I have blogged about the Man Booker Prize every summer since 2009. This year I haven’t mentioned it.
But I love awards.
Only I’m a little wary now.
I used to read a couple of the Booker longlisted books every year. Occasionally, but not often, I got around to the winners.
Naturally, I complained a great deal. My favorites never won. What happened to A. S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book? Or Sebastian Barry’s On Canaan’s Side?
I couldn’t face Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (the 2009 winner). I couldn’t even keep my Cromwells straight. I thought her novel was about the other Cromwell, Oliver. No, it was about Thomas. No American would want to read about Oliver or Thomas Cromwell, I thought. (I read it last year, however, and it was as good as everyone said.)
In 2010 I bravely read a few inconsequential books on the Booker longlist, like Lisa Moore’s Feburary (which I compared to the episode of Friends where Rachel had the baby) and Alan Warner’s The Stars in the Bright Sky (surely a Y.A. book!)
In 2011 Dame Stella Rimington, the chair of the judges that year, emphasized the prize would go for readability. I read a couple of very violent books on that longlist: Yyvette Edwards’ A Cupboard Full of Coats and Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon English (surely another Y.A. book!). The literary novels, with the exception of the winner, Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending, didn’t make the shortlist.
How about last year? Sorry, I am so far behind I haven’t read any of them except Will Self’s Umbrella. But in 2012, Sir Peter Stothard, TLS editor, author of Alexandria: The Last Days of Cleopatra, and chair of the judges last year, said they were interested in literary fiction. Writers and critics were pleased.
Last year I caught up with previous winners. I finally read Mantel’s Wolf Hall (2009), and Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question (2010).
And so this year I am catching up with Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending (2011) and HIlary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies (2012). Then I will have read almost the complete list of Booker winners.
Where does this leave the 2013 longlist?
I have already read most of Colum McCann’s Transatlantic (beautifully-written, but disappointing: the historical transatlantic-in-Ireland segments don’t connect very well ). I also have copy of Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary (written originally as a monologue, so I am doubtful, but I will read it).
I will decide whether to read the other longlisted books on a scale of my own invention:
1. The Basically American Scale”: Jhumpa Lahiri, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
2. The Most Interesting Scale: Jim Crace
3. The Great Writer Scale: Colm Tóibín
4. The Best Little-Known in the U.S. English Writer: Charlotte Mendelson
I’m sure many of these other writers are excellent, too, but I don’t know their work.
Here is the complete list. And if you’ve read any of them and can recommend them, let me know.
Tash Aw – Five Star Billionaire
NoViolet Bulawayo – We Need New Names
Eleanor Catton – The Luminaries
Jim Crace – Harvest
Eve Harris – The Marrying of Chani Kaufman
Richard House – The Kills
Jhumpa Lahiri – The Lowland
Alison MacLeod – Unexploded
Colum McCann – TransAtlantic
Charlotte Mendelson – Almost English
Ruth Ozeki – A Tale for the Time Being
Donal Ryan – The Spinning Heart
Colm Tóibín – The Testament of Mary