Man Booker prize 2017: Irish authors Sebastian Barry and Mike McCormack on longlist

Pair have already won awards for their listed novels, ‘Days Without End’ and ‘Solar Bones’

Sebastian Barry and Mike McCormack: Man Booker 2017 longlisted

Sebastian Barry and Mike McCormack: Man Booker 2017 longlisted


Two Irish authors, Sebastian Barry and Mike McCormack, have made the 13-strong longlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize with novels that have already won major awards.

Days Without End by Barry won the 2016 Costa Book of the Year Award, while Solar Bones by McCormack won the Goldsmiths Prize and the BGE Irish Book of the Year Award after it was published by Tramp Press in Dublin last year. Controversially, it was ineligible for the Man Booker Prize until it was published by Canongate, a British publisher, in May.

The longlist also features four Americans; four British writers; two Pakistanis; and one Indian, Arundhati Roy, whose debut, The God of Small Things, won in 1997. Paul Beatty became the first American author to win the prize last year with The Sellout, and a second American success would not surprise. Among the favourites will be The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; Lincoln in the Bardo, the debut novel by bestselling short-story writer George Saunders; and 4321 by Paul Auster.

The list includes four previously shortlisted writers: Barry; Ali Smith; Zadie Smith and Mohsin Hamid; while Jon McGregor is longlisted for a third time. Two other debut novels are by the two youngest authors on the list: Elmet by Fiona Mozley (29) and History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (38). Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie completes the list.

An experimental flight

McCormack, who lives in Mayo and teaches at University College Galway, said he was “thrilled to be longlisted and so happy for those who put their faith in such an experimental flight: my publishers, Tramp Press and Canongate, and my agent Marianne Gunn O Connor.”

Sarah Davis-Goff and and Lisa Coen, his publishers at Tramp Press, said McCormack deserved the recognition. “Working with Mike on this stunning piece of literature has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and watching him get the recognition he deserves as one of the world’s leading literary talents is incredibly gratifying.”

Meanwhile Sebastian Barry described being longlisted as “pure happiness”. “These are moments of purest happiness for a writer, professionally, but also, as Yeats might say, ‘in the deep heart’s core’,” he said.

Lola Young, chairwoman of the judges, said the longlisted books are “a tonic for our times”. “We found there was a spirit common to all these novels: though their subject matter might be turbulent, their power and range were life-affirming – a tonic for our times. Together their authors – both recognised and new – explore an array of literary forms and techniques, from those working in a traditional vein to those who aim to move the walls of fiction.”

The longlist was chosen from 144 submissions published in Britain between October 2016 and September 2017. The shortlist of six books will be announced on September 13th and the winner will be revealed on October 17th.

The previous Irish winners are Anne Enright, in 2007 for The Gathering, John Banville, for The Sea in 2005, and Roddy Doyle in 1993 for Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha.


4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
(Faber & Faber)

Judges’ comments: The judges praised this “magisterial” investigation of multiple lives. They considered Auster’s novel to be “large-hearted and subtle”, and to contain “hundreds of thousands of calibrations against different backgrounds of history – an endlessly spinning wheel”.

Synopsis: On March 3rd, 1947, in the maternity ward of Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the one and only child of Rose and Stanley Ferguson, is born. From that single beginning, Ferguson’s life will take four simultaneous and independent fictional paths.

Four Fergusons made of the same genetic material, four boys who are the same boy, will go on to lead four parallel and entirely different lives. Family fortunes diverge. Loves and friendships and intellectual passions contrast. Chapter by chapter, the rotating narratives evolve into an elaborate dance of inner worlds enfolded within the outer forces of history as, one by one, the intimate plots of the four Fergusons’ stories rush on across the tumultuous and fractured terrain of mid-20th century America. A boy grows up – again and again and again. The Irish Times review

Penpic: Auster is the best-selling author of Winter Journal, Sunset Park, Man in the Dark, The Brooklyn Follies, The Book of Illusions, and The New York Trilogy, among many other works. In 2006 he was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature and inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Among his other honours are the Independent Spirit Award for the screenplay of Smoke, and the Prix Medicis Etranger for Leviathan. He has also been shortlisted for both the International Impac Dublin Literary Award and the Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and his work has been translated into more than 30 languages. He was born in 1947 and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
(Faber & Faber)

Judges’ comment: “A tour de force of narrative voice”, in the judges’ opinion, Barry’s book was thought to be “pitch perfect, sentence by sentence”. It was admired for its “hallucinatory descriptions of warfare” and “powerful evocations of landscape”.

