Mantel and Will Self among Man Booker shortlist
It’s one of the most important days of the year in the publishing industry. Because, however much controversy it attracts, the Man Booker shortlist still represents the ultimate stamp of approval from the literary establishment. For an author, nothing packs quite a punch like the title Booker Prize winner. And the six shortlisted authors dreaming of carrying home the title this year are:
Tan Twan Eng for The Garden of Evening Mists
Deborah Levy for Swimming Home
Hilary Mantel for Bring up the Bodies
Alison Moore for The Lighthouse
Will Self for Umbrella
Jeet Thayil for Narcopolis
Peter Stothard, chair of the judges and editor of the Times Literary Supplement, has already gone on record as saying that the key criteria this year was that “a text has to reveal more, the more often you read it”. The judges whittled down a total of 145 novels to a final six which they believe demonstrate “vigour and vividly defined values”, prompt “sustained critical argument” and have the power to form “our words and ideas”. In short, their list is unapologetically highbrow – and one of the most intelligent of recent years.
Of course who does and doesn’t make the Man Booker shortlist always ignites fierce debate. This year’s omission of Zadie Smith, Ian McEwan, John Banville, Pat Barker and Howard Jacobson, none of whom even made the longlist, has already raised eyebrows.
But last year the shortlist attracted an unusually high level of outrage after the judges said they were looking for “readability” and novels that “zipped along”. Literary heavyweight Julian Barnes eventually won but not before several industry figures had come together to announce a new rival book prize – one which they said was set up in direct response to the Booker’s failure to recognise artistic excellence. It’s thought The Literature Prize, as it’s known for the moment, will publish its first shortlist next year.
In the meantime, the pressure was on this year’s Booker judges to come up with a list which would be beyond criticism. A tall order but one which I believe they’ve pulled off.
Incredibly, they’ve managed to come up with a list which hits every spot – a finely balanced combination of literary talent which is almost a work of artistic excellence in its own right. Yes, as many commentators are bound to report, the list places a pronounced emphasis on the new. It includes two debut novelists – Jeet Thayil and Alison Moore – and three novels published by small independent presses. But well-known authors Will Self [pictured right] and previous winner Hilary Mantel [pictured above] are also shortlisted and three of the novels are brought to us by those senior statesmen of literary publishing – Fourth Estate, Bloomsbury and Faber and Faber.
Unusually, this year’s list has an equal male-female split – surely something which should be roundly welcomed. But, perhaps even more importantly, it includes books such as The Lighthouse, Swimming Home and Bring Up the Bodies which have sound literary credentials but are also immensely readable. Who says accessibility and literary merit have to be polar opposites? Certainly not this year’s judges. Their shortlist combines readability with artistic achievement – as if in direct response to last year’s criticism.
Of course I’m sure both judges and organisers (in appointing the judges) will deny their decisions were at all influenced by the controversy surrounding last year’s shortlist. But all the same, their choices look set to make sure that that controversy doesn’t happen again. For this year at least.
If you want to make up your own mind about the shortlist, you’ve got just five weeks to read it. The winner will be announced at London’s Guildhall on Tuesday 16 October.
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