Pistols at dawn?

July 25, 2011 at 3:37 pm Leave a comment

The judges will be getting together on Tuesday to hammer out their longlist for this year’s prize, so what will this year’s Man Booker menagerie include? A cruel bird? A binary dog? Jive cats? Mr. Fox? A rabbit called God? The king of the badgers? Or even the last werewolf? Well, maybe a couple of those, but what else?

As I tweeted a few days ago, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Paul Bailey’s lovely book Chapman’s Odyssey, and I take heart from Susan Hill‘s “no comment“.

Susan has also reported that one particular book has caused a rift between a couple of the judges which may result in “pistols at dawn”. I hope it is included – a book that gets people agitated can’t be bad…well, it could be bad, but it can’t be boring – unlike some of those doorstep historical novels juries often feel obliged to include.

Some of those long – but not necessarily boring (especially if you like that sort of thing) – historical novels that may well be in the running this year include Andrew Miller’s Pure, Gillespie and I by Jane Harris and Amitav Ghosh’s River of Smoke.

There are also heavyweight historical tomes from previous Booker winners Barry Unsworth (The Quality of Mercy is a sequel to Sacred Hunger) and Alan Hollinghurst (The Stranger’s Child). There’s been a small bandwagon rolling behind The Stranger’s Child recently, but the same was true of David Mitchell last year, and the wheel fell off that one.

In total there are six previous winners of the prize with novels out this year. The other four being Aravind Adiga (Last Man in Tower), Anne Enright (The Forgotten Waltz), Michael Ondaatje (The Cat’s Table) and Graham Swift (Wish You Were Here).

I had a real love-hate reaction to Wish You Were Here. You can read my review – in which I felt it necessary to use the word ‘griefful’ – here. Suffice it to say that, although it is a very powerful novel, it must not win. It might put people off reading literary fiction forevermore. One reviewer on Amazon said that Swift “writes unerringly” – yes, he does: as unerring as a steamroller slowly – oh, sooooo slowly – crushing your will to live.

Going back to Alan Hollinghurst, I will be happy to see him on the longlist, but I would be really delighted to see James Hollingshurst on the list. James Hollingshurst being the main character in David Nobbs‘ new novel It Had to Be You. It’s unlikely that Booker Prize judges have ever had Nobbs on the table in front of them, but there’s always a first time.

Certainly, the way the world is at the moment, we could all do with cheering up, and two of the best novels I’ve read so far this year are also laugh out loud funny: Shehan Karunatilaka’s contender for the title of Great Sri Lankan Novel: Chinaman, and the bone-dry cynical wit of Edward St Aubyn’s At Last, which (whisper it) is my tip for the prize.

But what about the annual argument about Booker judges ignoring genre fiction?

Wittgenstein said that “to imagine a language is to imagine a form of life”. I know this because I read it somewhere in relation to Embassytown, the latest cosmic display of linguistic pyrotechnics by China Miéville, the omission of which – assuming the judges fail their Stadt Dyadic Empathy Test by leaving it off the longlist – will provoke the inevitable fury of SF lovers on the immer and in the out. (No, I’m not going to try to explain that, I’m not an SF writer.)

And what of crime-readers: are they to be disappointed as usual? “The literary writers are seeing lots of people reading us and relatively few people reading them, and they’re cross about it,” said Lee Child, winner of the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award last week. Well, maybe not. Considering the literary output of some of this year’s judges, it is reasonable to suspect that there may be a thriller or two on the list. Two contenders stand out: SJ Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep and Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes. Indeed, the ratings for Elizabeth Haynes’ debut novel are extraordinarily high.

There are always some unknown unknowns that slip through the net, books from smaller publishers that have gone unnoticed and unreviewed until the judges bring them to our attention. Nevertheless I have compiled a list of nearly two hundred novels from those mentioned on the discussion forum at the official Man Booker Prize website and various other websites and blogs. You can see it here.

Also, GoodReads members can vote for their favourites on this list: http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/9854

But remember the wise words of literary agent and novelist David Miller, whose book Today could also sneak onto the longlist: “A prize is not a way to judge a writer. It’s a way of judging a jury.


Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Long Time, No Sit On Your Face 2011 Man Booker Prize Longlist

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