Synopsis: After signing up for the US army in the 1850s, aged barely 17, Thomas McNulty and his brother-in-arms, John Cole, go on to fight in the Indian wars and, ultimately, the Civil War. Having fled terrible hardships themselves, they find these days to be vivid and filled with wonder, despite the horrors they both witness and are complicit in. Their lives are further enriched and endangered when a young Indian girl crosses their path, and the possibility of lasting happiness emerges, if only they can survive. The Irish Times review

Biog: Barry was born in Dublin in 1955. His novels and plays have won the Costa Book of the Year award, the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Prize, the Irish Book Awards Novel of the Year, the Independent Booksellers Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He also had two consecutive novels, A Long Long Way Down (2005) and the top 10 bestseller The Secret Scripture (2008), shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Days Without End won the 2016 Costa Book of the Year Award. He lives in Wicklow with his wife and three children.

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Orion Books)

Judges’ comment: The judges declared this novel to be “magically vivid” and “very, very subtle”. An acute psychoanalysis of unparented children, it has, they believed, “a slow, unfolding mystery to it – questions that need to be answered about regret and religion and the way people act towards their kin”.

Synopsis: Linda, aged 14, lives on a dying commune on the edge of a lake in the Midwest of America. She and her parents are the last remaining inhabitants, the others having long since left amid bitter acrimony. She has grown up isolated both by geography and her understanding of the world, and is an outsider at school, regarded as a freak.

One day she notices the arrival of a young family in a cabin on the opposite side of the lake. She starts to befriend them, first their four-year-old son, Paul, and then his young mother, Patra, who is also lonely and isolated. For the first time she feels a sense of belonging that has been missing from her life.

Leo, the father, is a university professor and an enigmatic figure, perpetually absent. When he returns home, Linda is shunned by the family unit. Desperate to be accepted again, she struggles to resume her place in their home and fails to see the terrible warning signals, with devastating consequences.

Biog: Fridlund was born in 1979 and grew up in Minnesota. She holds an MFA from Washington University in St Louis and a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. Her collection of stories Catapult was chosen by Ben Marcus for the Mary McCarthy Prize and will be published by Sarabande Books. She lives in the Finger Lakes region of New York. History of Wolves is her first novel.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
(Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House)

Judges’ comment: A “daring, delicate, unsentimental” novel, in the opinion of the judges, which “distils the emotional wrenches of a very contemporary displacement”. This was thought to be “a short book that maintains its tensile strength” and “has the tenor of a future classic”.

Synopsis: In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, Saeed and Nadia lock eyes across their classroom. After a while, they talk, he makes her smile and they start to fall in love. They try not to notice the sound of bombs getting closer every night, the radio announcing new laws, the curfews and the public executions.

Eventually the problem is too big to ignore: it’s not safe for Nadia to live alone and she must move in with Saeed, even though they are not married, and that too is a problem. Meanwhile, rumours are spreading of strange black doors in secret places across the city, doors that lead to London or San Francisco, Greece or Dubai. One day soon the time will come for Nadia and Saeed to seek out one such door, joining the great outpouring of those fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world. The Irish Times Review

Biog: Hamid writes regularly for the New York Times, the Guardian and the New York Review of Books, and is the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist (shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize), Moth Smoke, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia and Discontent and its Civilisations. He was born in 1971 and raised mostly in Lahore, and has since lived between Lahore, London and New York.

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

Judges’ comment: The judges deemed Solar Bones, a stream-of-consciousness novel that succeeds on its own terms, to be “innovative without being quaint”. It is, they said, full of “beautifully sustained writing” and explores ideas about politics, family and infidelity with “great sensitivity”.

Synopsis: Marcus Conway has come a long way to stand in the kitchen of his home and remember the rhythms and routines of his life. He considers with his engineer’s mind how things – bridges, banking systems, marriages – are constructed and how they may come apart. The Irish Times review

Biog: McCormack is an award-winning novelist and short-story writer from Co Mayo, Ireland. His previous work includes Getting it in the Head, Notes from a Coma, which was shortlisted for BGE Irish Novel of the Year, and Forensic Songs. In 1996 he was awarded the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature for Getting it in the Head, and in 2007 he was awarded a Civitella Ranieri Fellowship. In 2016, Solar Bones won the Goldsmiths Prize and the BGE Irish Book of the Year award. He was born in 1965.

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
(4th Estate, HarperCollins)

Judges’ comment: A “penetrative”, “nuanced”, “skilful” novel not only about the disappearance of a girl but about “the functioning and dysfunctioning of a community”, and how the land impacts that community, too. It is, the judges concluded, “a rare praise poem to humanity”.

