Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Alice Munro awarded the Man Booker International Prize

Congratulations to Canadian Alice Munro, who has been awarded the third Man Booker International Prize, worth £60,000. The prize was previously awarded to Ismail Kadaré in 2005 and Chinua Achebe in 2007. Munro's latest collection of short stories Too Much Happiness will be published in October.

But what about this year's Man Booker Prize itself?

Amis, Atwood, Bainbridge, Brookner, Byatt, Coetzee... those are just some of the A's, B's and C's of perennial Booker prize contenders with novels out this year. (Well, probably - a new Martin Amis novel arrives when it arrives, and wasn't Beryl Bainbridge's latest - and perhaps her last? - novel first scheduled for publication a year or two ago?)

So which books might the judges be busy reading? (Or at least should be busy reading, rather than faffing around being funny on The Now Show, Heresy or QI - yes, that means you, Sue Perkins.) There are usually around 120 to 130 books submitted for the prize, and this year there are some very long books amongst the possible contenders: The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and Stone's Fall by Iain Pears are all over 600 pages long. As always then, the judges have a lot of reading to do. If I were them I would aim to start a new book every day, give it a couple of hours, and if it's still a bit meh after a hundred pages or so, leave it. No point grinding through any clunkers. The ones you are looking for are the ones you cannot put down and will have to be prised from your cold dead hands.

Being unputdownable is an obvious advantage, but being irresistible (unnotpickupable?) in the first place helps too, so we shouldn't underestimate the importance of design to a book's success in subconciously persuading judges that it is an object of style and quality, as well as enkindling the desire in the rest of us to pick it up and take it home. Recently I found myself drawn to two books purely by virtue of their beautifully designed covers:

The Great Lover

Jill Dawson


The Glass Room

Simon Mawer

I very much enjoyed reading the latter, which I think has the feel of a shortlist contender. I hesitate to say any more in case I jinx it like I did with Gerard Woodward's A Curious Earth in 2007.

Of course, in the bad old days Booker judges had the habit of appearing to use the prize as a reward to a long-deserving author, rather than as an award for the best book of the year. This year the favourite on an he-should-have-won-before-now basis is Colm Toibin, who many people feel deserved to win the prize with The Blackwater Lightship in 1999 and/or The Master in 2004. Much as I wish he had won the Booker before (not least because a win for The Blackwater Lightship would have made wins for The Line of Beauty and The Gathering less likely on a been-there-done-that basis) it is always unsatisfactory when an author wins for one of his lesser books. Unless I am wrong to assume that Brooklyn is a lesser novel that is.

Personally, if I had to pick a favourite at this stupidly early stage I would have to nominate Adam Thorpe's Hodd. However I must declare an interest here because, as a loyal Nottinghamian, I feel duty bound to root for a novel about our very own outlaw in the hope that it can match the success of Ned Kelly in 2001 and steal the prize.

The longlist will be announced on July 28th, the shortlist on September 8th, and the winner on October 6th (all Tuesdays).

During the meanwhilst, here is a gratuitous list of fifty books that might be contenders for this year's Man Booker Prize longlist:

Gil Adamson - The Outlander
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - The Thing Around Your Neck
Aravind Adiga - Between the Assassinations: A Novel in Stories
Monica Ali - In the Kitchen: A Novel
Martin Amis - The Pregnant Widow
Margaret Atwood - The Year of the Flood
Tash Aw - Map of the Invisible World
Beryl Bainbridge - The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress
Joseph Boyden - Through Black Spruce
Anita Brookner - Strangers
A.S. Byatt - The Children's Book
Eleanor Catton - The Rehearsal
Amit Chaudhuri - The Immortals
Brian Chikwava - Harare North
J.M. Coetzee - Summertime
Amanda Craig - Hearts and Minds
Rana Dasgupta - Solo
Jill Dawson - The Great Lover
Geoff Dyer - Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi
Charles Elton - Mr Toppit
Adam Foulds - The Quickening Maze
Sarah Hall - How to Paint a Dead Man
Samantha Harvey - The Wilderness
Lawrence Hill - The Book of Negroes
Tobias Hill - The Hidden
M. J. Hyland - This is How
Kazuo Ishiguro - Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall
Liz Jensen - The Rapture
Francesca Kay - An Equal Stillness
Chris Killen - The Bird Room
Patrick Lane - Red Dog, Red Dog
Hilary Mantel - Wolf Hall
Simon Mawer - The Glass Room
Anne Michaels - The Winter Vault
Peter Murphy - John the Revelator
Patrick McCabe - The Holy City
Colum McCann - Let the Great World Spin
Sam Mills - The Last Days of England
Tim Murgatroyd - Taming Poison Dragons
Iain Pears - Stone's Fall
Jacob Polley - Talk of the Town
Anna Richards - Little Gods
Kamila Shamsie - Burnt Shadows
Amanda Smyth - Black Rock
D.J. Taylor - Ask Alice
Adam Thorpe - Hodd
Colm Toibin - Brooklyn
William Trevor - Love and Summer
Barry Unsworth - Land of Marvels
Sarah Waters - The Little Stranger

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