Saturday, July 26, 2014

It's Booker Time

Having belatedly opened up the Booker Prize to American authors this year, this year's Booker controversy was.... that there was no controversy. A few raised eyebrows that Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch" didn't make a list that found room for established younger Americans like Joshua Ferris.  A mild demurrance at the gender ratio (10 men, 3 women) which should keep the Women's Prize for fiction safe from extinction for another decade; and a question mark over whether we'd just replaced one lot of overseas writers (the Commonwealth) with another (Americans.) As for big names missing... they found room for the new Howard Jacobsen, whose last book "The Finkler Question" was a surprising (and somewhat second rate) Booker winner. The truth is that "the big names" aren't big anymore.... its a long time since an Amis or McEwan was up their with their best work and seems increasingly unlikely that those writers will have a late career renaissance.

Bear in mind that "Money", Amis's masterpiece, was his fifth novel, and look whose on the longlist, the brilliant David Mitchell with his fifth novel "The Bone Clocks". That his brilliant "Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet" wasn't shortlisted still remains a mystery to me. Ali Smith is at an equal career point. These are now among our leading novelists, not the older generation. It's very hard to know who should have been on the list and wasn't because of the usual quixotic nature of the Booker timetable. By my reckoning five books are yet to be published including Jacobsen, Smith and Mitchell. Silly me, as a reader, thinking I might try out this year's hot novels on my summer holidays. Maybe longlist sales are so slight that the publishing industry doesn't care - the main purpose of a longlisting is to have a line to put on the cover of the paperback and a bit of an in with booksellers. I guess I've not yet got round to last year's Charlotte Mendelsson, Richard House or Alison Mcleod anyway.

There's a silly editorial in the (paywalled) Times which in the absence of controversy brings up the old saw that genre writers should be considered for prizes as well. Clearly they'd booked the editorial spot and then had no controversy to fill it with!

With two of the most astute contemporary literary lovers, academic Sarah Churchwell and critic Erica Wagner on the panel I'm sure this year's list will both literary and readable -

I would even say that this is probably the first genuine Booker list to be a truly 21st century list. Smith, O'Neill, Ferris, Mitchell and Powers are the writers that you'd expect to be coming into their prime, whilst its good to see Neel Mukherjee, who I met in Norwich a few years ago, making the leap from his enjoyable debut, to prize-contender with his new novel.

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