If you haven’t already seen, the longlist of the Man Booker Prize has been announced! This year’s judges – Sir Peter Stothard, Dinah Birch, Amanda Foreman, Dan Stevens and Bharat Tandon – have been given a pretty hard choice…
Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
The year is 1535 and Thomas Cromwell, chief Minister to Henry VIII, must work both to please the king and keep the nation safe. Anne Boleyn, for whose sake Henry has broken with Rome and created his own church, has failed to do what she promised: bear a son to secure the Tudor line. As Henry develops a dangerous attraction to Wolf Hall’s Jane Seymour, Thomas must negotiate a ‘truth’ that will satisfy Henry and secure his own career. But neither minister nor king will emerge undamaged from the bloody theatre of Anne’s final days.
The follow-up to the best-seller Wolf Hall, Mantel’s inclusion hasn’t been a surprise. With other big names excluded, including Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith and Rose Tremain, Hilary Mantel is the favourite to win. And considered the most sedate of all the choices.
Communion Town by Sam Thompson
Every city is made of stories: stories that meet and diverge, stories of the commonplace and the strange, of love and crime, of ghosts and monsters. This is the story of a place that never looks the same way twice: a place imagined anew by each citizen who walks through the changing streets, among voices half-heard, signs half-glimpsed and desires half acknowledged. This is the story of a city.
This novel has been described as “dreamlike, gnarly and present”, whilst Thompson’s writing style itself as “a new writer working out what he can do, and realising that he can do anything”. Well, if it’s that good, what’s not to love! This is perhaps one of the quieter books selected.
Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil
Shuklaji Street, in late 1970s Old Bombay. In Rashid’s opium room the air is thick with voices and ghosts: Hindu, Muslim, Christian. Here, people say that you introduce only your worst enemy to opium…
A debut novel for Thayil, the New Dehli-based performance poet, songwriter and guitarist. The blurb might be short and sweet, but the extract I read felt like a long, winding trail of words and emotions (considering the preface is six and a half pages without a single full stop, I would expect it to feel like this). I love the cover on this one, and I’m intrigued by the premise – a bunch of people getting high in an opium den and sharing their memories.
Philida by André Brink
The year is 1832 and the Cape is rife with rumours about the liberation of the slaves. Philida made a pact for freedom with Francois Brink, the son of her master, but he has reneged on his promise to set her free. Deciding to take matters into her own hands, Philida risks her life by setting off on foot for distant Stellenbosch, in a journey that begins with the small act of saying no.
A previous Booker nominee, in 1992 Brink was awarded the Monismanien Human Rights Award from the University of Uppsala, for bringing the story of the injustice of apartheid to the world. This story of one mother’s fight for her freedom at the end of slavery in South Africa.
Skios by Michael Frayn
On the Greek island of Skios, the Fred Toppler Foundation’s annual lecture is to be given by Dr Norman Wilfred, the world-famous authority on the scientific organisation of science. He turns out to be surprisingly young and charming and the Foundation’s guests are soon eating out of his hand. Meanwhile, in a remote village at the other end of the island, is a balding old gent called Dr Norman Wilfred, who has lost his whereabouts, his luggage, his temper and increasingly all normal sense of reality…
Author and playwright Frayn is the oldest of all nominees, a stately 78, and has been nominated twice before. His latest book, a farce set in Greece, is perhaps only second favourite to Hilary Mantel.
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
Swimming Home explores the devastating effect that depression can have on apparently stable, well-turned-out people. Set in a summer villa, the story is tautly structured, taking place over a single week in which a group of beautiful, flawed tourists in the French Riviera come loose at the seams.
First serialised as a Book at Bedtime on Radio 4, some of you may have already heard/read this. This is one of the books to come from an independent publisher on the longlist … and causing much excitement in the publishing world; that small indie publishers can knock some of the big-timers off the Man Booker has meant that – to many – the prize feels relevant again.
