The shortlist for the Booker Prize was announced this morning, ending literally weeks of speculation as to who was going to make the cut from a commercially successful longlist. I wrote about the longlist in an earlier post, and the faintly contrived controversy it seems to generate every year. This shortlist has generated some comment in that the big hitters and sellers from the longlist – with one tiresome exception – have failed to make it through to the next round. David Mitchell’s fifth novel “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet”, roundly agreed to be a minor work, has been passed over, as has “The Slap”, a title that has generated more column inches than any other in recent years.
It’s to my discredit that I haven’t read any of the books on the shortlist – yet – but I can say that I’m glad the vastly underrated Howard Jacobson is in with a shot, as is Tom McCarthy’s ‘C’. McCarthy has contributed recently to an ongoing literary debate initiated by Gabriel Josipovici about the influence – or lack thereof – of modernism on contemporary British fiction, and his nakedly experimental work is a suitable corrective or counterbalance to the more traditional narratives on offer in what remains Britain’s most important literary prize.
If I wasn’t drowning under the volume of books stacking up on my desk, with Jonathan Franzen’s highly anticipated ‘Freedom’ still to buy at the end of the month, I would certainly be interested in reading every book on the shortlist – with one exception. Peter Carey has been shortlisted again, and he has already won the prize twice. If he wins now he’ll be the first author to make a Booker hat-trick. I have never particularly enjoyed his work, and if the Booker irritates me in any way, it’s in the seemingly automatic inclusion of certain authors, at least at the longlist stage. (Salman Rushdie is another one, but more on him in a later post.) I doubt Carey’s new book is either one of his best, or so good that it deserves to win. Like JM Coetzee, it appears understood that he should be in with a shot with every novel he releases. It’s lazy, and I don’t buy it.
The prize is judged and announced on 12 October – I will certainly be paying attention.
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