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