Man Booker Prize 2018: Three Irish writers make longlist
Sally Rooney, Donal Ryan and Anna Burns in running for £50,000 prize
Longlisted for Man Booker Prize 2018: Sally Rooney, Donal Ryan and Anna Burns. Photographs: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times; Man Booker
Three Irish novelists have made the 13-strong longlist for this year’s £50,000 Man Booker Prize. Donal Ryan is nominated for From a Low and Quiet Sea, Sally Rooney for Normal People and and Anna Burns for Milkman.
This puts Ireland on a par with the US, which also has three writers on the list: Nick Drnaso for Sabrina, Rachel Kushner for The Man’s Room and Richard Powers for The Overstory.
The Sri Lankan-born, Canadian-based writer Michael Ondaatje makes the list with his seventh novel, Warlight. Ondaatje’s The English Patient, which shared the 1992 prize with Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger, recently won the Golden Man Booker, a special one-off award which crowned the “best work of fiction from the last five decades”. Time will tell whether this triumph will help or hinder Warlight, which some critics have called “mesmerising” and “a masterpiece” while others bemoaned its imprecision and lack of drama. Also from Canada comes Esi Edugyan with Washington Black; she was Booker-shortlisted in 2011 for her novel Half Blood Blues.
Five writers from Britain complete the longlist. Of these titles, four are debut novels: The Long Take, by the Scottish poet Robin Robertson; The Water Cure, by the Welsh short story writer Sophie Mackintosh; Everything Under, by Daisy Johnson, whose debut collection of short stories, Fen, was published in 2016, and In Our Mad And Furious City by Guy Gunaratne, who is also a designer and documentary film-maker.
Belinda Bauer, whose debut Blacklands won the CWA Gold Dagger for best crime novel, is nominated for Snap, which opens with three children sitting in a car, waiting for their mother to return. (She doesn’t.) No surprise there, perhaps, given that the crime writer Val McDermid is one of this year’s judges, alongside Jacqueline Rose, Leanne Shapton, Leo Robson and the chair, Kwame Anthony Appiah. Drnaso’s Sabrina is the first graphic novel ever to make the list.
As always, there’ll be a great deal of discussion about which writers haven’t made the list. There may be just three American “invaders” in this year’s pot; even so, there’s no room for British writers Pat Barker, Julian Barnes, Andrew Miller, Jim Crace, Alan Hollinghurst or Rachel Cusk. Nor have the judges singled out Lisa Halliday’s Asymmetry or Madeleine Miller’s Circe.
An obvious omission, from an Irish point of view, is David Park, whose latest novel, Travelling In A Strange Land, set in a whited-out winter landscape, has been called a “short but breathtaking” study of parental heartache.
Nor is there space for any of 2018’s big hits from Down Under: Peter Carey’s A Long Way From Home – hailed in some quarters as the Australian’s best novel in decades, or Michelle de Kretser’s scathing and satirical The Life To Come, for instance.
Given all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about omissions, then, Irish readers can take quiet satisfaction from the inclusion of three Irish authors. Ryan was longlisted in 2013 for The Spinning Heart. It also won the Guardian First Book Award and irish Book of the Year. Burns was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, now the Women’s Prize for Fiction, in 2001 for her debut, No Bones. Ronetyywas the 2017 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year.
From A Low and Quiet Sea, Donal Ryan’s fourth novel, was praised by Irish Times reviewer Martina Evans for its author’s ability to “blow attractive life into any number of characters, no matter how compromised, mean or dreary” while in the Guardian, John Boyne described it as “a superb novel, from a writer building a body of work the equal of any today”.
Milkman, Anna Burns’s darkly comic take on Belfast in the 1990s, is “an impressive, wordy, often funny book and confirms Anna Burns as one of our rising literary stars”, Irish Times reviewer Adrian McKinty said. Also in The Irish Times, Eoin McNamee wrote: “I haven’t stopped talking about Anna Burns’s astonishing Milkman. The voice is dazzling, funny, acute. You find yourself somewhere that is Belfast and is also its own elsewhere. Her characters are at the same time delineated with laser clarity and shadows of their own meaning. Like all great writing it invents its own context, becomes its own universe.”
