Golden Man Booker Prize shortlist revealed
No Irish winners among five titles chosen to represent best of prize’s five decades
Hollie McNish selected Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
The shortlist for the Golden Man Booker Prize was announced today at the Hay Festival. This special one-off award for the Man Booker Prize’s 50th anniversary celebrations will crown the best work of fiction from the last five decades of the prize.
All 51 previous winners were considered by a panel of five specially appointed judges, each of whom was asked to read the winning novels from one decade of the prize’s history.
Irish contenders included The Siege of Krishnapur by JG Farrell (1973); The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch (1978); Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle (1993); The Sea by John Banville (2005); and The Gathering by Anne Enright (2007);
The “Golden Five” – the books thought to have best stood the test of time – are: In a Free State by VS Naipaul; Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively; The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje; Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel; and Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.
Readers are now invited to have their say on which book is their favourite from this shortlist. The month-long public vote on the Man Booker Prize website will close on June 25th. To help the public decide, the website will feature videos of each judge discussing their choice.
The winner, as chosen by the public, will be announced and presented with a trophy at Golden Man Booker Live, the closing event of the Man Booker 50 Festival at Southbank Centre on July 8th at 7pm, after the judges debate their shortlisted books, along with readings from actors.
The Golden Five
In a Free State by VS Naipaul
In a Free State tells first of an Indian servant in Washington, who becomes an American citizen but feels he has ceased to be a part of the flow. Then of a disturbed Asian West Indian in London who, in jail for murder, has never really known where he is. The central novel then moves to Africa. The land is no longer safe, and at a time of tribal conflict two English visitors have to make the long drive to the safety of their compound. At the end of this drive we know everything about the English characters, the African country and the Idi Amin-like future awaiting it.
VS Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932. He is the author of more than 20 books of fiction and non-fiction and is the recipient of numerous honours, including the Nobel Prize in 2001, and a knighthood for services to literature in 1990. His latest book, The Masque of Africa, was published in 2010. He lives in Wiltshire, England.
Robert McCrum: I chose to nominate In A Free State for three principal reasons. First, it is outstandingly the best novel to win the Booker Prize in the 1970s, a disturbing book about displaced people at the dangerous edge of a disrupted world that could have been written yesterday, a classic for all seasons. Secondly, it signals the maturity of the novelist who would go on to write at least two contemporary masterpieces, Guerrillas and A Bend in the River. Shockingly, despite Naipaul’s genius, neither of these took the Booker prize. And finally, I chose In a Free State because it exemplifies the work of the writer I consider to be the greatest living exponent of English prose fiction. V.S. Naipaul is a master, with the literary equivalent of perfect pitch. In my book, he deserves to be placed at the head of the profession.
Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively
Moon Tiger is the tale of a historian confronting her personal history, unearthing the passions and pains that have defined her life. Claudia Hampton, a beautiful, famous writer, lies dying in hospital. But, as the nurses tend to her with quiet condescension, she is plotting her greatest work: ‘a history of the world ... and in the process, my own’. Gradually she recreates the rich mosaic of her life and times, conjuring up those she has known. Through an exquisite mesh of memories, flashbacks and shifting voices, this is a haunting story of loss and desire.
Penelope Lively is the author of many prize-winning novels and short-story collections for both adults and children. She was twice shortlisted for the Booker Prize for her first novel, The Road to Lichfield, and for According to Mark - before winning the award. She is also a popular writer for children and has won both the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Award.
Lemn Sissay: I chose Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively for three reasons. Firstly, I’ve never read a book about the Second World War written by a woman about a woman. Secondly, Lively’s ability to bring her character and the world she inhabits into full technicolour is beautiful. And thirdly because of the risks she takes in how she changes the pattern of the story. The central character of Moon Tiger is dying from the start, but what a life Claudia Hamilton has had. What a woman: historian lover and war reporter. This is a unique book about a fascinating unpredictable woman way ahead of her time and yet absolutely of her time. She barely speaks. She is incapacitated in a hospital bed. Claudia Hamilton writes a history of the world and of her life all inside her head. Her family won’t hear this story though it is about them. None of her lovers either. She bears all without fear or favour. The nurse patronises her. Her family visit and talk over her. But the lucky reader is given access to the mind of an incredible woman, by invitation of a wonderful writer.
