Man Booker longlist eschews 'wow' factor for meaty reads

Thu, Jul 26, 2012, 01:00

MAN BOOKER Prize judges said they focused on “novels not novelists” and “texts not reputations” to come up with this year’s longlist – overlooking some of the biggest names in contemporary fiction, including Zadie Smith, Ian McEwan and Martin Amis.

Smith, with her first novel in seven years, NW, out in September, was widely expected to make the list, as were a host of former winners including John Banville, Pat Barker and Howard Jacobson. Instead, four debut writers were chosen: Sam Thompson for his first novel Communion Town, the story of a city; Rachel Joyce for The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, in which a man leaves home after setting out to post a letter; Jeet Thayil for his tale of opium addiction in Mumbai, Narcopolis; and Alison Moore for The Lighthouse, which sees a man set out to find himself on a German walking holiday.

Ned Beauman (27) also made the cut, for his second novel The Teleportation Accident, a slice of historical noir set in 1930s Germany. “Who published a book, and indeed even the author, is of very little concern to Man Booker judges. We were considering novels not novelists, texts not reputations,” said the chair of the judges, Peter Stothard, editor of the Times Literary Supplement.

Heading the list of names up for the prestigious £50,000 (€63,790) award was Hilary Mantel, chosen for her follow-up to the Booker-winning Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, a continuation of her life of Thomas Cromwell. Her work was the bookies’ favourite, with Will Self’s Umbrella – in which a maverick psychiatrist tries to wake victims of the encephalitis lethargica sleeping sickness epidemic at the end of the first World War – coming in second.

Bookseller Jonathan Ruppin of Foyles tipped Self to win and described the longlist as “one of the most delightful and unexpected in years”.

Stothard said the key criteria for this year’s judges was that “a text has to reveal more, the more often you read it”.

“We were looking for books that you can make a sustained critical argument about, and when you read them again, you can make a different critical argument – not for books you can just say ‘wow, I enjoyed it’, or ‘wow, that was terrible’.” he said.

Nicola Barker was longlisted for The Yips, the stories of the denizens of a bar at “a clean but generic hotel” in Luton, while Michael Frayn’s Skios, a farce set on a Greek island, and Andre Brink’s Philida, which tells of a slave’s journey in 1832 Cape Town, were also chosen.

Selecting 12 titles from 145 novels over three and a half hours of discussion, the judges completed their longlist with Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists, set in Malaya in 1949, and Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home. The shortlist will be announced on September 11th and the winner will be revealed on October 16th. – (Guardian service)

THE BOOKER LONG LIST

The Yips

Nicola Barker (Fourth Estate)

The Teleportation Accident

Ned Beauman (Sceptre)

Philida

André Brink (Harvill Secker)

The Garden of Evening Mists

Tan Twan Eng (Myrmidon Books)

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Rachel Joyce (Doubleday)

Bring up the Bodies

Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate)

Skios

Michael Frayn (Faber & Faber)

Swimming Home

Deborah Levy (And Other Stories)

The Lighthouse

Alison Moore (Salt)

Umbrella

Will Self (Bloomsbury)

Narcopolis

Jeet Thayil (Faber & Faber)

Communion Town

Sam Thompson (Fourth Estate)