Man Booker International shortlist is an impressive final six

Veteran Amos Oz, along with favourite Mathias Énard and Argentine outsider Samanta Schweblin, in line for prize

 

In only its second year since a daring re-invention, the Man Booker International has further consolidated its position as a major literary award with a world-class shortlist of fiction in translation.

It was always destined to be an impressive final six, as the 13-strong longlist included no less than 11 novels with serious claims. Four men and two women; three Europeans, two Israelis and the youngest, an Argentine, are the survivors from an original submission of 123 books published in English translation.

The Shortlist

Compass by Mathias Énard

This is the obvious winner. This novel of ideas spans one long night in the imagination and memory of a sympathetic narrator, Franz Ritter, insomniac, musicologist, dreamer and unrequited lover, as he revisits days spent with a tenacious scholar, the woman he loved, sort of. It is a gorgeous performance, wry and humorous.

As he lies in bed, very ill, he resembles Ivan Goncharov’s apathetic anti-hero Oblomov, from the 19th century Russian classic of the same name. Rich in ideas, digressions, historical fact and comic characterisation, it is beautiful, eccentric and never takes itself seriously although its theme is profound – the ongoing conflict of east meets west, the concerted ransacking of Middle Eastern culture and all the more tragic in the context of the current agonies of the Syrian people. (Review)

The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen

This is the story of a family living on an island off the Norwegian coast. My book of the year last year, it is about as perfect a novel as would be expected from the gifted Jacobsen. Life is hard on the island where the sea is lord and a change in the weather can prove fatal. Jacobsen has a wide readership, as evidenced many an Irish book club selected The Unseen which is about as perfect as a novel can be. (Review)

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman

Widely admired on publication and one of my favourite books of 2016, this is Grossman – a likely Nobel Literature laureate – at his most daring. A tormented stand-up comic regales the audience and a chosen witness to a caustic and heartrending account of the childhood which made his adult life a hell. (Review)

Judas by Amos Oz

The legendary Israeli truth-teller, who began his literary career as a polemicist and increasingly became an ever finer artist, has written one of his best works in which the theme of betrayal as reflected in the title is juxtaposed with a coming of age story set in Jerusalem and spanning the winter of 1959 into 1960. Both a novel of ideas and a study of an Everyman effectively translated by the veteran Nicholade Lange, yet again Oz – the most senior nominee at 77 – affirms his position as a likely Nobel literature laureate.

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

A hint of the Gothic shapes this mesmerising narrative from the youngest contender – she’s 39. It follows the tragic course of a young woman as she faces death in a rural clinic. With her is a strange child, not her son. Unsettling, fluid, and elusive, Schweblin’s inspired mastery of great fiction’s most defining secret weapon, ambivalence, expectedly made the longlist and emerged as the dark horse. Megan McDowell’s devastatingly well- nuanced translation conveys all the menace of the original.

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors

Sonja, a translator of Swedish crime novels, has hit 40, is single and being ignore by her sister. Encountering difficulties learning to drive, she is likable, as is this slight little book which suggests that the author, the first Danish writer to have a story published in the New Yorker, possesses sufficient humour to be fully bemused at her shock inclusion in this quality shortlist.

Favourites

In the absence of two outstanding German novels,Kruso by poet Lutz Seiler which failed to even make the longlist and Clemens Meyer’s abrasive Bricks and Mortar, which is a shock omission, Énard’s Compass looks to be the victor, with Schweblin’s Fever Dream a challenger of intoxicating intensity.

Among the judges are Turkish writer Elif Shafak, poet Helen Mort, Nigerian writer Chika Unigwe who writes in English and Dutch, and Daniel Hahn whose translation of Angolan Jose Eduardo Agualusa’s poignant A General Theory of Oblivion is shortlisted for this year’s International Dublin Literary Award.

The winner of the 2017 Man Booker International prize, which sees the £50,000  divided equally between the winning author and translation, will be announced on June 14.

The Shortlist in detail

Compass by Mathias Énard (France), translated by Charlotte Mandell, published by Fitzcarraldo Editions

The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen (Norway), translated by Don Bartlett, Don Shaw, published by Maclehose

A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman (Israel), translated by Jessica Cohen, published by Jonathan Cape

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (Argentina), translated by Megan McDowell, published by Oneworld

Judas by Amos Oz (Israel), translated by Nicholas de Lange, published by Chatto & Windus

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors (Denmark), translated by Misha Hoekstra, published by Pushkin Press