Monday, July 16, 2012

Man Booker Prize 2012: Longlist contenders

The longlist for the 2012 Man Booker Prize will be announced next week (July 25th), so it must be make-myself-look-silly-by-predicting-all-the-wrong-books time.

So far 2012 has been a good year for Millers, with Andrew Miller winning the Costa Book of the Year for Pure, and Madeline Miller winning the Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles. Well, that's it then, Alex Miller is bound to win with Autumn Laing... Oh, but just in case it's not that simple, let's take a look at some of the other contenders...

Firstly, the big historical tomes. Not my cup of tea, then again neither is tea, but millions swear by it. Will Bring Up The Bodies - Hilary Mantel's follow-up to Wolf Hall, be trumped by Merivel: A Man of His Time - Rose Tremain's sequel to Restoration (which was shortlisted for the Booker in 1989) or Ros Barber's ambitious novel in verse The Marlowe Papers? And have I jinxed John Saturnall's Feast, Lawrence Norfolk's first novel in twelve years, by tipping it as a potential winner? I would certainly expect to see at least one or two of those on the list, but four books set in 16th-17th century not-so-Merrie Englande would surely be an overdose.

Now that the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award is safely in the bag for Andy Murray, could Scotland do the double and produce a Man Booker Prize winner as well? It is eighteen years since How Late It Was, How Late won, and I would not bet against James Kelman winning the prize again eventually, but I've not heard any strong vibes in favour of Mo Said She Was Quirky as yet. Scotland has also provided us with one of most impressive debuts of the year though: The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan - and arguably, the best title: Kerry Hudson's Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma.

But on the basis of a number of outstanding reviews, The Deadman's Pedal - which Alan Warner began writing more than twenty years ago - sounds like a strong contender. Come September I would not be surprised to hear the bookies bleating - because when they set the odds they will almost certainly overprice it. (Assuming the judges don't make me look like a right barmpot by leaving it off the list.)

Or could this be Martin Amis's year? The acid test for the judges ought to be: what would we think of Lionel Asbo if it was a debut novel by an unknown writer? I think we would probably be comparing it to Vernon God Little. Well, I would, albeit tempered by words like 'nearly'. It is a sparky piece of contemporary satire and (unlike tea) that is my cup of tea, so I would like to see it on the longlist - but then again, I would have longlisted Ben Elton's Blind Faith in 2007 so what do I know?

Every year, the focus ends up on which authors the judges have "snubbed" and this year looks like a very strong year which means that lots of big names will have to be "snubbed". (To judge for yourself just how strong the field is for this years prize there is a list of 150+ possible contenders here.)

As well as Amis, possible snubbees include Ian McEwan (Sweet Tooth), Zadie Smith (NW) and John Banville, whose latest, Ancient Light, appears to have been damned with fantastic praise - the cover carries this gushing recommendation from Sebastian Barry: "Could any book be better? Did it even need to be as tremendous as this?" - Others have been less generous (how could they not?) One reader (Archer) on the official Man Booker prize forum said: "I found the novel incredibly tedious, and surprisingly bloodless and toothless for a book that is ostensibly about erotic passion. The only thing Banville is passionate about is his thesaurus." Ouch!

There was an excellent two-part article article in the New Yorker recently by Michael Cunningham relating his experience of being a judge for the Pulitzer Prize earlier this year. He hits the nail on the head several times over. "A literary prize is, at best, " he says, "one way of drawing readers to a book that deserves more serious attention than it might have gotten without a prize."

The trouble is that prize juries can get carried away, throw out too much ballast and leave the prize looking lightweight. Like last year. And 2006, when Hermione Lee's panel omitted some, in her words: "talented and exceptional and splendid writers" explaining that "they don’t need us. They will go on regardless."

Peter Carey was one of the exceptional writers omitted that year. Yes, he has already won the prize twice, but so what? He will probably win four or five. He is one of the best writers in the world and his novels are a benchmark of quality fiction and, as such, everyone else's work should be weighed against his. So if The Chemistry of Tears isn't on the longlist, I will question the judges' agenda. Others may go further and question the judges' lineage if they fail to include Keith Ridgway on the longlist - particularly John_Self who says that "Hawthorn & Child exhaustively answers the question: What do you want from a book?" Ostensibly about two police detectives trying to track down a gangster, as Jeremy Beale says on BookOxygen, it "certainly isn’t a conventional crime novel, or indeed a conventional novel of any kind."

