Sales and acclaim make Sally Rooney’s ‘Normal People’ Man Booker Prize favourite

Three Irish writers hope to make tomorrow’s shortlist for prestigious £50,000 award

Sally Rooney, author of Normal People. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Sally Rooney, author of Normal People. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

If the Man Booker Prize was purely a popularity contest, Snap by Belinda Bauer would be the hottest of favourites to win the competition, never mind make the shortlist of six books, which will be announced tomorrow at 10am and livestreamed on Facebook.

The most prestigious English-language literary award is a much more high-minded affair, of course, weighted much more heavily in favour of critical acclaim, which is why bookmakers have made Normal People, the second novel by 27-year-old Irish author Sally Rooney, the hot favourite at 3-1 to win this year’s prize on October 16th, while the bestselling English crime writer Bauer is the outsider at 20-1.

Snap, about the aftermath of a young mother’s disappearance, has sold 53,147 copies in Britain to date, though only 701 in Ireland, surprisingly. The first crime novel to be longlisted, the judges called it “an acute, stylish, intelligent novel about how we survive trauma”.

Normal People, despite being published less than three weeks ago, has already outsold all the longlisted titles other than Snap, with 15,843 sales in Britain and 5,389 copies sold here.

“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,” the judges said. “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.”

Rooney’s main rivals, according to the bookmakers, are Warlight by Sri Lankan-born Canadian Michael Ondaatje, at 5-1, followed by Sabrina by Nick Drnaso, the first graphic novel to be longlisted, and The Overstory by Richard Power. Both US titles are at 6-1.

Ondaatje’s The English Patient won the Booker Prize in 1992 and the Golden Man Booker Prize earlier this year. Warlight, set in war-ravaged London in 1945, is the tale of two children taken under the wing of an eccentric and enigmatic figure. “Wonderfully atmospheric, beautifully paced, subtle storytelling,” was the judges’ verdict. “Warlight contains an incredible array of characters through whom Ondaatje tells the hidden, barely spoken, tale of war, especially as it impacts on children.” It has sold 12,859 copies in Britain so far, and 1,755 copies in Ireland.

Rooney, from Castlebar, Co Mayo, is one of three Irish writers on this year’s 13-strong longlist – a record number – along with Milkman by Anna Burns and From A Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan.

Donal Ryan, author of From a Low and Quiet Sea. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Donal Ryan, author of From a Low and Quiet Sea. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Ryan, whose Man Booker-longlisted 2012 debut The Spinning Heart won Irish Book of the Year and the Guardian First Book Award, is at 10-1 for From a Low and Quiet Sea, a three-stranded story of loss and guilt, which moves from the unfamiliar terrain of war-torn Syria to the author’s home turf of small-town Ireland. Ryan was born near Nenagh, Co Tipperary, in 1976.

The judges said of it: “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 cliche. A deft, unshowy novel about manhood and momentous contingency, it evokes the way in which real lives unfold and wrap around each other.”

Ryan’s novel was published back in March but it is still striking that it has sold 10,913 copies in Ireland, more than twice the total to date of Normal People, while it has sold 3,456 copies in Britain.

Burns was born in Belfast in 1962 but now lives in East Sussex. She was shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2002 for her debut, No Bones. She is at 12-1 for her brilliant but challenging portrayal of an alienated young woman preyed on by a predatory paramilitary in Troubles-era Belfast. It has sold 797 copies here – outselling Bauer’s Snap – and 1,625 in Britain.

“At turns frightening and inspirational, Milkman is stylistically utterly distinctive,” the judges said. “At 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.”

Anna Burns, author of Milkman. Photograph: Eleni Stefanou
Anna Burns, author of Milkman. Photograph: Eleni Stefanou

The winner of the Man Booker Prize receives £50,000 and can expect both international recognition and hugely increased sales. In the week following the 2017 winner announcement, sales of Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders increased by 1,227 per cent. Bloomsbury has to date sold over 230,000 copies, 70 per cent of those sales coming after the win.

This year’s judges are the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah (chair); crime writer Val McDermid; cultural critic Leo Robson; feminist writer and critic Jacqueline Rose; and artist and graphic novelist Leanne Shapton. The shortlisted authors each receive £2,500 and a specially bound edition of their book. The winner will be announced in London’s Guildhall at a ceremony broadcast by the BBC.

The longlist
Belinda Bauer (UK) Snap (Bantam Press)
Anna Burns (UK) Milkman (Faber & Faber)
Nick Drnaso (USA) Sabrina (Granta Books)
Esi Edugyan (Canada) Washington Black (Serpent’s Tail)
Guy Gunaratne (UK) In Our Mad And Furious City (Tinder Press)
Daisy Johnson (UK) Everything Under (Jonathan Cape)
Rachel Kushner (USA) The Mars Room (Jonathan Cape)
Sophie Mackintosh (UK) The Water Cure (Hamish Hamilton)
Michael Ondaatje (Canada) Warlight (Jonathan Cape)
Richard Powers (USA) The Overstory (William Heinemann)
Robin Robertson (UK) The Long Take (Picador)
Sally Rooney (Ireland) Normal People (Faber & Faber)
Donal Ryan (Ireland) From A Low And Quiet Sea (Doubleday Ireland)

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