Tuesday, September 09, 2008

2008 Shortlist

The shortlist for the 2008 Man Booker Prize looks like this:

Aravind Adiga - The White Tiger
Sebastian Barry - The Secret Scripture
Amitav Ghosh - Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant - The Clothes on Their Backs
Philip Hensher - The Northern Clemency
Steve Toltz - A Fraction of the Whole

The £50,000 winner will be announced on October 14th.

So, as expected, a big disappointment for me with the omission of John Berger, and with Salman Rushdie missing the cut again (contrary to the popular belief that he always wins, he hasn't even been shortlisted since 1995) there will be a new name on the trophy this year, so to speak. I thought the omens were better for him this year because the Bookies, for once, didn't make him favourite, instead choosing to jinx Joseph O'Neill's Netherland. I say it every year, because every year it's true: the Bookies always get it wrong. Or, cynics might suggest, the judges always avoid picking the favourite. Psychologically, judges are predisposed to promote (relatively) unknown talent. Everyone's a truffle hound. After all, no-one wants to spend months reading over a hundred books, only for their chosen winner to meet with a response like: "well, that was the obvious choice, wasn't it?"

The only one I've read thus far is The White Tiger, and, although I found it a bit more substantial than The Reluctant Fundamentalist from last year's shortlist, I thought the conceit of the narrator writing to the Chinese president before a state visit seemed somewhat random.

The chair of the judges, Michael Portillo, described the books as "intensely readable [...] page-turning [...] thought-provoking [...] ambitious and approachable". I hope so because they have included the two longest books from the longlist: The Northern Clemency and A Fraction of the Whole, both weighing in at over 700 pages. I'm fifth in the library queue for a copy of the former, so I might not get it by Christmas, and, as for the latter, I'm afraid Steve Toltz's name isn't even in the library catalogue yet. For the record, the total number of copies of each longlisted book currently held by all of Nottinghamshire's hundred or so libraries are as follows:

15 The Lost Dog
14 The Clothes on Their Backs
08 Sea of Poppies
07 Child 44
04 Girl In A Blue Dress
03 The Secret Scripture
02 The White Tiger
02 The Northern Clemency
02 The Enchantress of Florence
01 A Case of Exploding Mangoes
01 Netherland
00 From A To X
00 A Fraction of the Whole

That's not many to go around. But is it because there's no demand for literary fiction, because hardbacks are uneconomically expensive, or are libraries just slow to order new books?

It has been pointed out again this year that the sales figures for all the longlisted books combined were less than that of the latest novel by Katie Price aka Jordan. When you consider that, presumably, those sales figures must include sales to libraries, the total number of sales through bookshops of some of these finest of the fine literary novels must be vanity-publishing small.

Anyway I'm off to YouTube now to see if any footage of Professor Sutherland currying and eating his proof copy of The Enchantress of Florence has been uploaded yet...

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