I was in Lisbon this week so have only just got round to looking at the Booker shortlist that was announced on Tuesday. Regular readers will know I'm a bit of connoisseur of the Booker, though I do treat it a little like similar entertainments such as the Eurovision Song Contest or the X-Factor rather than a serious barometer of our literature. The missing writers from Booker shortlists often reads like a who's who of the best contemporary novelists over the last 20 years, so its long ago, in my opinion, been divorced from the writers that matter. That said, and like the X-Factor or Eurovision Song Contest there's plenty of fun to be had in seeing an Englebert Humperdinck lumber into the winner's enclosure with a second rate novel, or the occasional mad entry from Albania (or in the Booker's case some new name from the Commonwealth.)
Maybe it was the furore (there's always a furore!) about the "accessible" Booker of 2 years ago; but everyone seems to be going over-the-top about this year's lists. The longlist was called the most diverse ever, and here's Sarah Churchwell in the Guardian today giving it a qualified "best" shortlist for years mention. (The Guardian's headline writer ignores her sensible "perhaps.") (Gaby Woods from the Telegraph - and one of the judges of that "accessible list" - absurdly, given that ALL Booker lists are in "living memory" thought it was the best in living memory.) From here its impossible to know of course, as I've not read the books yet - but its certainly a very Booker list; with historical novels (tick), commonwealth writers (tick), and pseudo-American writers (tick - I make 3 of the 6 as being basically American writers), being the make-up of every Booker list since I can remember.
Oddly, the excellent Jim Crace, has suddenly become this year's venerable writer who "deserves" the Booker, yet he's rarely been in contention in the past despite some excellent books. Yet Crace has always been one of those writers who seems to confirm the impression that British critics aren't comfortable with anything other than realist fictions. (His "Arcadia" remains one of my favourite post-war novels, but that wasn't a Booker shortlistee.)
Crace, an early favourite, seems the most interesting sounding of the novels, from my point of view; but its always impossible to know. I'd have not guessed that "The Sisters Brothers" would have been my favourite two years ago from the blurb. Hardly surprising that there's an internationalism to a list where Robert Macfarlane is head of judges; but it does seem a shame that the most ambitious sounding of the longlist, Richard House's "The Kills" hasn't made the cut. I shall also keep a lookout for Alison Macleod's longlisted novel.
I've still got three of last years and two of 2011's list to read, but with the Book People yet again doing its "package deal" on the shortlist I'm sure I'll get to read some of this year's list with interest. Like the Eurovision and X-Factor I quite enjoy the entertainment; even if I'm pretty sure that the best books remain as ever elusive to the judges of this particular literary beauty contest.
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