Tantalising Impac longlist shows quality fiction is alive and well


The world’s richest literary award lives up to its international billing with 162 nominees from five continents – including four Irish writers

YET AGAIN the International Impac Dublin Literary Award longlist arrives with all the promise of an epic visit to a chocolate factory and features among the 162 nominees, including two Nobel literature laureates, four Irish writers as well as five previous winners.

A glance at the titles, nominated by an international panel of libraries, suggests that quality fiction is alive and well, as is the pleasure of reading, which is obviously being well served by libraries.

Colm Tóibín, winner in 2006 with The Master, is again nominated, this time for Brooklyn. The New York-based Colum McCann features with his National Book Award-winning Let the Great World Spin,while one of the world’s most enduring artists, William Trevor, is a deserved inclusion with his 14th novel, Love and Summer.Peter Murphy’s John the Revelatoris among 35 debut novels.

South Africa’s JM Coetzee has been nominated for his Booker runner-up Summertimeand must be considered a serious contender for the shortlist which will be announced on April 12th. His countryman Mark Behr has been included with his third novel Kings of the Water, which digs deep into the Afrikaner heart. Zimbabwe-born Gill Schierhout’s The Shape of Him, set in the early 1900s in the South African mines, is subtle, intense and unforgettable. Brazilian Patricia Melo’s cryptic thriller Lost World, a candid, rather brutal page-turner, will have support, as will German writer Julia Franck whose stark tale, The Blind Side of the Heart,has already enjoyed international success.

An obvious favourite must be The Vagrantsby Chinese-born, US-based Yiyun Li, a former winner of the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize; her dramatic novel based on real life in China is as beautifully written as it is courageous.

Also remarkable is Red Aprilby the young Peruvian author Santiago Roncagliolo.

The 2004 winner Tahar Ben Jelloun is again nominated, this time for Leaving Tangier. Joining him is 2003’s winner Orhan Pamuk, with The Museum of Innocence.

Veteran Egyptian writer Bahaa Taher has been longlisted for Sunset Oasis, a powerful study of a society at war with itself. Israeli writer Amos Oz makes his considerable presence felt with Rhyming Life and Death.

Five very different Australians stake their respective claims: double Booker winner Peter Carey with his period romp Parrot and Olivier in America; and his less widely celebrated but gifted countryman Alex Miller whose longlisting for Lovesongcould prove significant in alerting readers not only to this book but to his other work. Inaugural Impac winner David Malouf has made the longlist with a work of extraordinary beauty, Ransom, which recreates the episode in Homer’s Iliadwhen King Priam attempts to retrieve his son’s body from the vengeful Achilles. Renaissance man Nick Cave makes an unexpected appearance with The Death of Bunny Munro.

Evie Wyld’s debut novel, After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, was expected to do very well on publication; now, with nomination, it may fulfil that promise.

Among the British contingent is Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker-winning Wolf Hall,joined by another Booker winner, 1984’s Anita Brookner with Strangers; and Adam Foulds, nominated for his intriguing debut novel The Quickening Maze,based on the sad life of 19th-century poet John Clare.

Few literary prize lists appear without Margaret Atwood and she is again nominated, this time for The Year of the Flood.Other Canadians to consider are Shandi Mitchell for her wartime debut set in the Canadian Prairies, Under this Unbroken Sky; Lisa Moore’s February, based on a true life oil-rig disaster; and Linden MacIntyre’s The Bishop’s Man, which won the 2009 Giller Prize and draws on the suppression of scandals in the Catholic Church. New Zealander Alison Wong’s debut, As the Earth Turns Silver, is a romance which turns on harsh truths and will appeal to a range of readers.

US fiction is always dominant internationally and Jayne Anne Phillips features on the longlist with her comeback novel, Lark Termite; Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, an epic historical novel ranging from 1930s Mexico and Trotsky’s final hours to the McCarthy hearings, carries immense weight. For sheer artistry, however, few match Paul Harding’s elegiac debut Tinkers.

Several of the novels have been translated by some of the finest practitioners in that field. So it is fitting that among this year’s judges is gifted translator Michael Hoffmann, who translated the 1998 Impac winner The Land of Green Plumsby Herta Müller.

This impressive and wonderfully international longlist should produce a remarkable shortlist. Li’s T he Vagrantsand Roncagliolo’s Red Aprilmust surely be joined by Harding’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Tinkers. From an Irish point of view, McCann and Trevor look likely contenders.