International Dublin Literary Award longlist announced

Impressive show for German language writers with 11 titles among 160 nominated

German writerJenny Erpenbeck. Photograph:  Andree/ullstein bild via Getty

German writerJenny Erpenbeck. Photograph: Andree/ullstein bild via Getty

 

Readers and book stores everywhere will be excited by the 160-title strong announcement of the 2016 long list for the Dublin International Literary Award. Now in its 21st year, though for the first time without the familiar IMPAC, the name is shorter but the long list is among the lengthiest in its already distinguished history.

An impressive number of 53 titles in translation have been nominated, fittingly for an award which had done so much to champion the range, diversity and flair of international fiction in translation.

Two previous winners, Norway’s Per Petterson (2007) and the 2006 winner Colm Toibin are again nominated.

Toibin who is one of the seven Irish writers nominated has become one of the constants on award shortlists and his novel Nora Webster is likely to make the short list.

His literary world domination seems set to continue while another short list veteran, Sebastian Barry is represented this time by The Temporary Gentleman. Mary Costello’s debut novel, Academy Street, bearing the Toibin period influence, is also nominated. Petterson has been nominated for I Refuse.

Many familiar titles feature including the winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize, Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings.

A Man Booker long listed contender that failed to reach that short list, Laila Lalami’s thrilling historical novel, The Moor’s Account, has been nominated and it will be interesting to see how it fares.

In common with Toibin, Ali Smith invariably features on award shortlists and she is nominated for her 2014 Man Booker runner up How to be both. As is Neel Mukherjee’s intriguing, if somewhat pompous, The Lives of Others. Ian McEwan’s unconvincing foray into the mind and conscience of a female judge The Children’s Act, is also nominated.

Several outstanding, less high profiled works that have yet to be fully acknowledged by award juries have been noted by keen-eyed library readers and are here nominated. The remarkable Canadian writer Miriam Toews has a dedicated following and All My Puny Sorrows, based on the suicide of a beloved sister, is deserving of the widest audience. It should make the short list.

Wonderful to see Brazilian writer Michel Laub’s powerful and profound cross-generational story Diary of the Fall, translated by Margaret Jull Costa included. What begins with a schoolboy prank which ends in tragedy looks further back to a guilt rooted in survival.

Always contentious yet seldom able to catch a panel’s favour is Martin Amis. Nominated here for The Zone of Interest, an original and daring narrative which managed to impress many and irritate others.

Much the same could be written about Swiss writer Joel Dicker’s block buster Twin Peaks-influenced thriller The Truth About The Harry Quebert Affair, translated from the French by Sam Taylor.

The inclusion of Timur Vermes’s Look Who’s Back, translated by Jamie Bulloch a black comedy about the re-appearance of Adolf Hitler will either amuse or outrage or probably both.

The American challenge is gracefully led by the magisterial presence of Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, which inexplicably failed to reach the Man Booker short list but should feature here.

The prize could, finally, witness the long over due emergence of Richard Powers nominated here for a dazzling puzzle, Orfeo.

Library readers are certainly aware of his genius. Orfeo is his 11th novel in a career which began as long ago as 1985 with Three Farmers on Their Way to a Dance. He has a cult following and Orfeo could well be his finest novel to date.

There should be huge support for the Catalan writer Jaume Cabré’s ambitious masterwork Confessions, translated by Mara Faye Lethem. Confessions spans history from the Inquisition to the Nazi death camps, as seen through the imagination of a man attempting to make sense of his life through memories which are distorted and insistent.

It is quite a journey which tests the senses, never mind logic, yet seldom falters although it is defiantly long.

It would be a daring winner. Also taking risks if largely stylistic which don’t always succeed yet this seems almost irrelevant such is the importance of the book is Serbian writer Aleksander Gatalica’s The Great War.

This is an immensely important, layered narrative looking at the First World War from the Serbian viewpoint.

A huge bestseller in the Balkans, Will Firth’s translation is no less than heroic. The sheer weight of history and the author’s ambition make this a demanding book yet it is also rewarding and insightful, a characteristic piece of bold publishing from the independent Istros press.

Yet even at first glance an obvious winner must be the German writer Jenny Erpenbeck, previously nominated for Visitation, this time she towers over the field with the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize winning The End of Days, translated by Susan Bernofsky who has already been honoured for her brilliant translation of Erpenbeck’s stern if beautiful prose, on a quick tot it seems I’ve only read 97 of the 160 books, but of them The End of Days about lives not lived is unforgettable, an inspired work.

Erpenbeck, the daughter of a philosopher, is a daunting original. Her fiction is brilliant, and metaphysical, it is lyrical and oddly confrontational. It is a form of philosophical speculation which also draws on the resonance of history.

It could well be the year of a German-language presence. Of the eleven nominated books translated from German, the Berlin-born Erpenbeck is joined by the outstanding Judith Schalansky whose second novel The Giraffe’s Neck explores the hidden secret of a science teacher who has lived by the rules, not emotion. It is a very touching book, heartbreaking, eloquent and erudite yet also funny and rendered into subtle English by the always superb Shaun Whiteside.

Munich-born Daniel Kehlmann is internationally established, his fifth novel, Measuring the World (2005; English translation 2007) has been translated into more than 40 languages.

Nominated for F, the story about a father and his damaged sons, Kehlmann could teach the overrated Jonathan Franzen a great deal about dysfunctional families.

F is a terrific yarn, very human and fully of empathy. It would be a popular winner as Kehlmann has mastered lightness of touch and in Carol Brown Janeway he has an ideal English-language translator.

The Swiss writer Peter Stamm’s harrowing morality play All Days Are Night is translated from the German by Michael Hofmann, while it is fascinating to see the inclusion of Liechtenstein writer Patrick Boltshauser nominated for Rapids which has been translated from the German by Peter Arnds who worked on it while staying in the Heinrich Böll Cottage on Achill Island.

It is a coming of age novel which then opens out in a campus narrative as well as a love story.

Also a coming of age, if very different, is Stefanie de Velasco’s lively Tiger Milk in which teenage girls wander about multi-cultural a sweltering summer’s Berlin attempting to shed their virginity. Tim Mohr’s translation conveys the defiance of children hovering on the edges of adult realities.

Of the books from the Netherlands, Peter Buwalda’s sophisticated and harsh family saga Bonita Avenue, translated by Jonathan Reeder, has the edge over Herman Koch’s Summer House with Swimming Pool, translated by Sam Garrett which is nowhere as convincing as Koch’s The Dinner.

Nor is Otto de Kat’s News from Berlin, translated by Ina Rilke as good as de Kat’s previous novel Julia, a beguiling slow burn of a story which really does make one catch one’s breath.

In this the earliest moment of the announcement, the signs appear to be pointing towards a German win.

Not since Romanian Herta Muller won in 1998 with The Land of Green Plums - among the finest victors to date - has a German language work taken this award. Jenny Erpenbeck’s The End of Days would be a magnificent choice. It is a long journey until the short list in April, but there is no better way to pass the winter than travelling the world through reading a long list compiled by readers who value their libraries.