Wolf or Chimp to follow Tiger?

September 7, 2009 at 10:02 pm Leave a comment

The shortlist for the Man Booker Prize is announced tomorrow, and we will find out whether Cheeta the Chimpanzee still has a chance of succeeding The White Tiger. Predicting a shortlist of six out of thirteen feels like it should be easy, but it never is – and these judges have already proved that they are not above of a bit of monkey business. However, if I were going to be stupid enough to try and second guess what the judges will select for their shortlist, my wrong guess would be something like:
Sarah Hall – How to Paint a Dead Man
Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall
Simon Mawer – The Glass Room
Colm Toibin – Brooklyn
William Trevor – Love and Summer
Sarah Waters – The Little Stranger
Obviously JM Coetzee is also a strong contender but, surprisingly, he has only been shortlisted twice – although he did win both times, so it would be ominous for the others if he does make the cut. Summertime is the third of his pseudoautobiographical novels, the first of which – Boyhood – introduced me to the power of his writing. It had a visceral effect on me – if I had ever seen a psychoanalyst I fear I would have angrily accused him of selling my innermost childhood thoughts to Coetzee, it resonated so loudly with my own feelings as a boy. Youth on the other hand made no impression on me at all.
It is a curious fact that seven of the last ten Booker Prizes have gone to the shortlisted author whose name came first alphabetically, which bodes well for AS Byatt, although I can’t believe The Children’s Book will survive re-reading. A number of people, including myself, have found it very easy to put down – on the basis that life is too short for all that ‘extraneous detail’. Reading The Children’s Book you could be forgiven for thinking that the Twentieth Century never happened. Surely at least one of the judges will refuse point blank to read it twice, let alone three times!
That said, I applaud Lady Byatt (what? not yet?) for her attack on writers of “faction” – “mixtures of biography and fiction, journalism and invention.”
“I don’t like the idea of going into the mind of the real unknown dead”, she said, “It feels like the appropriation of others’ lives and privacy. Making other people up, which is a kind of attack on them.”
I agree: it doesn’t seem ethical.
It’s a complaint that could be applied to two of her rivals for the prize: The Quickening Maze, and Wolf Hall – which had the bookies on the run after fans heavily backed Hilary Mantel at double-figure odds. They stand to lose a six-figure sum if it wins. Serves them right for offering stupidly long odds in the first place on a book which has had nothing but praise, by an author who deserves wider recognition. The same applies to Simon Mawer – The Glass Room is far too good to be thought of as an outsider for the prize and could easily win, yet William Hill are offering 16/1!
The two Irishmen on the longlist would also be popular winners, neither having won before despite numerous nominations (Colm Toibin in 1999 and 2004, and 81-year-old William Trevor in 1970, 1976, 1991 and 2002.) Love and Summer is currently being serialized on BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime (as was Brooklyn earlier in the year).
Meanwhile, the inclusion of Me Cheeta on the longlist sparked off a raft of puns like ‘Cheeta writer could be top banana‘ and ‘Heavyweights crash chimp’s Booker tea-party‘ – but surely the cheeky monkeys won’t dare shortlist it, will they?
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Entry filed under: Booker, cheeta, Coetzee, faction, fiction, literature, Prize, Shortlist.

Hodd Robbed! When do they think we are?

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