Know your fiction:?the Booker shortlist assessed

Atlantic, £15.99
Best for: travellers

DAMON Galgut’s semi-autobiographical novel follows a man, named Damon, on three different journeys – through Greece, through Africa and through India. Although he encounters and connects with different people on each trip, and himself fulfils different roles in relation to them – the tales are respectively called “The Follower”, “The Lover”, and “The Guardian” – this is a book as much about isolation and solitude as it is about travel and experience. Nevertheless, Galgut’s evocation of place can be mesmerising, as can his ability to flit between third person and first person, often in the same sentence. Not necessarily a warm book, but a mysteriously tender one. Timothy Barber

Picador, £12.99
Best for: fans of a good drama

IRISH-born Emma Donaghue’s Room was inspired by the 2008 case of Josef Fritzl, in which an Austrian man was found to have kept his daughter locked up in a home-dungeon for years, forcing her to breed with him. Here, a young woman is abducted at 19 and locked in a garden shed. Apart from being raped every now and again, she’s left alone with enough food and a TV. She gives birth to a son, and the book is his child’s-eye view. This is a profound tale of captivity, familial bonds and, finally, relief. Donaghue’s best-known bestseller, also based on a real event, was 2000’s Slammerkin. Zoe Strimpel

Headline Review, £18.99
Best for: readers who want to be uplifted

FOLLOWING up her massively successful 2004 novel Small Island, Levy turns her attention from the Jamaican immigrant experience in the Fifties to the slavery experience over a century before. The book is in the form of a memoir, told by a former slave girl, July, as she looks back on the final years of slavery and the early days of the era following its abolition. It’s a subject matter loaded with misery and darkness, but Levy brings a lightness of touch to a story that is frequently very funny and enchanting. A beautiful read from a masterful writer.

Bloomsbury, £18.99
Best for: urban thinkers and cultural speculators

HOWARD Jacobson is often called the British Phillip Roth. He is Jewish, and Judaism – in all its many shapes and sizes – is the central theme in much of his work. He is deeply funny, with a brilliant ability to turn observation into story. And he is complex in his fusion of the two: the Jewish experience is, after all, sometimes very funny (and there is much to observe). Here, he explores the relationship between Julian Treslove, a BBC employee and gentile, and the two Jews Finkler and Libor who are also his best friends. They are always tussling over their differing Jewish identities (much involving views on Israel) – and Treslove wants to be a Jew.

by Peter Carey
Faber, £18.99
Best for:? historians

AUSTRALIAN novelist Carey could become the first writer to win the Booker three times if he is victorious with his 11th novel (his previous wins were in 1988 with Oscar and Lucinda, and 2001 with True History of the Kelly Gang). His latest is set in 1830 and tells the story of Olivier de Garmont, a young French aristo who winds up in America with Parrot, his servant and protector. Carey weaves his ingenious narrative around this pair, looking at the relationship between man and servant, New World and Old World, told in his typically lyrical style.

Cape, £16.99
Best for: intellectuals and thinkers with a soft side

TOM McCarthy’s attempt at the top prize is being hailed as his best work yet: ambitious, complex and extremely imaginative. Set between 1898 and 1922, it charts the life of Serge Carrefax, from his birth in pre-war Europe to his technology-loving adulthood, via German prison camps and the pyramids of Egypt. The book opens at a day school for the deaf, run by Serge’s deaf mother and his father, an inventor. Communication is the key theme here, hinted in the title’s big letter C, referring to the sign language of Serge’s filial relations and to the early radios he loves. Phenomenal.

The winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize will be announced on October 12. For more info see