Man Booker Prize shortlist 2018: reaction

There was a time not so many years ago that the announcement of the long list for the Man Booker Prize would have me heading straight to the library.

How things change. I’m still interested in the prize but not to the same extent.  It’s not the fact that the rules changed to allow American authors but that it meant there were fewer authors from other countries on the list. It became less international.

This year I forgot that today would see the long list for the 2018 prize released. It was only that I happened to be in a bookshop and overheard a customer asking the shop owner for his reactions to the list, that my memory was jogged.

There are a few positives about this year’s list:

  • Four debut novels
  • Good mixture of genres with the first ever graphic novel to be long listed. Plus a crime novel. This latter isn’t the first time we’ve had a crime novel on the list but it doesn’t happen often. I have to believe that it reflects the influence of Val McDermid who is a judge this year.
  • Continued presence of independent presses. These publishers deserve the help that inclusion on prize lists can bring because they so often take a punt where the larger companies play safe.
  • Two authors from Wales are included. We’ve had a Welsh author before who actually won the prize (Bernice Rubens in 1970 with The Elected Member) but never two on the same list. Ok the purists among you might say there is only one since unlike Sophie Mackintosh, Belinda Bauer was not born in Wales (in fact the Booker website describes her as English) but she worked in Wales and lives there.  Cause for further celebration is that Bauer who is long listed for Snap, lives in my neighbourhood and I see her in our local library. Now that should surely count for a few votes?

Despite that reflection of diversity I’m sad to see that the international flavour of the prize has diminished even further.  In a nutshell we have a list made up of:

• Two Canadian authors

• Six authors from the UK

• Two writers from Ireland

• Three writers representing the USA

So yet another year when there is not a single author from Oceania on the list. Strange that Peter Carey, a previous winner, didn’t make it this year.

No author from the Indian sub continent. Last year at least we had one Indian and two UK/Pakistan writers on the list.

But once again no author from any African country.

This is such a disappointing trend. One of the things I loved about the Booker lists in the past was the international flavour because it introduced me to new authors from parts of the world whose literature was generally an unknown quantity to me. The Man Booker International Prize doesn’t entirely fill the gap because that is only for fiction translated into English, so many Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans are not eligible.

Do I have any predictions for this year’s ultimate winner? Short answer is no, I haven’t a clue because I’ve not read any of these books. I do have Bauer’s novel on hold at the library because I’ve enjoyed her previous novels but there is a long waiting list. As good as it’s likely to be, I don’t see it winning purely because the Booker judges would be afraid of being labelled “popularist” if they dared to choose a crime novel. I’d be happy for Donal Ryan to win because I thoroughly enjoyed The Spinning Heart and Michael Ondaatje’s previous winner The English Patient is one of my top 3 Booker favourites across all the years. Is it likely they would choose him for their 50th anniversary. If they did it would be a remarkable feat since he was only recently announced as the winner of the Golden Booker prize. Stranger things have happened with the Booker prize however.

The Man Booker Longlist 2018

Belinda Bauer (UK) : Snap (Bantam Press): a thriller by an author from Wales

Anna Burns (UK) : Milkman (Faber & Faber): described as a ‘creepy’ novel set against the background of The Troubles in Ireland

Nick Drnaso (USA)Sabrina (Granta Books): the first graphic novel  to reach the
Booker longlist

Esi Edugyan (Canada): Washington Black (Serpent’s Tail): Edugyan is a previous nominee having been shortlisted in 2011 for Half-Blood Blues

Guy Gunaratne (UK): In Our Mad And Furious City (Tinder Press): a debut                            novel

Daisy Johnson (UK): Everything Under (Jonathan Cape): debut novel from a  Welsh author

Rachel Kushner (USA): The Mars Room (Jonathan Cape):  a novel partly set in a women’s correctional facility from an author who says her inspiration is Don DeLillo

Sophie Mackintosh (UK): The Water Cure (Hamish Hamilton): debut dystopian novel from a young Welsh author

Michael Ondaatje (Canada): Warlight (Jonathan Cape): the only previous                          winner  of the prize to be selected this year

Richard Powers (USA): The Overstory (William Heinemann): Pulitzer- winning                  novelist longlisted in 2014 for Orfeo.

Robin Robertson (UK):  The Long Take (Picador): debut novel from a Scottish poet, written partly in verse

Sally Rooney (Ireland): Normal People (Faber & Faber): the second novel from the winner of the 2017 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award

Donal Ryan (Ireland)From A Low And Quiet Sea (Doubleday Ireland):  Ryan is a previous nominee having been longlisted in 2013 for The Spinning Heart

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 July 24, 2018, in Man Booker Prize and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. I do wonder if part of the exclusion of those authors is perhaps an increase in native language writing? I’m completely making this up but wonder if that at all could have any impact on it since this is for works written and published in English. Who knows though – I’ve also stopped tracking it as closely. Every now and then a book will pop up that I get excited about but overwhelmingly meh.

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  2. Well, Ms Booker Talk, you are surely the one to have rights to opinions on this. Will you be changing your blog’s name? I certainly agree with the loss of international authors being a development in the wrong direction.

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    • Thanks for the boost to my ego Judy:) I’m not planning to change the blog name because I can claim that ‘booker’ could be a descriptor of who I am – ie someone who reads and talks about books a lot. And in the blog I’m talking. i know that the word booker doesn’t really mean what I’ve said it could mean. Why let truth get in the way of a good story??? Besides which I’m lazy and don’t want to go through all the faff of changing the name

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  3. I like Bauer a lot, but I’m surprised to see her on this list. I hope that means her latest is really good! I’ve got Kushner’s book on my library wait list. I look forward to hearing if you like any of the books on the list.

