Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Next King of Bookland

The judges for the 2007 Man Booker Prize have been announced.

In the chair this year is
Howard Davies, director of the London School of Economics and Political Science. The only other man on the panel is Giles Foden author of The Last King of Scotland - which is doubtless enjoying a surge in sales following the release of the movie starring Forest Whitaker, whose performance as Idi Amin is likely to win him the Oscar® for Best Actor at the Academy Awards® tomorrow.

The other three judges are the poet
Wendy Cope, biographer and critic Ruth Scurr and the actress Imogen Stubbs.

They now have six months to whittle down over a hundred books to a longlist of just twelve titles - much fewer than in previous years - with the shortlist of six following in September. The winner will be announced at a ceremony on October 16th.

As usual,
Perry Middlemiss has been quick off the mark with his list of shortlist possibles which includes several books by women writers who have been shortlisted before: Marina Lewycka (Two Caravans), Rachel Seiffert (Afterwards), Rose Tremain (The Road Home) and one who, surprisingly, hasn't: A.L. Kennedy (Day).

But the most notable has to be Beryl Bainbridge whose first novel for six years - The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress - is due in September. She has never won the prize despite being shortlisted five times, for The Dressmaker (1973), The Bottle-Factory Outing (1974), An Awfully Big Adventure (1990), Every Man For Himself (1996) and Master Georgie, which lost out to Ian McEwan's Amsterdam in 1998 (what a thin year that was!) and he could also be in contention again this year with On Chesil Beach.

Other previous winners with books out this year include Graham Swift (
Tomorrow) and Pat Barker (Life Class). Barker won the prize for The Ghost Road in 1995, the third book in her Regeneration trilogy (perhaps there was a degree of recognition that the first book in the trilogy shouldn't have been overlooked). I wonder if her namesake Nicola Barker will achieve some recognition with her latest novel Darkmans which, at a pinch, might also be considered the third of a trio (following Wide Open and Behindlings) - assuming her work isn't too weird to register on the judges' radar.

I'm also indebted to
Perry's list for pointing me in the direction of Rupert Thomson's Death of a Murderer - which centres on the thoughts of a police officer guarding the body of Myra Hindley overnight. That's sure to be even more controversial than Justin Cartwright's The Song Before it is Sung with its backdrop of the plot to assassinate Hitler in July 1944.

Other contenders include Sebastian Faulks (Engleby), Blake Morrison (South of the River) and Jim Crace (The Pesthouse) - who should have won the Booker ten years ago, but didn't (Quarantine lost out to Arundhati Roy's beautifully-written, but nauseating novel The God of Small Things).

Last, but clearly not least, JM Coetzee (
Diary of a Bad Year) and Salman Rushdie (Parallelville) both have novels slated for later in the year, although the publication date for Rushdie's book seems to have been pushed back to December - too late for this year's prize? (The cut-off point is normally the end of September.)

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