m not being reckless here. My much more assiduous mother has assessed each book on the shortlist closely. She has macular degeneration in her eyes and can no longer read the actual books, but instead devours them with her ears. Having listened to, or “endured” in one or two cases, the entire shortlist she confirmed my suspicion that my favourite book is in fact “the best book” on the shortlist.


It’s a nailbiting time for readers. Five Irish authors have won the Booker since it began in 1969. They are Belfast woman Anna Burns, Wexford author John Banville and Dubliners Iris Murdoch, Anne Enright and Roddy Doyle. Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha the tragicomic masterpiece by Roddy Doyle took the prize 30 years ago in 1993 which adds a certain serendipity to the proceedings if either of the Irish Pauls win.

You can still watch the 1993 ceremony on the Booker website. The prize was announced by the luxuriantly coiffed Lord Gowrie who said books allow you to “reach beyond the mental space of the novelist…you get to know the characters until like friends or lovers they enter and alter your own life”.

When his name was announced and a beaming, bespectacled and also generously coiffed Doyle stepped up to take the cheque, he quipped that Auberon Waugh “might not be too pleased that another foreigner has won the prize but I know me Ma and Da are happy with the decision”. He thanked Derek Spiers who provided the photograph for the cover photograph and he thanked the people of his home place of Kilbarrack on the Northside of Dublin who offered such a deep pool of inspiration into which he had dived when he started writing “and happily drowned”.

But enough Bookerstalgia, I’ve left you in suspense long enough. The only book that should win the Booker prize is…The Bee Sting by Paul Murray. Last summer, as I enjoyed one of the best holidays of my life in Ballylickey, West Cork, I picked up The Bee Sting and have been annoying people about it ever since. “This book,” I kept saying as I reclined on the grass looking out at the sea. “This amazing book. This perfect book. This entertaining, exhilarating, brilliant, brilliant book”.

There are good reasons I never became a critic. I either like things or don’t like them and am not proficient at saying why. So don’t mind me but here’s what a proper critic in The Times of London thinks about The Bee Sting’s Booker chances: “This is a glorious feast of a book, and if it hadn’t made the shortlist, riots would be justified. Sometimes critics and book buyers diverge, but I haven’t read a single review or reader response for The Bee Sting that hasn’t been a full-throated rave. It’s a story set in Ireland where each member of the comically dysfunctional Barnes family has their own personal crisis. It’s long and engaging, very funny and seriously moving, and everything accelerates to a great final crisis. This is a book that loves the reader; it’s not surprising readers love it back.”

This reader loves The Bee Sting back so much. It is a total ride of a book and justifies every single one of its glorious 646 pages. I watched an interview with Murray recently and he crystallised part of what it is that moved and entertained me so deeply about The Bee Sting. He spoke about the misconception his characters are labouring under, one that we are all guilty of at various times in our lives: that we are islands. Cass, PJ, Dickie and Imelda Barnes are not islands but they think and act like they are until closer to the novel’s end when they begin, at last, to glimpse their connectedness. I better not say any more about one of the most intense and nerve-jangling endings to a book I’ve ever experienced. My mother, having listened to it, was waiting patiently for me to finish. The moment I did, we had a long, equally intense, discussion on the phone, speaking about the characters as though they were people we knew. People who had entered and altered our lives.

I don’t know what will happen this Sunday. Which of the Pauls, if any, will win. But there’s only one Paul for me. How wonderful if, 30 years on, they call out Paul Murray’s name and the Dubliner, as fundamentally southside as Doyle is northside, walks up to the podium to take the cheque for his own tragicomic masterpiece. As it happens in addition to the Booker, both Pauls (Lynch and Murray) are up for gongs in today’s Irish Book Awards. So, come on you Pauls in Green. But most of all: Come on The Bee Sting.