The Rathbones Folio Prize – a perfect summer reading list

Original, diverse and international – this year’s shortlist has something for everyone . 

There is no other UK literary prize which looks across all fiction and non-fiction English language books, so the Rathbones Folio Prize is unique in its search for the best book of the year. There is truly something here for everyone and maybe inspiration to try a book you wouldn’t normally read.

America, Britain, China, Ireland, Japan and Pakistan are represented by eight writers with settings  ranging from an English village to Japan amid a natural disaster. Some of the authors have several books to their names but, like last year, there’s room for a debut novel which always makes a shortlist more exciting.

The Folio Prize was established in 2014 as a genre-crossing alternative to the Man Booker. It was open to American writers from the start, a decision which was arguably instrumental in the Booker following suit. Inaugural Folio winner George Saunders went on to win the Man Booker in 2017, so this prize is perhaps the trend-setter among literary prizes in the UK today.    

Looking at the Rathbones Folio Prize 2018 shortlist it’s clear that the judges had an unenviable task in picking one winner. However, on 8 May at the British Library, Richard Lloyd Parry was awarded the Rathbones Folio Prize for 2018 for his deeply moving account of the Japanese tsunami disaster of 2011 told through the personal accounts of those who lived through it.  

Learn more about all of the shortlisted books by selecting one below.

"The day that went missing"
Richard Beard

"Once upon a time in the East"
Xiaolu Guo


"Exit west"
Mohsin Hamid


"White tears"
Hari Kunzru

"Ghost of the tsunami"
Richard Lloyd Parry

"Reservoir 13"
Jon McGregor


"Conversations with friends"
Sally Rooney


"Anything is possible"
Elizabeth Strout

Shortlist overview

Richard Lloyd Parry is a Tokyo-based Times journalist who was living and working in Japan when a massive earthquake hit Tohoku in 2011, followed by a tsunami and subsequent nuclear meltdown. Ghosts of the Tsunami teems with voices from communities reeling from the disaster, which claimed more Japanese lives than any single event since World War Two, and examines how people respond to an exceptional tragedy.  

Richard Beard is the author of nine previous books but the reader finishes his tenth feeling that this is the one he needed to write. The Day That Went Missing is less a grief memoir than a personal inquest into the death of Beard’s younger brother who drowned on holiday when the author was 11. The book is a portrait of a family and an era, and a meditation on the silence that can surround loss.

Xiaolu Guo’s memoir, Once Upon a Time in the East, is global in its scope and personal in its focus. It charts Guo’s journey from growing up in rural China to moving to London at the turn of the century. As a novelist, Guo is prolific and acclaimed, having written works in Chinese before making the transition into English a decade ago. Her writing examines the experience of moving between cultures and aims squarely at the human heart.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is a continent-hopping novel that tackles the big issues of our time – globalisation, migration and the new international order, by telling the story of a couple who, like millions of people today, are uprooted by war. Hamid is best known for his second novel, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, but his fourth, which was also shortlisted for the Man Booker, would have been a strong contender here. 

With White Tears, the New York-based British novelist Hari Kunzru uses the subject of music to deliver a timely meditation on race in America. Cool, complex and haunting (literally so with its foray into ghost story), Kunzru’s fifth novel was considered by some critics to have been unjustly omitted from other prize shortlists. By recognising a work that’s been overlooked elsewhere, the Rathbones Folio Prize is fulfilling one of the purposes for which it’s cherished by readers, writers and publishers. 

Reservoir 13 is the fourth novel by Jon McGregor who has been doing daring things with the form since his debut, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, appeared in 2003. McGregor’s latest work, a subtle and suspenseful story set among the inhabitants of an English village in the aftermath of a teenage girl’s disappearance, also scooped the Costa Novel Award.

Irish fiction has been booming for years, but the acclaim that greeted Sally Rooney’s first novel last summer was still remarkable. Conversations with Friends is the wry and funny tale of an affair between a 21-year-old poet and an older, married actor. Rooney’s second novel arrives this autumn.

Elizabeth Strout is the sole American here. Her previous novel, My Name is Lucy Barton, is the work for which Strout is famous, but the intertwining stories of Anything Is Possible are a sequel of sorts and add up to a slow-burning whole. A book from across the Atlantic, that blurs the boundaries between literary forms, is a worthy Rathbones Folio Prize nominee.   


The Rathbones Folio Prize 2018 shortlist gives you a varied and interesting selection of books to enjoy during your summer holidays and beyond. If you are still not sure which one you want to start with, you can always read the first chapters of each of the shortlist for free. Find out how here. 

Happy reading!

Learn more about the Rathbones Folio Prize and other initiatives.


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