Do Not Say You Were Not Told
Me again, sorry. I know, I know, nothing for six months then three blog posts in a fortnight - I should show more respect for the maintenance of headway
I just want to clarify something. Last week, my instincts were that the longlist featured so many "also-rans" (books that aren't remotely likely to win) because the judges already knew what their winner was going to be. I just failed to see what that winner was. I wondered whether it might be JM Coetzee's new novel - an unknown quantity not due to be published until September (now brought forward
to August 18th), but while looking deeper into the list, everything fell into place.
One book ticks all the boxes, rings all the right bells, and sparks like a firecracker: the subject matter, the excellent reviews, and the brilliant style exhibited by an extract which reminded me of The Last Samurai
(superficially at least, but you know how it is with blogging - any excuse to plug one of your favourite books). A book I didn't think I was interested in, which I am now excited about.
So I want to make it clear that Madeleine Thien is not an also-ran. In fact I will go to the foot of our stairs if Do Not Say We Have Nothing
doesn't win. I haven't been this convinced about a potential Booker winner since Wolf Hall
Something else I see in my crystal ball is the Bookies whining about rumours and betting patterns as more and more people read it, as happened
with Wolf Hall. Earlier today the silly sods at Paddy Power were offering the silly odds of 25-1 - although those odds
have now shrunk a little.
Do Not Say We Have Nothing
would - will - be Granta's first Booker Prize winner, and you can - should - read the first chapter at their website: http://granta.com/do-not-say-extract/
Many are read, few are chosen.
Did I mention that I don't like the Man Booker Prize longlist? It means that instead of spending August reading books I hope the judges will choose, I spend it trying to get hold of the ones they did. It also means seven weeks less time to read some of the possible contenders, and that makes trying to predict which books will be on the longlist when it is announced on Wednesday (27th July) even more foolish, so please ignore any predictions I may accidentally make here.
I added as many possible contenders as I could to the list of eligible titles on Goodreads
, which this year has ballooned to accommodate almost two hundred possibilities, but I have no doubt that the judges will descry a few more. There are a number of others that I couldn't squeeze on, including several highly-recommended books whose publication date on Goodreads suggested they were not eligible. I think if I were a publisher, getting the correct information onto the internet would be quite high on my to-do-list. Apologies to any authors who have been overlooked. Feel free to console yourself by getting your book repeatedly nominated for the Guardian's Not The Booker Prize
by people who haven't read it.
We live in increasingly interesting times
, where dystopias feel far too close to home, giving science fiction tropes more leverage than they have had for decades, something Val McDermid explored in her Artsnight
programme this week. Which brings me to the old bugbear of Booker judges bypassing books set in the future.
Take The Sunset Pilgrims
by Jenni Fagan, which is set in the winter of 2020-21 - a date that, despite its imminence, still looks and sounds like one of Captain Kirk's stardates to my generation. With characters coming to terms with cataclysmic climate change and transgender issues, it is a book of our times, and would sit nicely on a Booker shortlist.
I also enjoyed Ros Barber's excellent Devotion
, which had echoes of Brave New World
, Enduring Love
and - inevitably for a book set in the near-future whose protagonist is a paranoid, suicidal, psychiatrist - the works of JG Ballard (who, you will remember, only got shortlisted for the Booker when he wrote about the past in Empire of the Sun
.) But I'm still not sure what to make of Aliya Whiteley's small and perfectly odd The Arrival of Missives
- A Month In The Country
meets the new-weird?
Other futuristic or dystopian novels I am keen to read and would be delighted to see on the longlist include A Field Guide to Reality by Joanna Kavenna, The Countenance Divine by Michael Hughes, Hunters & Collectors by M. Suddain, The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver, When The Floods Came by Clare Morrall and The Unseen World by Liz Moore. I am not holding my breath on their behalves though.
Booker juries are always more receptive to historical fiction, and this year there are a couple of North American century-spanning epics for them to consider: The Fortunes
by Peter Ho Davies, and Annie Proulx's Barkskins
- her first novel for over a decade - which was my tip for the prize until it received rather mixed reviews. I would expect one or both of them to be on the list.
Other 800+page gorillas that the judges may have tackled include Garth Risk Hallberg's City on Fire
; and Louis Armand's 888-page behemoth The Combinations
, which has been described as “Kafka’s The Trial
meets Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities
” (possibly by the author himself for all I know); but not Alan Moore's Jerusalem
- which is published too late for this year's prize.
In recent years Booker juries have tended to choose winners who are either very well-known (Hilary Mantel, Julian Barnes) or very much unknown (Kiran Desai, Aravind Adiga, Eleanor Catton, Richard Flanagan, Marlon James), so perhaps some Rumsfeldian Analysis is called for...
