Two first-time female writers, Fiona Mozley (29) and Emily Fridlund (38), have made this year’s Man Booker shortlist, but the two Irish authors on the longlist, Mike McCormack and Sebastian Barry, failed to make the cut.
Ali Smith has been shortlisted for the fourth time, along with Paul Auster, Mohsin Hamid and George Saunders.
The shortlist, which features three women and three men, covers a wide range of subjects, from the struggle of a family trying to retain its self-sufficiency in rural England to a love story between two refugees seeking to flee an unnamed city in the throes of civil war.
The chair of the judges, Lola, Baroness Young, said: “With six unique and intrepid books that collectively push against the borders of convention, this year’s shortlist both acknowledges established authors and introduces new voices to the literary stage. Playful, sincere, unsettling, fierce: here is a group of novels grown from tradition but also radical and contemporary. The emotional, cultural, political and intellectual range of these books is remarkable, and the ways in which they challenge our thinking is a testament to the power of literature.”
In the fourth year that the prize has been open to writers of any nationality, the shortlist is made up of two British, one British-Pakistani and three American writers. Two novels from independent publishers, Faber & Faber and Bloomsbury, are shortlisted, alongside two from Penguin Random House imprint Hamish Hamilton and two from Hachette imprints, Weidenfeld & Nicolson and JM Originals.
The winner will be revealed on October 17th.
Man Booker 2017 shortlist: what our reviews said and judges’ comments
4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
(Faber & Faber)
The Irish Times review: "This novel is thick with the cloying aura of decency and noble sentiment that has threatened to smother Auster's work for some time. As an author he has achieved a lot, and one imagines he has much to be satisfied about. Good for him, but he seems to have lost sight of evil, malice and corruption – elements that could have made this insipid novel sharper. One craves for him to get his knives out and hurt something. His self-conscious attempt to write the Great American Novel lacks the acerbic insight that made Jonathan Franzen's comparably ambitious Freedom so fascinating." Read the full review.
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".
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
(Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House)
The Irish Times review: "Now with Exit West, his fourth novel, he further consolidates his position as a writer of our times. It is a brief, polemical work with a vast theme: displacement, and the ongoing human tragedy of the international refugee crisis. As he writes early in the narrative, ". . . when we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind." The facts overpower his story but this time, in a book which is more about its message than its artistry, it really doesn't matter." Read the full review.
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".
Elmet by Fiona Mozley
(JM Originals, John Murray)
The Irish Times review: "In many respects, it is a fine debut but it has flaws and one wonders at its selection in a year that saw such super first-timers as Sally Rooney's "Conversation With Friends", Lisa Ko's masterful immigrant story "The Leavers", Preti Taneja's "We That Are Young", a mammoth retelling of Lear set in contemporary India, or the complexity of Gabriel Tallent's teenage narrator in his upcoming debut "My Absolute Darling". The strengths of "Elmet" lie in Mozley's expressive writing and her ability to evoke atmosphere and setting." Read the full review.
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”.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
The Irish Times review: "Much of Saunders's work shows how people use words to obscure rather than explain, and his language is typically compact and coded as a result. In Lincoln in the Bardo people say what they mean, so, despite the highly original conceit, this is the most straightforward fiction he has written. Its looseness means it is easy to read, but it feels attenuated, at 350 pages less weighty than the best of his stories. Leave it to George Saunders always to surprise us, showing us here that a book can be at the same time a delight and something of a disappointment." Read the full review.
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”.
Autumn by Ali Smith
(Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House)
The Irish Times review: "Autumn may well be the harbinger of a new glut of Brexit fictions, but it is notable as much for its formal structure as its political content. Its patchwork aesthetic speaks to something authentic in the way many of us will have experienced not only the political crisis of the past few months – as consumers of online news media – but much else besides, as readers, watchers and listeners in the digital ecology. That sense of fragmentation and intertextual riffing, presaged in Boty's collages, is writ large in the remix dynamic of online cultural consumption, and it is this, as much as Smith's energetic, vibrant prose and topical setting, that makes it feel so compellingly contemporary. Nevertheless Autumn will primarily draw attention, and rightly so, for its appeal to conscience and common humanity – intergenerational, interracial, international – in these deeply worrying times." Read the full review.
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".
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".