2021 Costa Prize shortlisted highlight climate anxiety | Costa Book Prize


Jessie Greengrass’s vision of a near future in Britain drowned by an apocalyptic flood, part of the expanding genre of climate change fiction, is among the shortlisted books for the 2021 Costa Book Awards.

Greengrass’s The High House follows Caro and his little brother Pauly as they try to survive in flooded Suffolk, in a refuge created by Caro’s climate scientist mother-in-law. “The crisis has gone from a distant threat to an imminent probability and we have ignored it as static,” writes Greengrass, in a novel the judges described as a “powerful book that makes you consider the privilege of being saved. and the reality of survival “.

The High House was one of several books submitted for the novel award addressing environmental themes, judge and author Jessie Burton said, describing books “concerned with rising waters, global warming, decimation of the natural fauna and the effects of man on earth “.

“There were a variety of books dealing with this theme or examining this theme, but Jessie stood out, he went from an issue to a novel,” Burton said. “What we wanted was a novel that a reader would want to read and immerse themselves in, even if it was difficult material, like facing the reality of the heated world. And I think Jessie’s book makes all of this hardly plausible, because she does it very subtly. She’s a brilliant writer, and that’s what elevated her beyond a simple writer’s concern for the planet. “

Greengrass said she wanted to explore the “disconnect” between our knowledge of the impending doom of the climate crisis and our inability to act – “that kind of weird space where you can watch something terrible happen and know that it does. happens, and be afraid that it will happen, but always go on with all the ordinary things in life ”.

She was chosen for the novel’s award list alongside The Fortune Men, selected by Booker by Nadifa Mohamed, Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller, and The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak, who follows two teenagers through a torn Cyprus. through war and a -old seeks decades later for a connection to the island where his parents were born.

“All of these novels are compulsive read – offering great stories and a clear look into the past to help us view the world with empathy and determination,” said the jury, which includes journalist Sarah Shaffi and bookseller Charlie Bush.

The list of nominees for the novel’s top prize also features a post-apocalyptic world. In Kate Sawyer’s The Stranding, a woman hides from a cataclysmic event inside a stranded whale in New Zealand, in what the judges called “an immersive end-of-the-world story full of hope and imagination ”.

Burton said she thinks fiction is a useful place to explore themes of climate anxiety. “I know I would say that because I’m a novelist. But I think we create spaces when we write for readers to come in, where we explore ideas, ”she said. “Storytelling, and that kind of communication, is as old as the hill. And I think it speaks to different parts of the brain than if you’re sitting in front of the news. It enters another part of your mind and your heart, and that is why it is so effective.

The Stranding is joined on the first list by Caleb Azumah Nelson’s Open Water, which the judges called a “nuanced representation of racial realities today”, The Manningtree Witches by poet AK Blakemore, set in Essex in 1643 then that a puritanical fervor takes hold of the nation, and Emily Itami’s Fault Lines, in which Mizuki, alone despite her family, falls in love with Kiyoshi and begins an affair.

The Costas, which were originally created in 1971, recognize the “nicest” books of the year in five categories, with 934 entries this year in total. The selection of biographies pits Ed Caesar’s story of British mountaineering legend Maurice Wilson, who attempted to climb Everest on his own, to the memoir of Guardian theater critic Arifa Akbar on her sister’s death of tuberculosis, the portrait of John Preston by Robert Maxwell and the account of the arrival of Major Lea Ypi in Communist Albania.

Hannah Lowe, Raymond Antrobus, Kayo Chingonyi and Victoria Kennefick are shortlisted for the poetry prize, while the children’s prize features Manjeet Mann’s verse novel The Crossing against Ross Montgomery’s London blitz adventure set The Midnight Guardians, and two debuts by Helen Rutter and Anna Bon tout.

“We are thrilled to celebrate these 20 Shiny Books as we celebrate a milestone 50th anniversary year,” said Jill McDonald, Executive Director of the Costa Coffee Award Sponsor. “There is so much for readers to explore, enjoy, recommend and share. “

The overall winner will be announced on February 1, 2022 and will receive £ 30,000, with category winners each receiving £ 5,000. Last year, Monique Roffey won Book of the Year for her novel The Mermaid of the Black Conch.

The 2021 preselections in their entirety

First novel

Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson (Viking)

The Witches of Manningtree by AK Blakemore (Granta)

Fault Lines by Emily Itami (Phoenix)

The stranding of Kate Sawyer (Coronet)


Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller (Fig tree)

The Upper House of Jessie Greengrass (Swift Press)

Men of Fortune by Nadifa Mohamed (Viking)

Elif Shafak (Viking) Island of the Gone Trees


Consumed: A Sister’s Story by Arifa Akbar (Scepter)

The Moth and the Mountain: A True Story of Love, War and Everest by Ed Caesar (Viking)

Fall: The Mystery of Robert Maxwell by John Preston (Viking)

Free: Maturity at the End of the Story by Lea Ypi (Allen Lane)

Poetry Prize

All names given by Raymond Antrobus (Picador)

A Blood Condition by Kayo Chingonyi (Chatto & Windus)

Eat or We Both Starve by Victoria Kennefick (Carcanet Press)

Children by Hannah Lowe (Bloodaxe Books)


Maggie Blue and the Dark World by Anna Goodall (Guppy Books)

The crossing of Manjeet Mann (Penguin)

The Midnight Watchers by Ross Montgomery (Walker Books)

The Boy Who Made Everyone Laugh by Helen Rutter (Scholastic UK)


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