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
The English Patient opens in an abandoned Italian villa at the end of the Second World War where Hana, a nurse, tends to her sole remaining patient. Rescued from a burning plane, the anonymous Englishman is damaged beyond recognition and haunted by painful memories.
The only clue Hana has to unlocking his past is the one thing he clung on to through the fire - a copy of The Histories by Herodotus, covered with hand-written notes detailing a tragic love affair.
Michael Ondaatje is one of the world’s foremost writers whose work has influenced an entire generation of writers and readers. Although he is best known as a novelist, Ondaatje’s work also encompasses poetry, memoir, and film, and reveals a passion for defying conventional form. He is one of only two authors whose work has won the Booker Prize and an Oscar.
Kamila Shamsie: The English Patient is that rare novel which gets under your skin and insists you return to it time and again, always yielding a new surprise or delight. It moves seamlessly between the epic and the intimate - one moment you’re in looking at the vast sweep of the desert and the next moment watching a nurse place a piece of plum in a patient’s mouth. That movement is mirrored in the way your thoughts, while reading it, move between large themes - war, loyalty, love - to tiny shifts in the relationships between characters. It’s intricately (and rewardingly) structured, beautifully written, with great humanity written into every page. Ondaatje’s imagination acknowledges no borders as it moves between Cairo, Italy, India, England, Canada - and between deserts and villas and bomb craters. And through all this, he makes you fall in love with his characters, live their joys and their sorrows. Few novels really deserve the praise: transformative. This one really does.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Wolf Hall is set at the court of Henry VIII in the 1520s. Cromwell is a wholly original man: the son of a brutal blacksmith, a political genius, a charmer, a bully, a man with a delicate and deadly expertise in manipulating people and events. Ruthless in pursuit of his own interests, his reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages. Wolf Hall peels back history to show us Tudor England as a half-made society, moulding itself with great passion, suffering and courage.
Hilary Mantel is the author of 14 books, including two short story collections, a memoir and various radio dramas. She has won a number of literary prizes and is one of only three authors to have won the Man Booker Prize twice. She lives by the sea in the west of England and is currently working on the third novel in her Cromwell trilogy, The Mirror & The Light.
Simon Mayo: My reading for this prize took me on quite an epic adventure with books set in Canada, India then Texas and Australia. But finally I returned to England. Specifically England. I’ve chosen the book that even though it is set hundreds of years ago, seemed to me to be the most contemporary. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is equally adept at the tiny, the micro - an exquisite description of feathers in a fancy dress costume is breathtaking - and the vast, the macro - the huge swirls of international diplomacy, splitting from Rome, politics, politicians and royalty. Oh so much royalty. It seemed, in its questioning of what England is and how it can disengage from Rome, of who should rule and where should power be held, to be a book as anguished as any essay about Brexit you’ll read in the papers. And in its central character of Thomas Cromwell, Mantel provides a masterly chief of staff, a spin doctor, enforcer and sceptic to echo through the ages.
Lincoln in the Bardo By George Saunders
Lincoln in the Bardo is the tale of Abraham Lincoln and the death of his 11 year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the American Civil War. Unfolding over a single night, this is a story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a thrilling, supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a transitional realm - called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo - and as ghosts mingle, squabble, gripe and commiserate, and stony tendrils creep towards the boy, a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.
George Saunders is the author of nine books including the award-winning short story collection Tenth of December. He has received MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships and the PEN/Malamud Prize for excellence in the short story, and was recently elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He teaches in the creative writing programme at Syracuse University.
Hollie McNish: I have never read a book like Lincoln in the Bardo. So many of the books on my list had me desperate to keep reading every time I had to stop and get on with normal life, but Lincoln in the Bardo not only had this effect on me, it made me question so much through the style in which it is written - from the structure and opportunities of writing itself, to the total subjectivity of historic facts and documentation. A few of the other novels were dedicated to discussing this matter, but Lincoln in the Bardo went further, and showed this through its brilliantly imaginative use of source material. I thought as a story, it was so funny, imaginative and tragic, but also a piece of genius in its originality of form and structure.