Known Knowns - well-received works by established writers
The Noise of Time
by Julian Barnes and Graham Swift's Mothering Sunday
have both received citical acclaim making them strong favourites, and Edna O'Brien's The Little Red Chairs
also has a lot of admirers.
I would be surprised if Howard Jacobson isn't on the longlist as per usual with his contribution to the Hogarth Shakespeare series Shylock Is My Name
. It is full of his customary satirical wit - including the odd sentence that, if Jane Austen were alive, she would want returned.
Unknown Knowns - forthcoming works by established writers
New books are on the way from Ali Smith (Autumn), Jonathan Safran Foer (Here I Am) and previous winners Ian McEwan (Nutshell) and JM Coetzee (The Schooldays of Jesus).
Known Unknowns - Books by unknown writers with a buzz around them
Winners of other prizes that are eligible for this year's Booker include The Sympathiser
by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which won Pulitzer prize earlier this year and Kevin Barry's Beatlebone
- winner of the Goldsmith's Prize for 2015. Chinelo Okparanta's first novel Under the Udala Trees
, won the 2016 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction, and Garth Greenwell's What Belongs To You
seems to be this year's nominee for “the Great Gay Novel for our times
”. Two other debut novels I would not be surprised to see on the longlist are Homegoing
by Yaa Gyasi and Taduno's Song
by Odafe Atogun.
And many, many more as the K-Tel advert used to say...
Unknown Unknowns - books we haven't heard of by writers we don't know
“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”
My sleepy eyes are struggling to read as many books as I would like these days, and I do not believe that I have read this year's Booker winner yet - although I am hoping that will change when I finally get hold of The Cauliflower®
by Nicola Barker. And I will stick my neck out and predict that Megan Bradbury's debut novel Everyone Is Watching
ought to be on the shortlist. Art, love, and life dance through the pages of this "beautiful, kaleidoscopic imagining of the artists' creation of New York“ (Eimear McBride). My fingers are crossed for both.
The judges for the prize are chaired by the historian Amanda Foreman, alongside actor Olivia Williams, author Abdulrazak Gurnah, writer and academic Jon Day, and the poet David Harsent.
Judges for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize have also been announced
. In the chair is Nick Barley, Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and he is joined by translator Daniel Hahn; authors Elif Shafak and Chika Unigwe and the poet Helen Mort. They can all be followed on Twitter... @nickbarleyedin @danielhahn02 @HelenMort @Elif_Safak & @chikaunigwe and, of course, there is a list for potential contenders at Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/95298
Vegetarian Takes The Cake
The Man Booker International Prize for 2016 has been awarded
to South Korean author Han Kang for her novel The Vegetarian
. Translator Deborah Smith shares the £50,000 prize.
Originally published as three separate stories, The Vegetarian tells the story of a young woman who chooses to live like a plant as a way of rejecting the violence inherent in human nature, and was the unanimous choice of the six judges.
The brilliant shortlist this year was perhaps a good illustration of why translated literary fiction now outsells
literary fiction written in English in the UK.
Meanwhile, the longlist for the ordinary (ornery?) UK Man Booker Prize 2016 will be revealed on July 27th, with the shortlist following on September 13th and the winner announced on October 25th.
There are at least nine former winners with novels out this year: Aravind Adiga, Julian Barnes, JM Coetzee, Howard Jacobson, James Kelman, Thomas Keneally, Yann Martel, Ian McEwan, Graham Swift. Yes, they are all men, but never fear, there are plenty of strong female contenders too - please peruse and vote for your favourites on the (far-from-exhaustive) list of eligible titles on goodreads:
2016 Man Booker International Prize shortlist
After reading 155 novels constituting "the finest fiction in translation" the judges of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize have settled on this shortlist
José Eduardo Agualusa (Angola) – A General Theory of Oblivion (Harvill Secker)
Translator: Daniel Hahn
Elena Ferrante (Italy) – The Story of the Lost Child (Europa Editions)
Translator: Ann Goldstein
Han Kang (South Korea) – The Vegetarian (Portobello Books)
Translator: Deborah Smith
Orhan Pamuk (Turkey) – A Strangeness in My Mind (Faber & Faber)
Translator: Ekin Oklap
Robert Seethaler (Austria) – A Whole Life (Picador)
Translator: Charlotte Collins
Yan Lianke (China) – The Four Books (Chatto & Windus)
Translator: Carlos Rojas
The shortlisted authors and translators receive £1,000 each.
The winner of the £50,000 prize (shared equally by the author and the translator) will be announced at a dinner in London's Victoria & Albert Museum on May 16th. The big question is will 'Elena Ferrante' - the resolutely pseudonymous
Italian author - show up?
I would like to take this opportunity to add my condolences to the family and friends of Kevin Peterson a.k.a. KevinfromCanada
, one of the best literary bloggers and commentators, who died last month
. Canadian literature has lost a great champion.