Normal People by Sally Rooney, the editor of The Stinging Fly literary magazine, is the highly-anticipated follow-up to the much-praised Conversations With Friends. A deeply moving portrait of a relationship which also casts a cool eye on Irish society, class and the urban/rural divide, it will be published in September.
This is the first year that novels published in Ireland are eligible for the Man Booker Prize, following a change in rules which recognises the “special relationship” between the UK and Irish publishing markets. However, just one Irish publisher has actually made the cut – Ryan is published by Doubleday Ireland, an imprint of Transworld Ireland. Burns and Rooney are both published by Faber & Faber.
The shortlist of six books will be announced on September 20th. The winner will be revealed on October 16th.
The 2018 Man Booker longlist: synopses and judges’ comments
Snap, Belinda Bauer (Bantam Press)
Judges’ comment: “An acute, stylish, intelligent novel about how we survive trauma. Expertly paced, Snap offers a beautiful evocation of the lives of children, and how they perceive and manage tragedy. It undermines the tropes of its own genre, and leaves us with something that lingers.”
Synopsis: On a stifling summer’s day, eleven-year-old Jack and his two sisters sit in their broken-down car, waiting for their mother to come back and rescue them. Jack’s in charge, she’d said. I won’t be long. But she doesn’t come back. She never comes back. And life as the children know it is changed forever.
Milkman, Anna Burns (Faber & Faber)
Judges’ comment: “At turns frightening and inspirational, Milkman is stylistically utterly distinctive. At t the intersection of class, race, gender and sexual violence, it deals with oppression and power with a Beckettian sense of humour, offering a wholly original take on Ireland in the time of the Troubles through the mind of a young girl. Genuinely experimental, its ability to move from the scene of public life into the intimate landscape of the mind, sometimes in a single sentence, is stunning.”
Read The Irish Times review
Synopsis: In this unnamed city, to be interesting is dangerous. Middle sister, our protagonist, is busy attempting to keep her mother from discovering her maybe-boyfriend and to keep everyone in the dark about her encounter with Milkman. But when first brother-in-law sniffs out her struggle, and rumours start to swell, middle sister becomes “interesting”. The last thing she ever wanted to be. To be interesting is to be noticed and to be noticed is dangerous … Milkman is a tale of gossip and hearsay, silence and deliberate deafness. It is the story of inaction with enormous consequences.
Sabrina, Nick Drnaso (Granta Books)
Judges’ comment: “Given the changing shape of fiction, it was only a matter of time before a graphic novel was included on the Man Booker longlist. Sabrina makes demands on the reader in precisely the way all good fiction does. Oblique, subtle, minimal, unmanipulative: the style of the pictures is the book’s worldview. Drnaso uses images to express an idea about what’s invisible - an idea about uncertainty, and the different kinds of holes that missing people leave in our lives.”
Read The Irish Times review
Synopsis: Where is Sabrina? The answer is hidden on a videotape, a tape which is en route to several news outlets, and about to go viral. Sabrina is the story of what happens when an intimate, “everyday” tragedy collides with the appetites of the 24-hour news cycle; when somebody’s lived trauma becomes another person’s gossip; when it becomes fodder for social media, fake news, conspiracy theorists, maniacs, the bored.
Washington Black, Esi Edugyan (Serpent’s Tail)
Judges’ comment: “A dazzling exploration of race in the Atlantic world, which also manages to be a yarn and a chase story. A book of extraordinary political and racial scope, Washington Black is wonderfully written, extremely imaginative, profoundly engaging and filled with an empathetic understanding of characters who are uprooted from places they knew and required to make adjustments in worlds they could barely have dreamt of. It manages to keep you on the edge of your seat, while making you, as a reader, want to savour every moment.”
Synopsis: Escape is only the beginning. From the brutal cane plantations of Barbados to the icy wastes of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-filled streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black is the tale - inspired by a true story - of a world destroyed and the search to make it whole again.
