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Falling Behind and the Man Booker Prize

August 1, 2011

Well, it seems that if you run off to go backpacking in the mountains for a week and the world of books decides to go insane. This goes far further than my personal inability to stay on top of reviews and reflections for you guys. The insanity is far grander than my life – the Man Booker Prize Longlist for 2011 was released. And it is, apparently, quite controversial. Lots of relatively unknown books are here – lots of well-known others appear to have been overlooked.

As a literature lover who has an enormous back-catalogue of books to read (and to review for this blog, it would seem. Expect at least one later today), very few of which have been published in 2011, I have little right to makes commentary on which books should or should not have been included in this list. And I have always used the shortlists for the Booker Prize as a means of finding new authors – this is the first time I’ve cared enough to follow the longlist. But lets talk about it a bit anyways, ok? From my perspective, merely as a listing of books that I am hoping to read.

The long list is:

  • The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes
  • On Canaan’s Side, Sebastian Barry
  • Jamrach’s Menagerie, Carol Birch
  • The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt
  • Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan
  • A Cupboard Full of Coats, Yvvette Edwards
  • The Stranger’s Child, Alan Holinghurst
  • Pigeon English, Stephen Kelman
  • The Last Hundred Days, Patrick McGuinness
  • Snowdrops, A.D. Miller
  • Far to Go, Alison Pick
  • The Testament of Jessie Lamb, Jane Rogers
  • Derby Day, D.J. Taylor
One of the frustrations, living on this side of the Atlantic Pond, is that many of these books are not yet available in North America. Some are not even dated for release in North America just yet – which will surely change as a result of this longlisting (nothing like being nominated for the world’s biggest literary prize to push sales).  To be eligible you have to have been released in Britain, not internationally, so many of these books have not seen the light of a North American day, and will not do so for quite some time yet. How are we are to possibly accurately predict the winner without having actually read all the books?
Well, even if I could read all of the books between now and October, I can assure you that I don’t really have the intention of reading all of the books on this list. In fact, there are more books released in 2011 that are not on this list that I am hoping to read than there are on this list. But, of those listed…
  • Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch is leading the pack of books to read. I read reviews of this book months ago on many British blogs and was really, really interested. And then I bought it when it was released here – and have yet to crack the spine.
  • The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt is supposed to be quite interesting. I bought it for my brother as a birthday gift as I know he likes westerns, and this one is supposed to be quite something. I am looking forward to diving into this one.
  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes seems to have an interesting plot. And Barnes has been shortlisted before, so this is not a one-time writing success story. Unfortunately, this book will not be available in paperback until January of 2012.
  • The Stranger’s Child by Alan Holinghurst is getting a lot of mixed reviews, and I will admit that its length is a little daunting for something that is not a ‘guaranteed’ hit (granted, these never exist anyways). But Holinghurst has won the Booker in the past (the only longlisted author to have had that success). And the plot summary seems interesting; seemed interesting weeks before the longlist was released. But it is not due until October.
  • Derby Day  by D.J. Taylor does not have a North American release date yet. Seriously. And I want one quite badly. The plot summary seems really interesting – focusing entirely on the Victorian tradition of Derby Day in the Surrey region of Britain, and how the lives of so many people become somehow connected by the event. Seems interesting.
  • The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuiness seems to have the most interesting plot outline of the entire list to me. Set in Romania as it falls to pieces with the end of the Communist regime, it is the story of a city trying to survive. And though this may seem similar in outline to Tom McCarthy’s Men in Space (review here – it disappointed me greatly), I have considerable hope for this one. And yet it has not North American release yet. Sadly.
So what books of 2011 did not make the list, were eligible, but are probably worth the time it would take to read them?
  • Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje was not nominated, though I have enjoyed books I have read by him – there is one scene from Divisadero that continues to haunt my memory for its emotional and physical power.
  • Last Man in Tower by Aravind Adiga, another novel not yet released in Canada, looks to have a more interesting premise than his Booker-winning novel The White Tiger.
  • Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones looks promising.
  • At Last, the final book in a trilogy by Edward St. Aubyn, has been loved by all the bloggers that have read it. I need to start at the beginning, but this series is immensely hard to find in North America – an edition including all of the books in the series is being released in January. And I intend on picking it up.
  • We Had it So Good by previous short-lister Linda Grant has received great reviews, and is set in 1960s London. My historical understanding of the sixties is pretty limited to North America, so this would be an interesting read.
  • The Free World by David Bezmozgis looks fascinating – and it is also by a Canadian author. It is about immigration, about being stuck and lost and trying to find oneself in a completely new land. Apparently. And I want it – have wanted it since its release months ago. And have not yet gotten to reading it.
  • King of the Badgers by Philip Hensher sounds like a book that J.M. Coetzee would consider writing. And I have thoroughly enjoyed reading and the sizeable reflection that both books I have read by Coetzee have demanded. I will definitely be giving this one a try.
  • Embassytown by China Mieville is very, very far removed from the genres that I like to read. It is set in the future, a false future. It is about of world that does not exist and likely never will. It is from a genre called science fiction. And it is supposed to be fantastic. And some bloggers have loved it that say they can’t really get into the science fiction world. So maybe, just maybe, this book will help me do that…
  • Gillespie and I by Jane Harris is a book I want, and need, and I don’t yet know why I don’t already have it sitting on my shelf of books I have read. It has been available in Canada for just over a month now, I heard about it in glowing British reviews months ago, and I just have not yet purchased it. I’m thinking of going ebook for this one – by the cover art is so beautiful that I really kind of want it have it on my physical shelf.
So the question that must be asked is if the jurors have selected the right books. In my opinion, based on the books that I want to read, it would appear as though they have not. Of course, none of these books listed above have actually been read, so I can’t make any comments on that. Regardless, I am very excited to get down to some more reading.The shortlist is announced on September 8th. The winner announced on October 18th. Judging by the frustration by the listing thus far, I can see this year for the Man Booker Prize becoming quite controversial indeed. Looking forward to it.

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