The Man Booker is one of the most coveted prizes in literature. And this year’s longlist already caused a stir with the appearance of indie publishers and some more unusual picks. But the shortlist has been announced, and we are edging ever closer to the winner.
“After re-reading an extraordinary longlist of twelve, it was the pure power of prose that settled most debates. We loved the shock of language shown in so many different ways and were exhilarated by the vigour and vividly defined values in the six books that we chose – and in the visible confidence of the novel’s place in forming our words and ideas.” — Sir Peter Stothard, Editor of the Times Literary Supplement, chair of the panel of judges
Okay, you’ve no doubt already heard all about it. In fact, you’ve no doubt bought a whole bunch of them to read your way through.
The final six include two debut novels, three from small independent publishers, two former shortlisted authors and one previous winner.
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng, Myrmidon Books
The second novel from Tan Twan Eng, the novel revolves around Supreme Court judge Teoh Yun Ling, who has retired to the Cameron Highlands after a life of love and loss – which is slowly revealed through a series of flashbacks. Yun-Ling is a hater of all things Japanese after a Prisoner of War camp, and in 1951, walks in to the life of Aritomo, a self-exiled Japanese gardener. From there, they change each others’ lives forever.
Beautiful prose, but building to nothing, and considering the slightly flat review in the Guardian, I don’t see a winner. This will simmer along for a while for the more “artistic” readers and then fall back on people who discover it a few years from now. Nothing spectacular, but nothing horrifying.
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy, And Other Stories/Faber & Faber
Despite hearing happy endings galore when she was a child being told stories by her mother, Levy “wouldn’t end the story like that”. A story of depression, unstable character Kitty Finch turns on a British poet’s holiday in the French Riviera, demanding he read her poem. The story that ensues is dark, tense and a splintered reality that’s so recognisable.
When the Telegraph posted this review, I certainly pricked up my ears a little more. But, like it’s been said, Deborah Levy cannot be compared to Hilary Mantel – they are far too different. Not a winner, I think, but a sparkling novel that I hope will sit on every bookshelf.
Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Fourth Estate
If you haven’t read Wolf Hall, I’m not sure this story is a good starting point… though it’s a recognisable part of history. We end the previous novel at Wolf Hall, where Bring up the Bodies begins. Cromwell narrates this well-trodden piece of history with fresh eyes – after all, he doesn’t know what will happen yet. It’s not a surprise to hear poor Anne Boleyn loses her head at the end, but it certainly is to our unlikely hero. A story to match Wolf Hall? The Guardian argues the point that it shouldn’t even be compared.
Although I don’t feel it should be a winner, Mantel’s pure skill at the written word could be what swings it. I’m hoping for a runner-up position, and a top of the chart seat until Christmas.
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore, Salt
When the Guardian reviews it and tries to describe the plot as a Russian doll – you can only expect a confusing novel. Yet, hold on! We are told it is “simple, yet impossible to summarise.” Exploring grief in a rather brief and unusual way, The Lighthouse might have questionable foundations, but a riveting storyline.
Sadly, I think the wobbly plot will let this novel down; not one to watch, though one to read on a beach.
Umbrella by Will Self, Bloomsbury
If you’ve ever read any Will Self, you will know his novels are never simple. This 400-page, stream-of-consciousness is no different. Described by the Guardian as not his easiest, but potentially his best, Self does what he does best: character stories. Meet Audrey Death and Zack Busner – pushed together by plot if not circumstance – and the bewildering illness that is encephalitis lethargica, a sleeping sickness. Twists and turns aplenty – you will need to brace yourself for this book.
Not a winner, purely on the basis it’s far too convoluted and complicated for a Booker winner. Definitely got the oomph for a runner-up though.
Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil, Faber & Faber
With The Teleportation Accident out of the running, this is going to be my favourite choice for the Man Booker… Head to the opium dens of Mumbai for a vivid and drug-induced story. Or, lots of stories, as we find out more about the characters that fill Rashid’s opium house on Shuklaji Street, and follow Rashid and fellow character Dimple through the decades and through the drug haze.
My dream prediction for this is to be winner – it’s so unlike the others and masterfully done. The Guardian describes it as a “blistering debut”, and I have to agree.
But, putting aside my predictions and opinions, what will the winner of the Man Booker actually get?Announced at a dinner at London’s Guildhall on the 16th October, the winner will receive an extra £50,000 on top of the £2,500 awarded to each of the shortlisted novelists. All six will also get a specially commissioned handbound edition of their book. Now that’s a worthy prize.
What are your predictions?
Who do you want to see take the top prize?