It’s Booker Prize season once more. The 2019 longlist was announced this week, triggering a process that will end on October 14 when the winner will pick up their £50,000 cheque.
It all felt very familiar.
But there was one thing different this year.
The judges made their usual remarks about the diversity and richness of the novels submitted for consideration. And, as so often in the past, they described their experience of reading 151 novels as “exhilarating.” It’s not my idea of exhilaration but perhaps that’s why I’ve never had the call inviting me to become a Booker Prize judge.
There was no controversy about the longlist.
No complaints about the imbalance between male and female authors.
No complaints that the judges were dumbing down the prize, trading literary experimentation and creativity for re-readability and popularity
And no complaints that the prize was becoming dominated by American authors at the expensive of those from Commonwealth countries.
The reaction to the longest announcement was in fact rather muted.
Booker Prize: Reactions from Experts
What’s all the fuss about?
The surprise about this year’s Booker longlist? That for the first time in years, there are few surprises.Justine Jardin, The Guardian
Justin Jardin’s reaction encapsulated the responses of many literary editors and arts editors who work for national newspapers around the world.
The longlist … is ever so woke-flavoured; it’s very Hackney book club. It’s solid … but it lacks thrillers.
Robbie Millen, Literary Editor , The Times
Reading these articles I got the feeling that journalists were struggling to make a decent story out of the Booker Prize longlist.
The mystery novel
A number of them like Alex Marshall, European culture correspondent for the New York Times, homed in on the one book on the list which is a mystery.
Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, doesn’t get released until after the shortlist is announced on May 3.
“….its contents and plot are a closely guarded secret. Little is known except that it is set 15 years after The Handmaid’s Tale and is narrated by three female characters.Alex Marshall, New York Times
According to The Guardian, the Booker Prize judges were so constrained by “a ferocious non disclosure agreement’ that they couldn’t give any details about plot, setting or characters. All they could say was :
… it’s terrifying and exhilarating.
Big names dominate
Several of the editors focused on the presence of previous award winners, like Margaret Atwood, in the longlist.
Irish News speculated that Salman Rushdie, who won the Booker Prize almost four decades ago could win again. His novel Quichotte, which is published in August, is described a picaresque road trip through contemporary America and was inspired by Don Quixote.
Other newspapers highlighted that this will be the third nomination in a row for Deborah Levy. Her novel The Man Who Saw Everything, contains two versions of the same story.
Although the list is packed with the names of well established authors, only The Guardian mentioned some notable omissions such as Ian McEwan, Mark Haddon and Ali Smith all of whom had well received novels published within the eligibility period.
Weighing in at 1,000 pages
It was the inclusion of Lucy Ellman on the Booker Prize longlist that caught the attention of Anita Singh of The Daily Telegraph.
If you’re looking for a long read, the Booker Prize has just the thing.
Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport, consists of a single sentence running over 1,000 pages. It is the interior monologue of an Ohio housewife … a stream-of-consciousness written without paragraphs or full stops.
The 426,100-word sentence is broken only a handful of times,Anita Singh, The Daily Telegraph
As if anticipating the eyebrow raising and pursed lips that would greet Ellmann’s inclusion, Anita Singh quoted the judges’ comments about how readable people will find this book.
The thing to know is that it’s extremely funny. So although it looks very dense and worrying on the page, actually every single page is full of puns and jokes. And there is a plot in thereJoanna MacGregor, Booker Prize judge
The nationality game
Every year the announcement of the prize is followed by an analysis of its geographic diversity.
After the rule change in , there were complaints that there were too many American authors selected, which was unfair to authors from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa etc
We didn’t get that reaction this year , largely because American authors were noticeable for their absence.
As David Sanderson, Arts Correspondent for The Times, noted, there is only one American on the longlist (Lucy Ellman) and she moved to UK as a teenager.
The list will go some way to appeasing British publishers who last year wrote to the Booker trustees to object to the broadening of entry criteria to include American authorsDavid Sanderson, The Times
Patriotism did however rear its head. The Irish Times (of course) led its Booker story with the fact local boy Kevin Barry had been chosen for Night Boat to Tangier. They’re no doubt hoping 2019 will see Barry emulate the success of last year’s winner, Belfast-born Anna Burns
There was cause for celebration in Africa however with the inclusion of two Nigerian authors and another whose work explores the African disaspora. The Johannesburg Review of Books, was obviously nursing old wounds since they couldn’t resist mentioning the absence of any African authors on the list for the past two years.
And the winner is???
None of the journalists at this stage are predicting a winner or even what will make it to the shortlist on September 3. In any case, history has shown us that it isn’t always the favourite that walks off with the prize.
If you enjoy a little speculation, take a look at the Booker Prize 2019 longlist discussion board at Goodreads where the members of the Mookse and Gripes group are voting for their favourites.
I’m definitely underqualified to give my own predictions because, for the first time since I started my Booker Prize project, I’ve not read even one of the longlisted titles.
But if you have, then do post a comment below with your reactions and comments.
Booker Prize Longlist 2019
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood – Canada– (Vintage, Chatto & Windus)
Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry – Ireland– (Canongate Books)
My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite – Nigeria – (Atlantic Books)
Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann – USA/UK – (Galley Beggar Press)
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo –UK – (Hamish Hamilton)
The Wall by John Lanchester – UK– (Faber & Faber)
The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy –UK – (Hamish Hamilton)
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli – Mexico/Italy– (4th Estate)
An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma – Nigeria– (Little Brown)
Lanny by Max Porter – UK– (Faber & Faber)
Quichotte by Salman Rushdie –UK/India– (Jonathan Cape)
10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak – UK/Turkey – (Viking)
Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson –UK– (Jonathan Cape)