Hopefully, after suggestions of dumbing down in recent years, this year's jury will be more receptive to the sui generis. There are certainly plenty of unconventional books around to get readers' minds spinning. As well as Hawthorn and Child and The Marlowe Papers, there is Nell Leyshon's "Brontë-esque" novella The Colour of Milk; Richard Milward's experimental novel - Kimberly's Capital Punishment - which has six alternative endings ("Bring your own dice"); the genre-bending Jack Glass by Adam Roberts; The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman (the protagonist of which you can follow on Twitter @EgonLoeser); Sam Mills' literary headfuck The Quiddity of Will Self; and the Will Self, himself, whose latest, Umbrella, is, according to The Guardian a stream of consciousness novel "uninterrupted by chapters or line breaks". "Self has never been shortlisted for the Booker," they point out, "but Umbrella is such a linguistically adept, emotionally subtle and ethically complex novel that this could and should be his year."

Now that's the stuff. And if the Man Booker Prize doesn't reward experimental novels, who else will? (The new Literature Prize? Whatever happened to that? Does anyone know?) My ideal Booker longlist would have a mixture of challenging and genuinely novel novels alongside the beautifully written and the more straightforward but compelling narratives.

One such straightforward but compelling and, dare I say it, page-turning tale that I would be sad to see omitted is Hinterland by Caroline Brothers. The story of two young brothers from Afghanistan trying to make their way across Europe to the UK - illegally, of course - it flows beautifully, and believably, to its inevitably heartrending end. Barbara Trapido quite rightly describes it as "a story that all of us should read." Jackie Bailey makes a similar claim for The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman: "The world would be a better place if everyone read this book and understood its important message", she says.

I am asking GoodReads members to vote for their favourite eligible titles, and some of the highest rated books so far are: Absolution by Patrick Flanery, Rhumba by Elaine Proctor, The Coward's Tale by Vanessa Gebbie, The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (which is likely to be one of the most talked about books of the year that doesn't have either of the words "shades" or "vacancy" in the title). Plus another wonderful novel featuring a pair of brothers: Stephen May's Life! Death! Prizes! Feel free to add your vote here:

www.goodreads.com/list/show/16700.Man_Booker_Prize_Eligible_2012 

Lastly, two authors who, amazingly, have never even been longlisted for the Booker are Sebastian Faulks (A Possible Life is out in September) and Adam Thorpe. Every year someone says pooh to the judges if they don't include one particular book on the shortlist, and this year it is Kate Saunders in The Times, who says that Thorpe's latest, Flight, is "a breakneck, knuckle-whitening thriller, written with absolute brilliance - pooh to the Booker judges if this is not on the shortlist."

One thing is clear then, you should not agree to judge the Man Booker prize if you don't like people saying pooh to you.


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5 Comments:

At Friday, July 20, 2012 at 3:08:00 AM GMT+1, OpenID kevinfromcanada said...

Hi Phillip,

I saw from a Tweet on the "new" ManBooker Prize site that you had already raised a question about what happened to debate and forum from the old site.

As you probably know, I'm banned so won't be getting any notification -- although it is typical of Colman Getty that they shut it down and then say "oh, we'll tell you later". Since there is no longer a forum, I'm wondering if you could provide an update on what you might hear on this site.

It is too bad. Only a few years ago, this was the best book discussion site anywhere. Now, they just shut it down without warning in the middle of the nite.

Cheers,

KevinfromCanada

 
At Friday, July 20, 2012 at 6:40:00 AM GMT+1, Blogger Tarquin said...

Actually when I noticed the forums were gone then I came straight here as my back up source and I see Kevin's post - why were you banned btw? - I didn't get any notification either, don't think anyone did.

Anyway, if the forums don't come back (even if they do) I might be up for starting a new one or a site/blog somewhere as I think there is definitely a need and it wasn't being met even then the official ones were in full flow. Anyone interested let me know.

 
At Friday, July 20, 2012 at 11:42:00 PM GMT+1, Blogger Phillip Edwards said...

Hi guys,

When I couldn't find the forum last night I assumed it had just been moved and was buried under a sub-menu or something. If they really have deleted all the threads and conversations there without any warning, that is appalling. I will let you know if/when I get an email from them.

Anyone else from the old forum might want to check out Mookse's new one here:

http://mookseandgripes.myfreeforum.org/

 
At Friday, July 20, 2012 at 11:59:00 PM GMT+1, Blogger Phillip Edwards said...

There are several groups on Goodreads that could be used more as well.

One for the Booker:

http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/880-booker-list

and one for literary prizes in general:

http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/622-literary-prizes

 
At Tuesday, July 24, 2012 at 3:14:00 PM GMT+1, Blogger Phillip Edwards said...

kidzdoc on the Library Thing longlist speculation thread (http://www.librarything.com/topic/136921) has pointed out that the forum has been (temporarily?) archived, and can be seen here:
http://archive.themanbookerprize.com/forum/

 

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