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Booker Prize shortlist brings some surprises

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?

Booker 2017 betting.png

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


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

28 thoughts on “Booker Prize shortlist brings some surprises

  • Pingback: Booker Prize shortlist brings some surprises — BookerTalk – Libya's Lens

  • I was surprised that 3 of the 4 I chose from the long list to read made it. The odd one out was Whitehead’s because I still think it sounds interesting.

    • You did do well with your choices Geoff. I saw an article in the Telegraph newspaper at the weekend which was very uncomplimentary about the shortlist

  • None of these are appealing and the best my husband can say about 4 3 2 1 was that it was good value on Audible! Ah well, saves me having to read through them!

    • I read several comments that it was hard to follow 4321 because each version of the story seemed so similar. Must have been even harder to keep track via audio

  • If I’m truly honest, there’s not an awful lot that appeals to me – but then I haven’t followed the Booker much for years!

    • The one that appealed most Reservoir 13 didn’t get to the shortlist but I’ll still read it. I’m glad I decided to halt my booker project with the 2015 prize so I don’t feel compelled to read anything from this year

  • I used to enjoy the Booker for its diversity *sigh*

    • That’s certainly gone by the wayside. It was what I liked about the earlier years too because there were authors from India, Australia etc.

  • Ohhhh – I love that Mozley wrote some of her book on her phone!

    • Can you imagine how hard that was? I find it hard enough to write a text message on mine

  • I just had History of Wolves recommended to me on my contemporary fiction post, plus I went to school in Minnesota so I’m interested in that. Still have not read any Ali Smith so I should really give her a try. No opinions about anything else but it will be interesting to see the results.

    • Ive not read much Ali Smith either but the one book I read I did enjoy so I might give Autumn a go

  • I fear it’s just another US/UK prize now, where the dominant English speaking countries stroke their own egos. The lack of inclusion of any Commonwealth writers makes me think it’s time a new major prize were created specifically for writers in English excluding Brits and Americans. I’d be more interested in reading the shortlist of that than all these books which have already had the advantage of super-hyping for months.

    • I suppose the Booker international award tries to do that?

  • Most of our panel left out Underground Railroad so I’m not too sad about that. I am stunned at Elmet which I thought was the weakest book of the lot. I did enjoy History of Wolves but thought it was a solid book and nothing more.

    Reservoir 13 and Solar Bones deserved to be on the list.

    • It seems the Goodreads group was also taken about by the inclusion of both those debut books

  • A very interesting short list. I am not surprised to seen Saunders on it but I am surprised that whitehead, Roy and Zadie Smith didn’t make it. I haven;t read Fridlund’s book yet but since it takes place in Minnesota I can;t help but cheer for it 🙂

    • It wouldn’t surprise me if Saunders were to win this – the book is rather different it seems (ive not read it though). But one thing I’ve learned by following the Booker is that you have to be prepared for the unexpected

  • It just so happened I was with the wife of a novelist who has graced more than one Booker shortlist when the announcement came through and she was as shocked at the omission of the Barry and Whitehead as I was. I thought both were novels that could stand against most past winners. I’m going to have to start reading for the award all over again. I thought for sure I had three that would be there under my belt.

    • it’s good in a way that just because someone is a big name, it doesn’t automatically follow that they get onto the list. However i keep hearing that the two debut novels (Elmet and History of Wolves) are nowhere near the standard of the other choices.

    • So am I given that the library rang me 30 mins ago to say it was ready for me to collect.

  • Wow, that is a surprise about Underground Railroad. I haven’t read it yet, but it is definitely on my list. Lincoln in the Bardo is another on my list.

    Thanks for sharing.


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