Uninspired longlist in a Booker year of paucity

Australian writer Richard Flanagan’s war novel ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’ deserves to win the prize

Thu, Jul 24, 2014, 01:00

Kingsnorth’s inclusion offers at least a token gesture towards balancing the conservative feel of the longlist.

David Nicholls, author of the bestselling One Day, features with Us, a feelgood work – which was five years years in the making – about a couple about to call time on their marriage before the husband tries a final gambit with a family holiday.

Lost opportunity

If ever a list needed Martin Amis’s presence it is this one. The Zone of Interest, which returns to the world Amis imagined in his 1991 novel Time’s Arrow (his only novel to date shortlisted for the Booker) is due to be published at the end of August and could have injected into the competition a useful element of controversy. Its omission seems a lost opportunity.

The prize, which was first awarded in 1969, was until this year open only to writers from the UK, the commonwealth, Zimbabwe and the Republic. Canadian writers have featured prominently over the years but there was always the fear that once US novelists became eligible for the competition they would overwhelm it through quality of work and sheer force of numbers.

In this much-hyped first “global” year, however, only four US novelists have made the longlist.

Joshua Ferris’s third novel, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, is fun but far from great and owes too much to material Philip Roth has worked to death.

Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book Club (2004), is longlisted for We are All Completely Beside Ourselves, a big-hearted family yarn that spins on a narrative twist.

Siri Hustvedt’s sixth novel, The Blazing World, explores artistic equality, and is intricate and characteristically cerebral.

Most interesting of all is the inclusion Orfeo by Richard Powers, which could alert a wider readership to one of American fiction’s most enigmatic imaginations.

There has been a dearth of good fiction this year, which makes the exclusion of Eyrie, by another Australian, Tim Winton, such a shame. It is a serious omission, as is that of Arctic Summer, South African novelist Damon Galgut’s hymn to EM Forster.

The omission of Canadian novelist Miriam Toews’s finest work to date, All My Puny Sorrows, is notable, as is that of Em and the Big Hoom, by Mumbai-born novelist Jerry Pinto; and that of The Visitors, US-based Irish writer Patrick O’Keefe’s debut.

Commentators are likely to wonder why the longlist includes 10 men but only three women. The shortlist is due to be announced on September 9th.