Man Booker longlist announced

The announcement this week of the Man Booker Prize longlist caused considerable consternation among publishing circles. While the decision to include books by seven women writers among the 13 novels was universally applauded, many observers are asking if the world’s most prestigious literary award has lost its way by focusing on buzz themes and edgy young UK and US writers at the expense of traditional Man Booker criteria.

The 13 longlisted finalists are:

Belinda Bauer (UK) Snap 

Anna Burns (UK) Milkman 

Nick Drnaso (USA)  Sabrina 

Esi Edugyan (Canada)  Washington Black 

Guy Gunaratne (UK)  In Our Mad And Furious City

Daisy Johnson (UK)   Everything Under 

Rachel Kushner (USA)   The Mars Room 

Sophie Mackintosh (UK)    The Water Cure 

Michael Ondaatje (Canada)    Warlight 

Richard Powers (USA)  The Overstory 

Robin Robertson (UK)     The Long Take 

Sally Rooney (Ireland)  Normal People 

Donal Ryan (Ireland)    From A Low And Quiet Sea

The list was chosen from 171 submissions – the highest number of titles put forward in the prize’s 50 year history. As part of the award criteria, these books must be published in the UK and Ireland between October 1, 2017 and September 30, 2018.

The interesting mix reflects a diverse judging panel, chaired by philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah and including crime writer Val McDermid, cultural critic Leo Robson, feminist writer and critic Jacqueline Rose, and artist and graphic novelist Leanne Shapton.

Speaking about the books that came across the judges’ desks, Chair Kwame Anthony Appiah said this week: “Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the times, there were many dystopian fictions on our bookshelf – and many novels we found inspirational as well as disturbing.

“Some of those we have chosen for this longlist feel urgent and topical, others might have been admired and enjoyed in any year. All of these books – which take in slavery, ecology, missing persons, inner-city violence, young love, prisons, trauma, race – capture something about a world on the brink. Among their many remarkable qualities is a willingness to take risks with form.

“And we were struck, overall, by their disruptive power: these novels disrupted the way we thought about things we knew about, and made us think about things we didn’t know about. Still, despite what they have in common, every one of these books is wildly distinctive. It’s been an exhilarating journey so far and we’re looking forward to reading them again. But now we’ll have thousands and thousands of people reading along with us.”

Some of the positives about the 2018 longlist:

  • Four debut novels
  • Seven women for an award that has long been dominated by male writers
  • The first ever graphic novel to be longlisted
  • Independent publishers are well represented
  • Many of the books deal with themes and issues readers aged under 35 may particularly appreciate. This is one way to encourage Man Booker Prize interest by the Milennial Generation, and whether it was intended or not, a sound strategy

A couple of negatives about the 2018 longlist:

  • Six UK authors and three from the US, but none from Australian, New Zealand, African, Pakistani or Indian writers. (Since 2014 The Man Booker Prize awards any novel originally written in English and published in the UK and Ireland in the year of the prize, regardless of the nationality of their author. The novel must be an original work in English – and not a translation - and published by a registered UK or Irish imprint; self-published novels are not eligible.)
  • It is a subjective point, but some big names were overlooked (Julian Barnes, Alan Hollinghurst, Pat Barker, Peter Carey, Michelle de Kretser, Anne Tyler, Rachel Cusk, Ali Smith among them). From a PR and industry point of view, it is always helpful to have a few international stars on the longlist because it draws people’s attention to the award and encourages readers to learn more and maybe even buy or borrow a couple of the books before the shortlist is announced in September

As always happens at this time of year, bookworms will dissect, debate and discuss the books, which ones to read, which ones should make the shortlist …. And on it will go until the Man Booker Prizewinner for 2018 is announced in London on October 16. Until then, happy reading.

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