According to the bookmakers, William Hill, this year’s Man Booker prize is a neck and neck race between Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the Bodies and William Self’s Umbrella. They both come in at odds of 2:1 whereas Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis is the rank outsider.
But the outcome isn’t nearly as clear as those odds suggest. On the BBC’s The Culture Show last week, the panel members weren’t in agreement on which novelist deserved to win. While it was universally agreed Mantel’s book is as good as Wolf Hall with which she won three years ago, doubt was cast on whether it was appropriate to give the title to the second in a trilogy. The chairman of judges Peter Stothard, hasn’t ruled out the possibility, saying that if anything Mantel’s command of her narrative method is even stronger second time round. The panel also touted Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home as a potential winner, along with Umbrella and Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse.
Over at the Guardian, the various contributors are unanimous in not agreeing who should win. Robert McCrum acknowledges that it will be a difficult decision – he is tipping Will Self’s Umbrella but with a side bet on The Lighthouse. But even he admits: “I say this every year: caveat emptor. With Booker, anything goes.” His fellow Guardian contributor Nicholas Wroe however, is backing Narcopolis while Sarah Crown argues in favour of Swimming Home.
The Independent seems to be backing Moore while the Daily Mail sees Umbrella as the clear favourite because of its compelling plot even though it recognises that the book doesn’t aspire to accessibility.
Across the Atlantic, this year’s award is also attracting considerable interest. For Paul Levy at the Wall Street Journal, there is no question but the prize has to go to Mantel. It would be typically ‘boneheaded’ of the judges however to pick Umbrella simply “because it is the most difficult/experimental/tricky book on the 2012 shortlist.
….one novel is so superior that only non-literary reasons could excuse their awarding the £50,000 to one of the other five. Hilary Mantel’s “Bring Up the Bodies,” a sequel to her 2009 Man Booker Prize-winning “Wolf Hall,” occupies an eminence of its own.
The sole reason possible for denying Ms. Mantel the 2012 prize would be that the judges feel it is someone else’s turn to win. It would be disgraceful, but perfectly in keeping with the perverse record of Man Booker Prize judges down the years.
Since the only one I’ve read out of the six shortlisted titles, is Mantel, I don’t feel that qualified to name my own favourite. It partly depends on whether the judges want to go for readability over inventiveness I suppose. I understand the argument against selecting Mantel but isn’t it more difficult to write a second novel about the same character and to keep the same quality?
We’ll find out soon enough I suppose!