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  4. I agree with your thoughts about list diversity (and not saying that because Aussies mssed out again!).

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  5. I have just bought The Water Cure as I love the sound of it. Not sure yet if I want to read any of the others. My interest in the Booker is much less than it once was.

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  6. Like you, Karen, at the announcement of this longlist, I always made for the library to see what I could scoop up before the queues stretched on past the announcement of the winner. But this year, I’m holding off. Not because the longlist doesn’t inspire me – I share your concerns about where it’s disappointing – but because I’m going to try and read the books on it which I already have. I’ve read two of them – Sally Rooney’s and Guy Gunaratne’s, and the latter was excellent and I’d urge anyone to read it.

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  7. I am not a fan of any of the Literary prizes. I agree they open you other cultures and to authors you might not have encountered, but I do find, especially in recent years that the winners are writing not the greatest books, in my view.

    I give an example – Julian Barnes won an award a few years ago for The Sense of an Ending, actually it was the Booker Prize in 2011. I saw the announcement on Sky News and happened to be in the library when the book was returned as it was on the recently returned shelf. I picked it up and borrowed it. Not the longest book I have ever read and it was OK, but nothing beyond that in my view. Whereas I have read some really brilliant books that I can barely put down. All of our reading styles are different, but in my personal view, many of the books that win these prizes do not, at least for me, have that wow factor.

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  8. Like others (many, many others, it seems), my interest has waned in this prize, and for the same reasons. I have a theory that the – let me call them – left-field choices (the crime and graphic novels) are an attempt to revive some of that waning interest.

    Apropos crime novels, there are those who would argue that the Booker Prize has always had time for crime novels, and has in fact awarded the prize to some. (The Luminaries, The History of Seven Killings). There was once a great discussion about it at Bloody Scotland …

    https://lizzysiddal.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/the-crimes-literary-supplement-would-you-kill-to-win-the-booker-prize/

    For that reason I will read Snap. Also the couple I have in my TBR: The Overstory, Washington Black, and possibly Warlight (to see if I like it more than The English Patient, which failed to register with me at all!)

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    • Shame the English Patient didn’t sparkle for you but it didn’t for many other people either so it wasn’t an overwhelming winner. Good point about previous winners with a criminal flavour though I suspect they were less ‘straightforward’ than Snap.

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  9. I like the description for The Mars Room!

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  10. Yes, you have expressed my thoughts exactly. Of course some of the books will be worth reading, though I have reservations about crime and graphic novels… like Bellezza, I wonder about the literary qualities about such books, (and why that particular judge was selected) but leaving those aside I think it’s probable that there will be good reading from this list.
    But, my tastes have broadened since the days when I used to use the nominated books as a reading guide. I do not want a diet of books from cultures much like my own and writing about first world preoccupations. I want some of that, but not only that.
    And #yawn *that* is what’s wrong with this list.

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    • I suppose you have a definition of “literary” of which you’d like to convince us? And how often do you read graphic novels that you are so confident they cannot be “literary”?

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      • With cabbage, Brussel Sprouts and graphic novels, three tastes in different variations were enough to convince me not to try again. Even Shakespeare as a graphic text fails the test because the imposed images take away the capacity to think imaginatively and interpret the text…
        But please note, I said I had ‘reservations’, and that I ‘wondered about’ those books. Hardly dogmatic, I would have thought…
        And I care not one whit whether you are convinced or not. This is a place to chat about books in a friendly way, not have arguments.

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    • Wholeheartedly agree. I used to read the non British authors on the longlists as a way of broadening my reading but that has now been stolen from me. Obviously our tastes change as we mature as readers but there are now many bloggers all expressing doubts about this prize so there is clearly something amiss

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  11. I have read, and understand, a lot of criticism about the Man Booker Prize being open to American authors. I, too, had more interest in it when it seemed a broader, more international prize. It is interesting (trying to be polite) that both poetry and graphic novels are included this year; on a comment on my own blog, I likened that to Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for literature. I mean really, a songwriter winning a literature prize? I am a purist in the deepest sense, and I wonder about the quality of a graphic novel. However, a novel in poetry was also listed for the Man Booker International Prize this year (The Flying Mountain). I ought to reserve comment as I haven’t read any of this year’s longlist for the Man Booker, but I admit to being skeptical. One more thought, The Mars Room seems to resemble Die, My Love (also on the MBIP this year) in terms of being ‘cutting edge’ (i.e. horribly upsetting about a life gone awry). Is this really what quality literature is about? Not to me.

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    • Ive never read a graphic novel so don’t feel super qualified to judge whether it is a good piece of literature. It seems strange though to put that on the same footing as full blown novels – they surely demand different skills.

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  12. I’ve never been a reader of this list, but I did look forward to it coming out. Since they opened it to Americans I’m hardly interested at all precisely for the reason you state above: it has become a much less international list.

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    • Interesting to get the perspective of an American Chris. I’ve seen many other people from your side of the Atlantic asking what all the fuss is about and why shouldn’t American authors be considered. Refreshing to get a different perspective. I found it very difficult to get books from international authors on my trips to the States. Sure there were the big names but they were always the tried and tested ones, nothing adventurous.

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  13. If I’m honest, I can’t say that anything off the list really calls to me. And agreed about the disappointing variety of countries – the prize never should have been opened up to the USA.

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  14. Very interesting information about this year’s longlisted books! Thanks for putting this together!

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