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29 Jul 2014 11:00
Eleanor Catton was last year's Man Booker prize winner. (Reuters)
Howard Jacobson, David Mitchell and Ali Smith are among the British
heavyweight writers who will compete for the Man Booker prize in its first
incarnation as a global literary award, along with David Nicholls, writer of the bestsellers
and One Day, it was announced last week.
Thirteen novels were named on the longlist for the prize, which for
than 40 years has rewarded only Commonwealth and Irish writers.
changed last year, sparking fears that it would quickly be dominated by
In the event, judges chose four Americans: Joshua Ferris, Siri
Karen Joy Fowler and Richard Powers.
This year’s chair of judges, philosopher AC Grayling, said it had
been a vintage year. “They are very ambitious books and some of them tackle big issues of
day,” he said. “There’s a lot of perceptiveness and wisdom in these books,
some of them are quite moving and all of them are very difficult to put
down once you get into them – a feature of just how richly textured they
are and what great stories they tell.”
Some eyebrows will be raised at only three female writers being listed. It
is also striking for who is not on it – Martin Amis, Ian
McEwan, Sarah Waters, Damon Galgut, Philip Hensher, Will Self, Nicola
Barker, Linda Grant, Christos Tsiolkas or Donna Tartt.
Grayling said they had chosen the books on merit, not the nationality,
gender or reputation of the writers. “We said to ourselves: ‘The past
record is not going to count. We are not going to give a prize to someone
who should have got it years ago. We are just looking at the quality of
books by themselves.’”
Completing the lineupThe only former winner listed is Howard Jacobson. He won in 2010 for The
Question and is included for his yet-to-be-published J, a love
story set in the future, which his publishers have said will be talked
about in the same breath as
Brave New World.
As widely predicted, David Mitchell, author of
The Cloud Atlas, is
The Bone Clocks. The other British writers are Calcutta-born
Neel Mukherjee for
The Lives of Others, the twice-shortlisted Ali Smith
How to be Both, Nicholls for Us and Paul Kingsnorth for his crowd-funded novel The Wake – the most left-field title on the list, set in 11th-century
and told in a semi-invented Old English language.
Joshua Ferris, once hailed as the “new Jonathan Franzen”, is
for his third novel,
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, which tells the story
of an anxious dentist in a state of existential crisis.
Completing the lineup of works by US authors are Karen Joy Fowler’s
Are All Completely Besides Ourselves, a comic tale of family love with a
twist; Siri Hustvedt’s
The Blazing World which explores themes including
art world sexism and celebrity; and Richard Powers’s
Orfeo, which the
Guardian said was a fiction equivalent of reading Alex Ross’s
The Rest is
Joseph O’Neill – writer of the 2008 hit
Netherland – is longlisted for
his fourth novel,
The Dog, not yet published and described as “a tale of
alienation and heartbreak in Dubai”.
‘Taxingly obscure pretension’The list includes books little noticed elsewhere. Few newspapers have
yet reviewed Niall Williams’s
The History of the Rain, for example, and
at-a-glance review in the
Sunday Times complained the book “is so steeped
in literary references, quirky meanderings and watery metaphors that it
risks falling into the category of taxingly obscure pretension rather than
sophisticated literary fiction”.
The list is completed by
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Australian writer Richard Flanagan.
Grayling said “outstanding” books had unquestionably not made it. “All
of us round the table would have liked the longlist to be just a tiny bit
longer ... but we are pretty pleased with the list from what is a vintage
There are no debut writers this year and, arguably, the arrival of
seems to have edged out non-British Commonwealth writers.
Ion Trewin, the
prize’s literary director, said it was more to do with the quality of the
books, however. “I just don’t think it is necessarily one of the great
years for the Commonwealth.”
Bookmaker Ladbrokes straight away named Mukherjee as a 3-1 favourite for the
prize, followed by Mitchell and Smith at 6-1. They were offering odds of
2-1 for an American to win.
‘Novel as an artform’Jonathan Ruppin, the web editor at Britain’s Foyles bookshops, said
familiar names on the list would help sales. “After a couple of years
the prize returned to its more traditional role of celebrating the novel
an artform, this year’s panel seem more taken by the many ways a story can
Unlike previous years, when Booker judges met over lunch or dinner,
said he had chosen a more “austere” route of afternoon tea discussions. He
was joined by five other judges, Jonathan Bate, Sarah Churchwell, Daniel
Glaser, Alastair Niven and Erica Wagner.
They will now get the list down to six, announced in September, with
the £50 000 winner named at a formal black-tie dinner.
The Booker longlist in full:Joshua Ferris (US) - To Rise Again at a Decent Hour Richard Flanagan (Australia) - The Narrow Road to the Deep North Karen Joy Fowler (US) - We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves Siri Hustvedt (US) - The Blazing World Howard Jacobson (Britain) - J Paul Kingsnorth (Britain) - The Wake David Mitchell (Britain) - The Bone Clocks Neel Mukherjee (Britain) - The Lives of Others David Nicholls (Britain) - Us Joseph O’Neill (Ireland) - The Dog Richard Powers (US) - Orfeo Ali Smith (Britain) - How to Be Both Niall Williams (Ireland) - History of the Rain
– Guardian News & Media 2014
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