Next Monday sees the announcement of this year’s winner of the Booker Prize at the Roundhouse in London – the first time the award ceremony has been held in person since 2019. And for the first time in several years I’ve also spent the last month or so working my through the shortlist to decide who should win.

If you’ve never done it, reading your way through a shortlist is a rewarding experience. Getting through six books in just over a month is a bit of a commitment, so I’ll be honest and say I only usually attempt it if I’ve already read a couple before the shortlist is announced. This year, I hadn’t read any of the books, but given that three of them were on the short side, it felt doable.

The announcement of this year’s shortlist came with a dose of controversy after comments to one of the book groups invited to the event: ‘I gather you have a dinner lady and a steelworker amongst you this evening … and a man!’ the Director of the Booker Foundation quipped, leading to the understandable social media storm.

All of which was a shame because this year’s list is refreshingly readable, even for those dinner ladies and male readers amongst us. It feels a judiciously well-balanced list, taking the reader on a global journey from Sri Lanka (The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka) to the fictional African country of Jidada (Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo), mid-1980s Ireland (Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These) to myth-soaked England (Treacle Walker by Alan Garner), Mississippi (The Trees by Percival Everett) to Maine (Oh William! By Elizabeth Strout).

One of the pleasures of reading a shortlist is in discovering writers who you might not have picked up otherwise. In the case of Percival Everett’s The Trees, one had to work twice as hard to pick up, only being available through its indie publisher, Influx Press. I’m glad I made the effort, as its Deep South satire is both shocking and very funny. There’s dark humour, too, in The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, though the horrors of Sri Lankan history outweighed its dry wit for me.

Glory, with its anthropomorphic set up, will inevitably draw comparisons with George Orwell’s Animal Farm, that long-standing GCSE English staple. Treacle Walker, I suspect, may end up on the same syllabus in the future, being similarly loved/loathed by tomorrow’s teenagers.

My two stand out books – as for the better half of my Booker book group – are the Claire Keegan and Elizabeth Strout novels. My girlfriend’s vote is for Elizabeth Strout: mine is for Claire Keegan. They’re 4-1 and 6-1 to win if you fancy a flutter.