The Man Booker Prize judges announced the shortlist for the 2017 prize today and sprung a few surprises.
The first and by far the biggest surprise is that Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead which has been hoovering up prizes everywhere else is missing from the list. That was the bookie’s favourite up until this morning. Its omission has taken many in the book world by surprise. Waterstones fiction buyer Chris White commented to the Guardian newspaper: “We’re all used by now to the Booker judges delivering surprises but the omission of The Underground Railroad from the final six certainly ranks among the biggest shocks I’ve witnessed. I think that, when we look back at 2017, we may see this as the one which got away”. He obviously isn’t a reader of BookerTalk because he would have seen from my post earlier this week that people I would class as knowledgeable though not professional readers didn’t rate it that highly.
Another surprise is that established authors like Zadie Smith, Arundhati Roy, Sebastian Barry and Kamila Shamsi have all been pushed aside in favour of first time novelists. George Saunders who makes it to the list with Lincoln in the Bardo (now the bookie’s favourite to win) has only previously written short stories. He, together with Fiona Mozley, a part-time book shop worker from the UK who apparently wrote part of her book on her phone while commuting and American Emily Fridlund will now go head to head against the big names of Paul Auster and Ali Smith (neither of whom have won the Booker in previous years).
Continuing the trend from recent years two independent publishers are featured among the shortlisted titles.
The judges, chaired by Baroness Lola Young, said at a press conference that “the novels [chosen], each in their own way, challenge and subtly shift our preconceptions – about the nature of love, about the experience of time, about questions of identity and even death.”
So what do the critics and followers of the Booker Prize make of the shortlist?
A number remarked on the lack of geographic breadth of the selected authors. The judges were apparently challenged at the press conference about the Americanisation of the prize. Three of the shortlisted writers are from the US. Baroness Young ejected the accusation. “… nationality is not an issue in terms of how we decide on a winner – it’s what is in our opinion the best book in these six. All we can say is that we judge the books submitted to us, and make our judgment not based on nationality or gender, but what is written on the pages,” she said.
Former Booker judge Alex Clark, writing in The Guardian called the shortlist ‘daring’. The choices, he said, seem “to reject conventional realism and celebrate precarious and unstable narratives…”
Toby Lichtig writing for the Times Literary Supplement noted that neither of his two favourites was selected (Underground Railroad and Reservoir 13) while the inclusion of Auster would “raise a few eyebrows” because while it ” is a work of towering ambition” for some readers it was also one of” towering self-regard”. Writing in the TLS, James Campbell found it to be lacking in “rhythm, tone, vivacity, wit. To name just four things”.
The Mookes and the Bookish group over at Goodreads greeted the announcement of the shortlist with astonishment “…the longlist had restored my faith in the Booker. The shortlist has successfully re-destroyed it!” said one member. Several were dismayed that two of their favourite reads Solar Bones and Home Fire didn’t make it and questioned why Elmet was on the list because they didn’t find it any more noteworthy than some other debut novels that were eligible.
The prize for 2017 looks wide open although Ladbrokes are giving the edge to Saunders. Interesting to see Elmet in joint second place – is she going to be the dark horse?
Whoever wins it’s certain to be a decision that will not please everyone but twas ever thus.
The 2017 Shortlist
4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (US)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (UK-Pakistan)
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US) Watch a video from Foyles about this book
Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) Read an interview with Ali Smith
The 2017 winner will be announced on Tuesday 17 October