In Our Mad and Furious City, Guy Gunaratne (Tinder Press)
Judges’ comment: “An ambitious mosaic of virtuosic ventriloquism, Guy Gunaratne’s book is an inner city novel for our times, exploring the endurance of social trauma across generations, and conveying the agony and energy of the marginalised, the outsider, and the oppressed. Both a social panorama and a thriller, it contains a vibrant energy and some extraordinary plot twists that go against what might be our cultural expectations. “
Read The Irish Times review
Synopsis: For Selvon, Ardan and Yusuf, growing up under the towers of Stones Estate, summer means what it does anywhere: football, music, freedom. But now, after the killing of a British soldier, riots are spreading across the city, and nowhere is safe. While the fury swirls around them, Selvon and Ardan remain focused on their own obsessions, girls and grime. Their friend Yusuf is caught up in a different tide, a wave of radicalism surging through his local mosque, threatening to carry his troubled brother, Irfan, with it.
Everything Under, Daisy Johnson (Jonathan Cape)
Judges’ comment: “A hypnotic, mythic, unexpected story from a beguiling new voice. Everything Under is an exploration of family, gender, the ways we understand each other and the hands we hold out to each other - a story that’s like the waterways at its heart: you have to take the trip to understand what’s underneath.”
Synopsis: Words are important to Gretel, always have been. As a child, she lived on a canal boat with her mother, and together they invented a language that was just their own. She hasn’t seen her mother since the age of sixteen, though - almost a lifetime ago - and those memories have faded. Now Gretel works as a lexicographer, updating dictionary entries, which suits her solitary nature. A phone call from the hospital interrupts Gretel’s isolation and throws up questions from long ago. She begins to remember the private vocabulary of her childhood. She remembers other things, too: the wild years spent on the river; the strange, lonely boy who came to stay on the boat one winter; and the creature in the water - a canal thief? - swimming upstream, getting ever closer. In the end there will be nothing for Gretel to do but go back.
The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner (Jonathan Cape)
Judges’ comment: “A novel about gender, class and the absolute corruption of the American dream, The Mars Room explores the meaning of incarceration in our moment. Breezy, hardened, bleakly comic, it contains wonderfully rich dramatis personae and an extraordinary sensory vividness. It feels terrifyingly authentic.”
Read The Irish Times review
Synopsis: Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences, plus six years, at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility. Outside is the world from which she has been permanently severed: the San Francisco of her youth, changed almost beyond recognition. The Mars Room strip club where she once gave lap dances for a living. And her seven-year- old son, Jackson, now in the care of Romy’s estranged mother.
Inside is a new reality to adapt to: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive. The deadpan absurdities of institutional living, daily acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike, allegiances formed over liquor brewed in socks and stories shared through sewage pipes.
Romy sees the future stretch out ahead of her in a long, unwavering line - until news from outside brings a ferocious urgency to her existence, challenging her to escape her own destiny. The Mars Room presents not just a bold and unsentimental panorama of life on the margins of contemporary America, but an excoriating attack on the prison-industrial complex.
The Water Cure, Sophie Mackintosh (Hamish Hamilton)
Judges’ comment: “This chilling, beautifully written novel explores the ways in which extreme parental protection can fail, and unpicks patriarchy at its core, forcing us to ask what it means to survive, indeed whether it is possible to survive, in a man’s world. Allegorical and plausible, the tautness and tension of the writing are staggering.”
Read The Irish Times review
Synopsis: Imagine a world very close to our own: where women are not safe in their bodies, where desperate measures are required to raise a daughter. This is the story of Grace, Lia and Sky, kept apart from the world for their own good and taught the terrible things that every woman must learn about love. And it is the story of the men who come to find them - three strangers washed up by the sea, their gazes hungry and insistent, trailing desire and destruction in their wake. The Water Cure is a fever dream, a blazing vision of suffering, sisterhood and transformation. Sophie Mackintosh brings us face to face with the brutality of love, demanding to know the price of survival in a hostile world.
