Booker Prize 2017 – who will make the shortlist?

The Booker Prize judges will announce tomorrow which six books will make it to the shortlist for the 2016 prize. For the first time in the five years since I started this blog when the longlist was announced I discovered I hadn’t read any of the 13 longlisted titles. That shouldn’t have come as a surprise really since this year I’ve focused on reading more from my TBR and consequently a lot less contemporary fiction. But neither did I feel excited enough this year to rush out and acquire a few of the longlist titles. I did get electronic samples of most of them and have decided which interest me the most: Home Fire, Reservoir 13, Autumn, Lincoln in the Bardo and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.  I might even be able to read one or two before the final announcement.

So essentially I’ve been following the prize as a backseat passenger this year. Fortunately there are a few highly dedicated groups and individuals who have taken more of an interest and have been working their way through the list over the past few months.

The Mookse and the Gripes is a very lively Goodreads group of 51 contributors. Based on their scores for each individual book, they’re anticipating that the six shortlisted titles will be:

1 Solar Bones by Mike McCormack
2 Home Fire
by Kamila Shamsi
3 Reservoir 13  by Jon McGregor
4 Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

5 Autumn 
by Ali Smith
6 Days without End 
by Sebastian Barry

They ranked the remaining seven titles as follows:

7 Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Exit West by Hamid
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
10 4321  by Paul Auster
11 
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
12 Elmet by Fiona Mozley
13 History of Wolves   
by Emily Fridlund

Over at The Reader’s Room a smaller but no less dedicated team have ranked the novels according to the quality of writing quality; originality; character development; plot development and readers’ overall enjoyment.

1.  Autumn by Ali Smith
2. Exit West by Hamid
3. 4321 by Paul Auster
4. Lincoln in the Bardo
 by George Saunders
5. Solar Bones by Mike McCormack
6. Home Fire by Kamila Shamsi
7. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
8. History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
9. Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
10. Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
11. Swing Time by Zadie Smith
12. Elmet by Fiona Mozley
13. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

Astonishingly, given the large number of readers of these books, there is a large level of agreement between the Goodreads group and the Reader’s Room. Four of the titles: Solar Bones,  Home Fire, Lincoln in the Bardo and Autumn appear in both lists as likely shortlist contenders.

Where they part company is over Reservoir 13, Exit West and Days without End. 

Reader’s Room reviewers liked the style of Reservoir 13 which was reminiscent of poetry but thought there wasn’t enough character or plot development. Exit West was gauged by one reviewer to “convey incredible depth and emotion” by subtly using magical realism. Only two reviewers for the Reader’s Room read Paul Auster’s 4321 – both commented on its length (900 pages approx) but found it engaging, complex and written in a style bordering on perfection. Over at Goodreads, Paul one reviewer commented that Reservoir 13 was “A wonderful novel — modest in its scope but all the more powerful for it” and a breath of fresh air compared to the over-blown novels that have won in recent years. Another reviewer said it was the most compelling read of the year. There were mixed reviews for Exit West – a number of people thought the writing dull (others completely disagreed) and the migrant experience not fully developed or not realistic. As for 1234,  the length of the book was an issue with a lot of the reviewers – several thought it could easily have been trimmed by 100 or 150 pages without suffering. A few commented that the basic structure of the novel – relaying the vastly different lives of four identical boys formed from the same DNA – was confusing at times but also felt repetitive.

What was interesting for me about both lists was that Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad which was “the” book of 2016, doesn’t come higher on any of the lists. This is the novel that won  the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the Carnegie Medal for Fiction, the Heartland Prize and the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Yet several reviewers didn’t find it to be as innovative as they expected. Will the Booker Prize represent one hurdle too far for this novel?

Not according to Ladbrokes, the bookmakers, who have Whitehead’s novel as the clear favourite to win.

But then, as John Dugdale pointed out in an article for The Guardian an entry in the bookmakers’ lists isn’t any guarantee of success.

The National (an online magazine) has also taken out their crystal ball and come up with a list of who they’d like to see on the shortlist.  They are the only ones to put The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and Swing Time in the frame.

The field is clearly wide open as it were.

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on September 11, 2017, in Bookends, Irish authors, Man Booker Prize and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. I haven’t read any of the books on the longlist this year, and that’s unusual for me, but I’ve been busy with classics. A friend of mine has read six of them and thinks only two of them are any good, Home Fires and Exit West. (And even these he considers four-star books.) Am looking forward to the shortlist and hope to read at least one on that!

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  2. I really didn’t like Lincoln in the Bardo. I thought Undergrown Railroad was far better. I’m probably in the minority though.

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  3. Loved reading this article, I’m just glad I don’t have to pick a winner because I really liked the ones I’ve read.
    BTW I’ve linked your review of The Living to my post about the DSC prize. I have to say that although you say it was okay, I am unlikely to read it even if it wins. Once burned, twice shy they say, and after wading through Another Country, I am just not interested.

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  4. I’m surprised there isn’t more love for Underground Railroad given that six months ago, everyone was raving – are we all a fickle bunch?!

    Of the longlist, I’ve only read two – Swing Time (parts of which I loved, other parts were just okay) and Exit West, which I really didn’t care for at all.

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  5. It’s so interesting to read this summary of responses. A good prize list is bound to generate some interesting discussion. I’ve only read a couple of these but look forward to hearing about the shorlist. One thing is for sure: the longlisting has certainly affected the length of hold lists at the library (but that’s okay: plenty to read in the meantime)!

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  6. I’ve only read The Ministry of Utmost Happiness (abandoned due to utmost tedium) and Days Without End which I enjoyed but don’t see as a potential winner. Intriguing that the two lists show so much similarity – I’ll be interested to see how they compare to the judges’ choices.

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  7. I personally thought The Underground Railroad was excellent. I gave it 4 stars. Haven’t read any of the other ones but I’m planning on reading Swing Time, Days Without End, Home Fire, and maybe Elmet. I surely be reading Reservoir 13 since I won it in an Instagram giveaway from the publisher. I bought Exit West a month ago but now after hearing how bad it is I just want to give it away. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness I’ll read once I’ve read The God of Small Things first. All that to say I’m not really concerned about who’s going to win this one. The Man Booker is tarting to feel too commercial this go round. I expected to see more discovery novels.

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  8. I really enjoyed the Whitehead. I thought he got the tone just right. If he had allowed us to get more involved with Cora what she went through would have been unbearable. However, unlike so many other readers I didn’t like the Shamsie. I couldn’t buy into some of the main characters and simply stopped believing. The outstanding novel for me is the Barry. As far as I’m concerned a novel of this level of assuredness comes along once a decade – if we’re lucky.

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  9. I’ve only read Reservoir 13 and Home Fire from the this year’s longlist both of which are excellent. Of the two Jon McGregor’s novel is my favourite. It’s a book to be read for the beauty of its writing which won’t please everyone, I know.

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  10. I read Exit West, and I was a little underwhelmed by the latter half. Also, the magical realism didn’t work well for me. I loved the beginning though in the war torn areas. I think that portion was done so well.

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  11. I haven’t read any of these! But then, I gravitate toward a different kind of book.

    Ali Smith is an author I read with her book The Accidental…and I really felt frustrated by the experience of reading it. Looking back, I know there were brilliant aspects to the book, so I should probably give the author another go.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  1. Pingback: Booker Prize shortlist brings some surprises | BookerTalk

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