Damon Galgut wins 2021 Booker Prize with The Promise

Damon Galgut wins 2021 Booker Prize with The Promise

jeanniejeanniejeannie.co.uk BLOG Friday 5th November 2021


Damon Galgut wins 2021 Booker Prize with The Promise

Oh, and HAPPY BONFIRE NIGHT!!! Here’s a real banger of a book to set you on fire.

Damon Galgut wins Booker Prize with ‘tour de force’ novel The Promise

South African author Damon Galgut has won the prestigious Booker Prize for fiction at the third attempt for his novel The Promise.

Galgut, who was previously nominated in 2003 and 2010, picked up the £50,000 prize at a ceremony on Wednesday.

The Promise is his ninth novel and follows the decline of one South African family over four decades from the apartheid era to the present day.

The chair of the judges, Maya Jasanoff, described it as “a tour de force”.

“It combines an extraordinary story, rich themes and the history of the last 40 years of South Africa in an incredibly well-wrought package,” she said.

“It manages to pull together the qualities of great storytelling, it has great ideas, it’s a book that has a lot to chew on, with remarkable attention to structure and literary style.”

The title, The Promise, refers to a pledge that the white family’s black maid would be given the house she inhabits and the land it stands on.

The Promise by Damon Galgut is an excellent winner. In my view it is an outstanding book and it is hard to disagree with the critic who said: “This is so obviously one of the best novels of the year.”

Why? On the one hand it is a gripping saga, following the decline and fall of a white South African family over four decades. It is packed with incident – sex, drugs, shootings – and there is drama, discord and death. But there is also plenty of unexpected comedy to lighten the mood. It made me laugh.

On the other hand, through the lens of this one family, The Promise also deftly tells the story of South Africa and its troubled transition from apartheid state to multi-racial democracy. So it is rich with layers and yet it is compact, with fewer than 300 pages.

It is also technically superb. There is an invisible narrator, who acts like a film camera. So you move fluidly from one location to another, from one character’s point of view to another, sometimes within the same paragraph or page. At one point we fly into someone’s dreams. At another we dive into the feelings of a pack of hyenas and even a family dog.

Damon Galgut nearly died from cancer as a young child. In 2010 he told me it was the central, cataclysmic event of his life. Books provided comfort during his illness. When he finally recovered he was left with the overwhelming need to write. Now he has won one of the biggest prizes in publishing.

Short presentational grey line

The Promise begins in 1986 and revisits the family over the course of four funerals, each in a different decade and at a different point in the nation’s journey.

“What really appealed to me is how you could show in each little snapshot how the same cast of characters is changing as time goes by,” the author told BBC Radio 4’s Open Book earlier this year.

Galgut, 57, grew up in Pretoria and told BBC World Service’s The Cultural Frontline that the title also refers to the unfulfilled promise in South Africa after apartheid, the policy of racial segregation and discrimination enforced by the white minority government.

“I think a great many of us had high expectations of the future,” Galgut said. “And I think also a great many of us feel that those hopes have been dashed. That little piece of land is only one wasted promise, really.”

The Promise was widely praised when it was published in the UK in June, with The Guardian calling it “stunning”, The Sunday Times describing it as “bleak but superbly narrated” and The Financial Times declaring it “a complex, ambitious, brilliant work”.

The other nominated books were:

Anuk Arudpragasam –        A Passage North

Patricia Lockwood –            No One Is Talking About This

Nadifa Mohamed –              The Fortune Men

Richard Powers –                                 Bewilderment

Maggie Shipstead –             Great Circle

Last year’s Booker Prize was won by Douglas Stuart for Shuggie Bain. The Scottish author said the victory “changed everything for me”, with the novel shooting up best-seller lists as a result and now being adapted into a TV series.



 1             2021       Damon Galgut                      The Promise         

2              2020       Douglas Stuart                     Shuggie Bain       

3              2019       Margaret Atwood                 The Testaments                                                   Science fiction,

4              2018       Anna Burns                           Milkman.                                                              Fiction.

5              2017       George Saunders                 Lincoln in the Bardo.                                    Historical/experimental novel.

6              2016       Paul Beatty                           The Sellout.                                                           Satirical novel.

7              2015       Marlon James                      The Brief History of Seven Killings.                Historical novel.

8              2014       Richard Flanagan                 The Narrow Road to the Deep North.              Historical novel.

9              2013       Eleanor Catton                    The Luminaries.                                                   Historical novel.

10           2012       Hilary Mantel[2]                  Bring Up the Bodies.                                          Historical novel.

11           2011       Julian Barnes                        The Sense of an Ending.                                     Novel.

12           2010       Howard Jacobson                 The Finkler Question.                                         Comic novel.

13           2009       Hilary Mantel                       Wolf Hall.                                                             Historical novel.