Warlight, Michael Ondaatje (Jonathan Cape)
Judges’ comment: “Wonderfully atmospheric, beautifully paced, subtle storytelling. Warlight contains an incredible array of characters through whom Ondaatje tells the hidden, barely spoken, tale of war, especially as it impacts on children. Ondaatje skilfully moves back and forth through time, finally offering an extraordinary narrative twist that feels as earned as it is unexpected.”
Read our interview with Michael Ondaatje
Synopsis: It is 1945, and London is still reeling from the Blitz and years of war. 14-year-old Nathaniel and his sister, Rachel, are apparently abandoned by their parents, left in the care of an enigmatic figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and grow both more convinced and less concerned as they get to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women with a shared history, all of whom seem determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all he didn’t know or understand in that time, and it is this journey - through reality, recollection, and imagination - that is told in this magnificent novel.
The Overstory, Richard Powers (William Heinemann)
Judges’ comment: “An ecological epic, a novel of ideas, The Overstory begins with five apparently distinct narratives and then binds them into a compelling network of connections. In this book about how we are destroying and saving our trees, the form reflects the subject, as disparate strands come together to form a canopy. Powers has managed to write a novel in which human responsibility is embedded in the most intimate, private, details of a lived life.”
Read The Irish Times review
Synopsis: Nine strangers, each in different ways, become summoned by trees, brought together in a last stand to save the continent’s few remaining acres of virgin forest. The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fable, ranging from antebellum New York to the late 20th-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond, revealing a world alongside our own - vast, slow, resourceful, magnificently inventive and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world, and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.
The Long Take, Robin Robertson (Picador)
Judges’ comment: “The Long Take is like a film noir on the page. A book about a man and a city in shock, it’s an extraordinary evocation of the debris and the ongoing destruction of war even in times of peace. In taking a scenario we think we know from the movies but offering a completely different perspective, Robin Robertson shows the flexibility a poet can bring to form and style.”
Synopsis: Walker is a D-Day veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder; he can’t return home to rural Nova Scotia, and looks instead to the city for freedom, anonymity and repair. As he moves from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco we witness a crucial period of fracture in American history, one that also allowed film noir to flourish. The Dream had gone sour but - as those dark, classic movies made clear - the country needed outsiders to study and dramatise its new anxieties. While Walker tries to piece his life together, America is beginning to come apart: deeply paranoid, doubting its own certainties, riven by social and racial division, spiralling corruption and the collapse of the inner cities. The Long Take is about a good man, brutalised by war, haunted by violence and apparently doomed to return to it - yet resolved to find kindness again, in the world and in himself.
Normal People, Sally Rooney (Faber & Faber)
Judges’ comment: “A very intimate character study of two young people trying to figure out how to love each other, Normal People is written in compressed, composed, allusive prose that invites you read behind the lines. So much in it is shown and not told. Grounded in the everyday, it transforms what might have been a flimsy subject into something that demands a lot of the reader.”
Synopsis: In school Connell and Marianne affect not to know each other. People know that Marianne lives in the white mansion with the driveway and that Connell’s mother is a cleaner, but no one knows of the special relationship between these facts. Despite these social tangles, a connection grows between them and when they both get places to study at Trinity College in Dublin it lasts long into the following years. Normal People is a love story about how a person can change another person’s life - a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel. It tells us how difficult it is to talk about how we feel and it tells us - blazingly - about cycles of domination, legitimacy and privilege.
From a Low and Quiet Sea, Donal Ryan (Doubleday Ireland)
Judges’ comment: “A portrait of three men in one landscape, From A Low and Quiet Sea holds its narratives in perfectly sustained equilibrium, then brings them together without cliché. A deft, unshowy novel about manhood and momentous contingency, it evokes the way in which real lives unfold and wrap around each other.”
Read The Irish Times review
Synopsis: Farouk’s country has been torn apart by war. Lampy’s heart has been laid waste by Chloe. John’s past torments him as he nears his end. The refugee. The dreamer. The penitent. From war-torn Syria to small-town Ireland, three men, scarred by all they have loved and lost, are searching for some version of home. Each is drawn towards a powerful reckoning, one that will bring them together in the most unexpected of ways.