Gripping thriller about war photographer wins this year's Booker Prize

Author Shehan Karunatilaka holding book The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida
Shehan Karunatilaka holding his Booker-winning book The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida (Image credit: Booker Prize)

If you're a keen photographer, it's sometimes nice to get a different perspective on the discipline while enjoying a great work of fiction. So we're always on the lookout for new novels focused around photographers, and here's one we're particularly excited about, because it's just won the Booker Prize!

The Booker Prize is the leading literary award in the English speaking world, and previous winners include The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (the sequel to The Handmaid's Tale), Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally (which was filmed as Schindler's List) ,and Life of Pi by Yann Martel. 

Now added to that list is The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Sri Lankan author Shehan Karunatilaka, who was given the trophy by Queen Consort Camilla at a ceremony last night in London. 

What's the story?

The novel is set in Sri Lanka, and begins in 1990 as the eponymous Maali, a gay photographer who's spend his life documenting war crimes, wakes up in a blur. He picks up his trusty Nikon 3ST and raises it to his eye, but the lens is cracked and all he can see through it is mud.

(Image credit: Booker Prize)

Gradually, Maali realises he is in the afterlife: back in the physical world, his dismembered body is sinking into the serene Beira lake, and he has no idea who killed him. In a country where scores are settled by death squads, suicide bombers and hired goons, the list of suspects is depressingly long, as the ghouls and ghosts with grudges who cluster round can attest. 

But even in the afterlife, time is running out. Now he has seven moons to try and contact the people he loves most, and lead them to a hidden cache of photographs that will rock Sri Lanka.

Thrilling and timely

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is a gripping tale, and couldn't be more timely given the recent real-life uprisings in Sri Lanka, which saw President Gotabaya Rajapaksa flee the country in July.

"This is a metaphysical thriller, an afterlife noir that dissolves the boundaries not just of different genres, but of life and death, body and spirit, east and west," said Neil MacGregor, chair of the 2022 Booker Prize judges.

(Image credit: Booker Prize)

"It is an entirely serious philosophical romp that takes the reader to ’the world’s dark heart’: the murderous horrors of civil war Sri Lanka. And once there, the reader also discovers the tenderness and beauty, the love and loyalty, and the pursuit of an ideal that justify every human life."

The power of photography

While Booker Prize winners are sometimes been accused of being overly intellectual, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is very much rooted in the real world, and pays tribute to the role photography plays in bringing the truth of the world's conflicts into public discourse.

As the title character sees it, the right photos can stop wars and save lives, and is dedicated to bringing the truth to a wider audience through the power of his images. No doubt the film rights will soon be up for grabs, and it will eventually join our list of the best films about fictional photographers

Fancy giving it a read? The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is published by Sort of Books and you can buy it in hardback here (opens in new tab). You can also hear an extract being read by Doctor Foster actor Prasanna Puwanarajah, in the video below.

Meanwhile, if you need more reading matter, also check out our roundup of the best novels about photography. And while you're at it, why not get further inspiration from the best movies about real photographers?

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Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specializing in art, photography, design and travel. He has been editor of Professional Photography magazine, associate editor at Creative Bloq (opens in new tab), and deputy editor at net magazine. He has also worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including The Sun, Radio Times, NME, T3, Heat, Company and Bella.