14           2008       Aravind Adiga                      The White Tiger                                                   Fiction

15           2007       Anne Enright                        The Gathering                                                      Fiction

16           2006       Kiran Desai                           The Inheritance of Loss                                      Fiction

17           2005       John Banville                       The Sea                                                                 Fiction

18           2004       Alan Hollinghurst                The Line of Beauty                                             Historical novel

19           2003       DBC Pierre                            Vernon God Little                                               Black comedy

20           2002       Yann Martel                         Life of Pi                                                               Fantasy and adventure novel

21           2001       Peter Carey                           True History of the Kelly Gang                        Historical novel

22           2000       Margaret Atwood                 The Blind Assassin                                              Historical novel

23           1999       J. M. Coetzee                       Disgrace                                                                 Fiction

24           1998       Ian McEwan                         Amsterdam                                                           Fiction

25           1997       Arundhati Roy                     The God of Small Things                                   Fiction

26           1996       Graham Swift                       Last Orders                                                            Fiction

27           1995       Pat Barker                             The Ghost Road                                                  War novel

28           1994       James Kelman                      How Late It Was, How Late                             Stream of consciousness

29           1993       Roddy Doyle                        Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha                                    Fiction

30           1992[1]  Michael Ondaatje                 The English Patient                                             Historiographic metafiction

31           1992[1]  Barry Unsworth                   Sacred Hunger                                                     Historical novel

32           1991       Ben Okri                                The Famished Road                                            Magic realism

33           1990       A. S. Byatt                            Possession                                                             Historical novel

34           1989       Kazuo Ishiguro                     The Remains of the Day                                    Historical novel

35           1988       Peter Carey                           Oscar and Lucinda                                              Fiction

36           1987       Penelope Lively                   Moon Tiger                                                           Fiction

37           1986       Kingsley Amis                     The Old Devils                                                     Comic novel

38           1985       Keri Hulme                           The Bone People                                                 Mystery novel

39           1984       Anita Brookner                    Hotel du Lac                                                        Fiction

40           1983       J. M. Coetzee                       Life & Times of Michael K                               Fiction

41           1982       Thomas Keneally                 Schindler’s Ark                                                    Biographical novel

42           1981       Salman Rushdie                   Midnight’s Children                                            Magical realism

43           1980       William Golding                  Rites of Passage                                                   Fiction

44           1979       Penelope Fitzgerald             Offshore                                                                 Fiction

45           1978       Iris Murdoch                        The Sea, the Sea                                                  Philosophical novel

46           1977       Paul Scott                              Staying On                                                            Fiction

47           1976       David Storey                        Saville                                                                    Fiction

48           1975       Ruth Prawer Jhabvala        Heat and Dust                                                      Historical novel

49           1974[1]  Nadine Gordimer                 The Conservationist                                            Fiction

50           1974[1]  Stanley Middleton               Holiday                                                                 Fiction

51           1973       J. G. Farrell[3]                      The Siege of Krishnapur.                                   Fiction.

52           1972       John Berger                           G.                                                                            Experimental novel.

53           1971       V. S. Naipaul                        In a Free State.                                                     Short story.

54           1970[4]  Bernice Rubens                   The Elected Member.                                         Fiction.

55           1970[4]  J. G. Farrell                           Troubles.                                                               Fiction.

56           1969       P. H. Newby                         Something to Answer For.                                 Fiction



[1] Shared prize.

[2] The first woman to win the Booker prize twice (2009, 2012). 

[3] First man to win the Booker prize twice (1970, 1973).

 [4] Lost Man Booker Prize (awarded in 2010). 

[5] Between 2002 and June 2019 the Booker prizes were sponsored by the Man Group. Since June 2019 Crankstart, a charitable foundation of Sir Michael Moritz KBE and his wife, Harriet Heyman, is the new supporter of both the Booker Prize and the International Booker Prize. The Booker Prizes will not include the name of the sponsor.   


REMEMBER: The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.

– Nicolas Chamfort



“My mother always used to say: The older you get, the better you get, unless you’re a banana.”

—Rose (Betty White), The Golden Girls.


Happiness is…reading a Booker Prize winner (Really/).


“Have you got anything to drink?”


“I meant something harder?”



Love is…what gets you glowing.


A time for Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart…A time for Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle.


5th November

1605 Guy Fawkes, born here in York was arrested when around 30 barrels of gunpowder, camouflaged with coal, were discovered in the cellar under Parliament. Robert Catesby’s small band of Catholic zealots who planned to blow up James I and Parliament were only arrested after Fawkes revealed their names when tortured on the rack. Conspirators met at the Old Lion Inn, Dunchurch, Warwickshire and plaque on 5th November to await news of the destruction of Westminster.

1909 Woolworths opened its first British store, in Liverpool. Almost 100 years later, (at the end of the first week in January 2009) the last remaining stores closed ure) for the last time.

1912 The appointment of a British Board of Film Censors. They decided on only two classifications – ‘Universal’ and ‘Not Suitable for Children’.

1927 Britain’s first automatic traffic lights were installed at Princess Square road junction in Wolverhampton, in the West Midlands.








©2021 Phil M Robinson