2016 Man Booker Prize Longlist

July 28, 2016 at 1:53 pm Leave a comment

The longlist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize has been announced, and I’m sure the internet has ruined the Booker Prize. The judges clearly see all our speculations and expectations and swerve them. My first instinct was that the list looked a bit bloody, white, and American:

 

Paul Beatty – The Sellout (Oneworld)

J.M. Coetzee – The Schooldays of Jesus (Harvill Secker)

A.L. Kennedy – Serious Sweet (Jonathan Cape)

Deborah Levy – Hot Milk (Hamish Hamilton)

Graeme Macrae Burnet – His Bloody Project (Contraband)

Ian McGuire – The North Water (Scribner)

David Means – Hystopia (Faber & Faber)

Wyl Menmuir – The Many (Salt)

Ottessa Moshfegh – Eileen (Jonathan Cape)

Virginia Reeves – Work Like Any Other (Scribner)

Elizabeth Strout – My Name Is Lucy Barton (Viking)

David Szalay – All That Man Is (Jonathan Cape)

Madeleine Thien – Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Granta)

 

Five are American writers, who would not have been eligible for the prize before the rules were changed two years ago. Six are published by Penguin Random House (as you may have noticed if you received their newsletter). Nothing at all from Africa or Asia. The gender balance is even enough, but then would any Booker jury dare pick a mostly male longlist these days?

Still, maybe we shouldn’t make the mistake of feeding the list through simplistic “diversity algorithms” as Sam Leith laments in The Spectator. Maybe we should count the bodies instead?

A triple murder was the inspiration behind His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet, and Ian McGuire’s The North Water sounds violent, cruel and bloody. Justine Jordan in The Guardian describes it as “so brilliantly nasty, one can barely tear one’s eyes from the page.” A description that reminds me of the last two winners: The Narrow Road to the Deep North and A Brief History of Seven Killings.

I get the impression that brutal, abusive men, and the damage they wreak on the world, might be a common denominator of a number of these books. Maybe that is just the way of the world. Still.

Masculinity is certainly at the heart of David Szalay’s All That Man Is. Some have questioned whether the nine separate segments, each focussing on a different man, constitutes a novel; but challenging the form of the novel should be part of the remit of a literary prize – and, as I have said before, the first Booker Prize in 1969 ought to have been won by Nicholas Mosley with a novel consisting of short stories. John Self was impressed by All That Man Is, and I’m sure that one day he will tell us how impressed he was by Impossible Object. Elizabeth Strout also won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 with a “novel-in-stories” (Olive Kitteridge), and she makes the longlist with the minimalist  My Name Is Lucy Barton, which will be the first longlisted title I read, almost as soon as I stop prattling on here.

The view from the bookface seems to be that this could be the most wide open Booker field ever, but just to be curmudgeonly about it (sorry, you will have to excuse me, I’m in a bad mood as my laptop crashed yesterday) this list reminds me of 2011 – not because of its “readability” – but because I see a lot of also-rans.

I had a hunch back then that the wide open longlist full of unknowns left the way clear for Julian Barnes, who was far and away the biggest name on the longlist, and this time around I’m wondering if the same applies to JM Coetzee.

Coetzee would figure highly in any list of the world’s greatest living writers (even when no-one is quite sure who, or what, he is writing about) so if The Schooldays of Jesus is anywhere close to his best work he could be heading for a Booker hat-trick. Although Booker judges love to be unpredictable, and do usually drop the favourite at the shortlist stage…

Barnes’ himself missed out this year, and I wonder whether that is because The Noise of Time was eclipsed by Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing which has a similarly highbrow mix of 20th-century communist politics and classical music.

Apart from Coetzee, the only other nominee to have been longlisted before is Deborah Levy with her “hypnotic” “dreamscape” of a novel Hot Milk. I’m sure people don’t mean to imply that it is sleep-inducing. (Although comparisons to Virginia Woolf don’t help.)

I was pleasantly surprised to see AL Kennedy finally make the longlist with her eighth novel, Serious Sweet, and pleasantly stunned to see David Means’ Hystopia there – I left it off my list of contenders because I thought it sounded too far-fetched for the Booker. Previously known for writing short-stories, Hystopia is Means’ first novel and is one of four debuts on this list – the other ‘unknown unknowns’ being Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves, Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen and The Many by Wyl Menmuir: whereof I must be silent.

If most of the longlist are also-rans, then they sound like very interesting ones. Not least The Sellout by Paul Beatty, which has been compared to Martin Amis – inevitable for a satirical novel whose protagonist has the surname Me. On reflection I am far more intrigued than disappointed by this list and I am going to assume that the omission of Megan Bradbury’s Everyone Is Watching was down to it not being among the 155 novels submitted to the judges: historian Amanda Foreman, actor Olivia Williams, author Abdulrazak Gurnah, writer and academic Jon Day, and the poet David Harsent.

The shortlist, which I rashly predict to be Coetzee, Levy, McGuire, Strout, Szalay, and Thien, will be announced on Tuesday 13th September. The £50,000 winner will be revealed at the traditional posh do in London’s Guildhall on Tuesday 25th October.

Now let’s all go to http://www.flipsnack.com/booker-prize/ and play with their Booker Predictor…

 

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Many are read, few are chosen. Do Not Say You Were Not Told

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