Wednesday, September 13, 2017

2017 Man Booker Prize Shortlist

The surprising shortist for the 2017 Man Booker Prize has been announced,  it looks like this:

Paul Auster - 4 3 2 1
Emily Fridlund - History of Wolves
Mohsin Hamid - Exit West
Fiona Mozley - Elmet
George Saunders - Lincoln in the Bardo
Ali Smith - Autumn

My favourite band are releasing a single next month, for the first time in many years. It makes me want to bang my head against a wall - not in a heavy metal way, but in a why-have-they-done-that-it-is-the-worst-song-on-the-album way. I suspect many people will feel the same about this shortlist, culled from what was probably the strongest Booker longlist ever. There will also be murmurs of 'told you so' with regard to it being 50% American.

I didn't make a prediction this year, but if I had it would probably have been the same as this one: - almost entirely wrong. It is as if the judges looked at the bookies' odds, and the predictions and preferences of bloggers, and shortlisted the least fancied ones. The exceptions being George Saunders' Lincoln In The Bardo and Ali Smith's Autumn.

George Saunders will now be the clear favourite. Lincoln In The Bardo is a typically kooky account of the night of Abraham Lincoln's son's death featuring the points of view of various (ex-)people in limbo. Truly novel, and much more readable than any attempts to describe it.

I read Ali Smith's Autumn when it came out last year, and I have to confess to remembering nothing about it. I do love Ali Smith's writing though so I will give it another read. I might re-read Exit West as well for the same reason, although I felt the surreal (magic realist?) device of doorways from one part of the world to another weakened it's impact. I preferred How To Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia.

Many column inches will be devoted to Fiona Mozley the "29-year-old" (one of the youngest people ever to be shortlisted) "bookshop worker" (she works in the Little Apple Bookshop on York) and "PhD student" (she is doing a doctorate on medieval English forests as 'forbidden landscapes' at the University of York). I am not surprised to see her make the shortlist. Elmet is a memorable debut with a terrific climax. On the other hand I was slightly baffled by the inclusion of Emily Fridlund's History of Wolves on the longlist, and absolutely astonished to see it reach the shortlist. Not a bad book, but why has it been chosen ahead of so many other brilliant ones?

This may not the shortlist anyone expected, and the omission of such strong (and other-award-winning novels) make it appear weaker than it might have been, but it includes three or four authors I really love, so I am not complaining. (Sorry, did it sound like I was? I have a touch of toothache, please blame any grouchiness on that.)

I say three or four because the jury is out on one of them. The only book on the shortlist I haven't finished yet is Paul Auster's magnum opus 4 3 2 1. It is compelling reading, but at times so detailed that I want to yell: 'stop trying to be Dickens!' Effectively four books in one - or three books and a novella, if you want a spoiler - it traces four possible life-paths of one character, the same age as the author. I have been taking a break from it, five hundred pages in, so still a long way to go. If the judges (author Sarah Hall, artist Tom Phillips, travel writer Colin Thubron, literary critic Lila Azam Zanganeh and their chair: crossbench peer Baroness Lola Young) really have read it twice, and are going to read it a third time, they must really, really love it. Or they just really love reading, which is as it should be. Add to My MSN Add to My Yahoo! Add to Google - Get paid to have your say
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