Synopsis: In midwinter in the early years of this century, a teenage girl on holiday has gone missing in the hills at the heart of England. The villagers are called up to join the search, fanning out across the moors as the police set up roadblocks and a crowd of news reporters descends on their usually quiet home. Meanwhile, there is work that must still be done: cows milked, fences repaired, stone cut, pints poured, beds made, sermons written, a pantomime rehearsed. The search for the missing girl goes on, but so does everyday life. As it must. As the seasons unfold, there are those who leave the village and those who are pulled back; those who come together or break apart. There are births and deaths; secrets kept and exposed; livelihoods made and lost; small kindnesses and unanticipated betrayals. Bats hang in the eaves of the church and herons stand sentry in the river; fieldfares flock in the hawthorn trees and badgers and foxes prowl deep in the woods – mating and fighting, hunting and dying. The Irish Times review

Biog: McGregor is the author of four novels and a story collection. He is the winner of the Impac Dublin Literature Prize, Betty Trask Prize, and Somerset Maugham Award, and has twice been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize (in 2002 for If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things and in 2006 for So Many Ways to Begin). He is professor of creative writing at the University of Nottingham, where he edits The Letters Page, a literary journal in letters. He was born in Bermuda in 1976, grew up in Norfolk, and now lives in Nottingham.

Elmet by Fiona Mozley
(JM Originals, John Murray)

Judges’ comment: “A hugely potent story about aspects of hidden England,” is how the judges described Elmet. Seen through the eyes of children, it tells a story about societies “that are at the margins of ‘civilised’ English life” in “a very distinctive, unusual voice”, and it “builds to a terrifying climax”.

Synopsis: Daniel is heading north. He is looking for someone. The simplicity of his early life with Daddy and Cathy has turned sour and fearful. They lived apart in the house that Daddy built for them with his bare hands. They foraged and hunted. When they were younger, Daniel and Cathy had gone to school. But they were not like the other children then, and they are even less like them now. Sometimes Daddy disappeared, and would return with a rage in his eyes. But when he was at home he was at peace. He told them that the little copse in Elmet was theirs alone. But that wasn’t true. Local men, greedy and watchful, began to circle like vultures. All the while, the terrible violence in Daddy grew.

Elmet is a lyrical commentary on contemporary English society and one family’s precarious place in it, as well as an exploration of how deep the bond between father and child can go.  The Irish Times review

Biog: Fiona Mozley was born in 1988 and grew up in York. She went to King’s College, Cambridge, after which she lived in Buenos Aires and London. She is studying for a PhD in medieval history. Elmet is her first novel.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
(Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House)

Judges’ comment: “A rich and vital book” that “comes from the bowels of India”, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness was thought by the judges to be of “remarkable scale” and to have “extraordinary style and intelligence”.

Synopsis: In a city graveyard, a resident unrolls a threadbare Persian carpet between two graves. On a concrete sidewalk, a baby appears quite suddenly, a little after midnight, in a crib of litter. In a snowy valley, a father writes to his five-year-old daughter about the number of people who attended her funeral. And in the Jannat Guest House, two people who’ve known each other all their lives sleep with their arms wrapped around one another as though they have only just met.

Here is a cast of unforgettable characters caught up in the tide of history. It is told with a whisper, with a shout, with tears and with laughter – a love story and a provocation. Its heroes – present and departed, human and animal – have been broken by the world we live in and then mended by love, and for this reason they will never surrender. The Irish Times review

Biog: Roy is the author of The God of Small Things, which won the Booker Prize in 1997 and has been translated into more than 40 languages. Since then Roy has published several works of nonfiction, including The Algebra of Infinite Justice, Listening to Grasshoppers and Broken Republic. She was born in 1961 and now lives in New Delhi, India.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Judges’ comment: This “haunting and haunted”, “heartrending and playful” book, said the judges, is a “virtuoso choral performance” about love and regret. “Funny, unusual, eccentric,” with its versions of history overlaid, this is, they added, “a phenomenally good novel in a post-truth era”.

Synopsis: On February 22nd, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln is laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, his father, Abraham, arrives at the cemetery, alone, under cover of darkness.

Over the course of that evening, Abraham Lincoln paces the graveyard, unsettled by the death of his beloved boy, and by the grim shadow of a war that feels as though it is without end. Meanwhile Willie is trapped in a state of limbo between the dead and the living – drawn to his father, with whom he can no longer communicate, existing in a ghostly world populated by the recently passed and the long dead.

Unfolding in the graveyard over a single night, narrated by a dazzling chorus of voices, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief and the deeper meaning and possibilities of life. The Irish Times review

Biog: Saunders was born in 1958 and is the author of nine books, including Tenth of December, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and won the inaugural Folio Prize (for the best work of fiction in English) and the Story Prize (best short-story collection). 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. In 2013 he was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine. He teaches in the creative writing programme at Syracuse University.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Judges’ comment: A “subtle”, “unexpected” and “gripping” book about the encountering of prejudice. They described the book, due to be published later this year, as “arresting and nuanced”; “makes geopolitical fractures deeply personal”.

