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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: September 7, 2010 @ 4:44 pm

    What’s that Skip? You’re not on the Booker and Timmy has fallen down a well?

    Laurence Mackin

    Yes, yes, yes, we all know the Booker shortlist is out, I hear you grumble, and we all know Paul Murray (who gave a cracking reading from Skippy Dies at the weekend’s Stradbally shindig) didn’t make the cut – unfair, perhaps, as it is a great book and you can’t help rooting for the homeboy.

    But then there is always the homegirl, and hearty congratulations to Emma Donoghue for The Room. Awkward squirming alert – I haven’t read the book yet, and to be honest the source material had me wondering if I ever would. But the reviews have been strong and it is apparently a work of no little power. So fantastic news then.

    The competition, then, is: Andrea Levy’s The Long Song, which focuses on the demise of slavery in Jamaica; Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question, a tragicomic story of love and loss, and everything in-between; Tom McCarthy’s C, about a first World War radio operator who escapes from a German prisoner of war camp; Damon Galgut’s book In A Strange Room, which is the only travel book on the list (and yes, I do count it as a travel book even though it is a novel. The story might be fiction but the places it evokes and the research that has stirred them are almost certainly real. So there.); and Peter Carey, for Parrot and Olivier in America. Carey already has two Bookers on the mantelpiece. If he gets a third he could make a small stool with them.

    The bookies seem to be throwing their lot in behind Tom McCarthy (currently the outright favourite) and Emma Donoghue, with Galgut challenging down the outside. And to be fair, it is hard to argue with their logic on this one.

    These are all fine novels, no doubt, but much of the chatter so far has been about the exclusions (which is inevitable) – while Paul Murray might not be as well known outside Ireland, the exclusion of David Mitchell and Christos Tsiolkas has a lot of literary heavyweights up in arms, and they might well have a point.

    There are those who would argue that awards are all a waste of time, but I suspect Hilary Mantel might beg to differ. After she won the prize last year, Wolf Hall became the fastest selling Booker winner ever. With so many novels coming out every week, people are desperate for recommendations they can trust, and the Booker has an enviable position in being still regarded as the last word in books. And, more importantly from a cold hard cash point of view, it has a readily identifiable effect on sales.

    I can’t think of another arts award that can boast this. The Oscars are irrelevant, and Baftas are a bore. There are so many music prizes that they have largely become meaningless; I mean, do you actually pick up an album and think “oooh it won a Grammy”? – although tonight’s Mercury prize is always good for a ruck and no doubt tomorrow’s On the Record will be particularly colourful, while the Choice prize shortlist has been excellent in recent years. Theatre awards always seem particularly divisive and the chances of getting any art critics or fans to agree on anything are slim to none.

    The Booker, then, seems to exist in a class of its own. Have you read the books on the list, is it any good, and has something else altogether been overlooked? Let us know after the jump.

    UPDATE: I might have been disappointed not to see Paul Murray on the shortlist, but Eileen Battersby (Literary Correspondent for this newspaper) reckons that the omission means the shortlist is “dead on arrival”. Ouch. Read her full piece here.

    • Trish says:

      I can only comment on two; The Room – objectively this is beautifully written but I’m afraid I could not reconcile the subject matter with anything approaching an enjoyable read. The second, The Finkler Question which is a perfectly good book, but left me feeling that Woody Allen would have done a much better job with the subject matter.
      I look forward to getting stuck into Damon Galgut’s offering and C also sounds worth a read. I lost interest in Peter Carey after the rather wonderful Oscar & Lucinda but I guess he’s still worth a reading week of one’s life too…..

    • John Self says:

      Thank goodness for a little balance, unlike Eileen Battersby’s bizarre rant about Skippy Dies’ failure to make it into the shortlist. It’s a good book, and the first third is brilliant, but it loses its way and I’m not surprised to see that it didn’t go further in the Booker stakes.

      My main disappointment is that Emma Donoghue *did* go further, as hers was the weakest book of the seven longlisted titles I read. A great idea with enormous potential, squandered in sentimentality.

      I’m happy to see McCarthy, Galgut and Jacobson on the list, and would be happy to see the prize go to any of them. I tried Andrea Levy’s The Long Song, having much admired her earlier books, but couldn’t (or didn’t want to) finish it. And I’ve rarely got on with Peter Carey, so I gave that one a pass.

      Still not a bad shortlist, and it’s rare enough that I could root for three of the contenders.

    • John Self says:

      Oh and actually In a Strange Room isn’t fiction as such – Galgut says he set out to recall three journeys in his life as accurately as possible. However, “memory is fiction” and that’s how he qualifies it. (Actually he doesn’t qualify it at all: he submitted the three pieces to the Paris Review as travel pieces, and they published them as fiction.) Anyway the book is not about travel but about power, love, guardianship and most of all, memory. And it’s brilliant.

    • Laurence Mackin says:

      Trish – this is an opinion I’m hearing more and more about this book, and I’m getting the feeling that people are starting to view it as a ‘worthy’ inclusion. The critics seem to be loving it, but outside of the newspaper book pages, I’ve heard a few reservations, and there was a good tussle about it on last night’s episode of The View (which you can watch here).

      John – Ah, ‘the old what class of book is this at all’ conundrum. On Eileen’s piece, there was an awful lot of disappointment in the office when the list came out and Paul Murray wasn’t on it, though I do wonder if a lot of this is good-natured support for the home team. I haven’t read the entire shortlist so I’m reluctant to make a call on it, but I do think Murray is a very fine writer and he has a Booker in him yet.

    • rfitz says:

      The Thousand Autumns of Jacob DeZoet was masterfully written, a delight to read; and at least to someone reading it in America, Parrott and Olivier in America was a joy.

    • Brian says:

      Not really a comment on the shortlist but I would definitely second John Self’s bemusement with Eileen Battersby. Couldn’t quite believe what I was reading yesterday. I enjoyed “Skippy Dies” – the separate teenage voices (even very small roles) were both brilliantly accurate and distinctive, ranging from the emotionally high strung to the inarticulate. The factors contributing to this soap opera (drugs, computer games, popular approval….) were well done without being overegged. Invoking Flann O’Brien may have been just plausible if the focus had been kept solely on that maelstrom.

      Where I thought it started to lose it’s way was the forcing of a moral centre. The history teacher who learns the value of history and proceeds to lecture the audience came across a bit pat (no matter how valid) and any development of that character was killed off when two potentially interesting female characters were fairly unceremoniously dropped. I also had problems with the priest’s voice which wasn’t dissimilar to one of the teenagers and may have been better objectified. Probably the weakest part of the book for me. You could hardly expect a novel set in a priest-run boy’s school not to feature abuse but it just felt like one issue too many. Booker nominees that I’ve read tend to have a strong focus bordering on the forensic at times, so I wasn’t too surprised to see it missing out.

      Having said that, I don’t know how it compares to the rest of the shortlist. I will have to do a second take on “Room” having found the narrative voice a little too whimsical at first (especially having just read Claire Keegan’s excellent “Foster”) and intend to pick up the Galgut this evening.


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