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
Set during the Japanese occupation, The Garden of Evening Mists follows young law graduate, Yun Ling Teoh, as she seeks solace among the plantations of the Cameron Highlands. Here she discovers Yugiri, the only The Garden of Evening Mists Japanese garden in Malaya, and its owner and creator, the secretive Aritomo. Aritomo agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice “until the monsoon” so that she can design a garden in memorial to her sister. But over time the jungle starts to reveal secrets of its own…
As a lawyer himself, Tan Twan Eng has a lot of authority when it comes to writing about law… his last novel, The Gift of Rain, was also longlisted for the Man Booker in 2007.
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore
Futh, a middle-aged, recently separated man stands on the outer deck of a North Sea ferry. He is heading to Germany for a restorative walking holiday, yet he cannot forget his mother’s abandonment of him as a boy and his first trip to Germany with his newly single father. It was on this first trip that he neglected to do something, and this omission threatens to have devastating repercussions the second time around.
Moore is no stranger to literary prizes – amongst which she has been nominated for the Bridport, Manchester Fiction and the Scott Prize for her first collection of short stories. Short stories and novellas abound from Moore, but this is her first foray in to Man Booker territory.
The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman
Three events occur.
In 1679, the ceiling of the Theatre des Encornets in Paris collapses, killing 25 members of the audience and the set designer Adriano Lavicini. Are the rumours true that Lavicini made a fatal pact with cosmic evil?
In 1938, at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, the physicist Professor Franklin Bailey comes close to perfecting a radical new technology that could win the next war before it starts. But what are the shadowy forces at work on campus?
In 1962, in a small flat in West Berlin, Egon Loeser looks back over his strange and eventful life. From the experimental theatres of Berlin to the absinthe bars of Paris, his biggest question still remains: how can it be that a handsome, clever, charming, modest guy like him couldn’t get laid more often?
I’m not afraid to admit that this is probably my favourite of the nominations. Beauman, the youngest nominee at 27, went from Philosophy at Cambridge to this surreal story starting in 1930s Germany. His debut novel, Boxer, Beetle was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award and the Desmond Elliot prize, and won the Writers’ Guild Award for Best Fiction Book. Not only that, but BBC 2’s Culture Show listed him as one of their 12 Best New British Writers in 2011.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
This is the story of recently-retired Harold Fry, who sets out one morning to post a letter to a dying friend. Quite unexpectedly, in a moment of impulse, Fry finds himself at the start of a journey which will lead him to walk hundreds of miles from home, en route making chance encounters and reflecting on tragic events from his past which transform his life and in turn alter the lives of the people he meets.
The author of over twenty original afternoon plays for BBC Radio 4, major adaptations for the Classic Series and Woman’s Hour, and a TV period drama for BBC 2, Joyce won the Tinniswood Award for Best Radio Play in 2007; this is her first novel. And apparently, she’s already writing her second.
The Yips by Nicola Barker
“The Yips” is a noun describing a condition in which nervousness or tension causes an athlete to fail to perform effectively, especially in missing short putts in golf.
The Yips, is the story of professional golfer Stuart Ransom, described as an equal to Martin Amis’ John Self in the pantheon of male literary grotesques. Set in Luton, this comic novel also includes a woman priest with an unruly fringe, the troubled family of a notorious local fascist and a free-thinking Muslim sex therapist, as it delves into the murky recesses of the masculine psyche.
If Mantel’s offering is the most sedate, this is the possibly the most insane of novels. Described by its publisher as a “flamboyant” comedy, Barker is no stranger to the Man Booker Prize. 838-page-long Darkmans even reached the shortlist. In 1993, Granta named her as one of the ‘Best Young British Novelists’ of the decade.
Umbrella by Will Self
Umbrella sets out to understand the nature of the modern world by going back to the source – the industrial madness of World War One. Set across an entire century, Umbrella follows the complex story of Audrey Death, a feminist who falls victim to the encephalitis lethargica epidemic that rages across Europe, and Dr Zack Busner, who spends a summer waking the post-encephalitic patients under his care using a new and powerful drug.
If you haven’t read any Will Self, you really should. Winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction 2008, he is the author of both fiction and non-fiction. His latest novel is described as “radical in its conception, uncompromising in its style”. Intriguing…
What do you think of the Man Booker Prize nominations? Who’s your favourite and which ones will you be reading? (And do you think your favourite will win?)
The shortlist will be announced on the 11th September, and the winner on the 16th October.