Synopsis: Isma is free. After years spent raising her twin siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she is finally studying in America. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London – or their brother, Parvaiz, who has disappeared to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Eamonn, the son of a powerful British Muslim politician, has his own birth right to live up to – or defy. Two families’ fates are devastatingly entwined in this searing novel that asks: what sacrifices will we make in the name of love? The Irish Times review

Biog: Shamsie is the author of six novels: In the City by the Sea (shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize); Salt and Saffron; Kartography (shortlisted for the same prize); Broken Verses; Burnt Shadows (shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction) and, most recently, A God in Every Stone, which was shortlisted for the Baileys Prize, the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. Three of her novels have received awards from Pakistan’s Academy of Letters. Shamsie is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2013. She was born in 1973, grew up in Karachi and now lives in London.

Autumn by Ali Smith
(Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House)

Judges’ comment: The judges admired the “great verbal and imaginative energy” in this “searching, post-Brexit novel with a bifurcated story”. They considered it to be “humane, zany, delightful, optimistic”.

Synopsis: Autumn. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. That’s what it felt like for Keats in 1819.

How about Autumn 2016? Daniel is a century old. Elisabeth, born in 1984, has her eye on the future. The United Kingdom is in pieces, divided by a historic once-in-a-generation summer.

Autumn is a meditation on a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, on what harvest means. This first in a seasonal quartet casts an eye over our own time. Who are we? What are we made of? Shakespearian jeu d’esprit, Keatsian melancholy, the sheer bright energy of 1960s pop art: the centuries cast their eyes over our own history-making.

From the imagination of Ali Smith comes a shape-shifting series, wide-ranging in timescale and light-footed through histories, and a story about ageing and time and love and stories themselves. The Irish Times review

Biog: Smith was born in Inverness in 1962. She is the author of Free Love and Other Stories; Like; Hotel World; The Whole Story and Other Stories; The Accidental; Girl Meets Boy; The First Person and Other Stories; There But for The; Artful; How to Be Both; and Public Library and Other Stories. Hotel World was shortlisted for the 2001 Booker Prize and the Orange Prize, and The Accidental was shortlisted for the 2005 Man Booker and the Orange Prize. How to Be Both won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Goldsmiths Prize and the Costa Novel Award and was shortlisted for the 2014 Man Booker and the Folio Prize. Ali Smith lives in Cambridge.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith
(Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House)

Judges’ comment: “A mature and thoughtful book”, the judges said, which offers “a fascinating study of someone who lives her life through others”. Swing Time, they concluded, “takes serious subject matter – the history of identity and culture – and addresses it with unabashed intelligence”.

Synopsis: Dazzlingly energetic and deeply human, Swing Time is a story about friendship and music and true identity, how they shape us and how we can survive them. Moving from northwest London to west Africa, it is an exuberant dance to the music of time.

Two brown girls dream of being dancers – but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, what constitutes a tribe or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early 20s, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either. The Irish Times review

Biog: Smith is the author of the novels White Teeth, The Autograph Man, On Beauty and NW, as well as The Embassy of Cambodia and a collection of essays, Changing My Mind. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and has twice been listed as one of Granta’s 20 Best Young British Novelists. She has won the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Guardian First Book Award among many others, and has been shortlisted for the 2005 Man Booker Prize and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. She was born in northwest London in 1975 and now lives in London and New York with her husband and two children. Swing Time is her fifth novel.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Fleet, Little, Brown )

Judges’ comment: A “harshly dramatic and compulsive read” about a slave woman’s flight from a plantation¨. The Underground Railroad was thought by the judges to be “daring and disturbing”. In addressing a painful subject, it “creates a dreamscape that is also realistic, and a deeply political statement as well”.

Synopsis: Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the north.

In Whitehead’s razor-sharp imagining of the antebellum south, the Underground Railroad has assumed a physical form: a dilapidated box car pulled along subterranean tracks by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can. Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

At each stop on her journey, Cora encounters a different world. As Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once the story of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shatteringly powerful meditation on history. The Irish Times review

Biog: Whitehead, born in 1969, is the New York Times bestselling author of The Noble Hustle, Zone One, Sag Harbor, The Intuitionist, John Henry Days, Apex Hides the Hurt, and one collection of essays, The Colossus of New York. He is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and a recipient of MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships. The Underground Railroad won the 2016 National Book Award for Fiction and the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. He lives in New York.

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