What Critics & Bloggers Think of the Man Booker Longlist (& Why I’m Supposed to Read The Leatherstocking Saga)

A friend says, “Enough Anglophilia!”

I was thinking of reading Charlotte M. Yonge when he launched a protest about my gaps in the American canon:  how can I read third-rate Victorian novels when I haven’t read James Fennimore Cooper’s The Leatherstocking Saga?  And so I am reading The Last of the Mohicans, and,  I admit,  there is a certain charm in sentences like,

“Chingachgook grasped the hand that, in the warmth of feeling, the scout had stretched across the fresh earth, and in that attitude of friendship these intrepid woodsmen bowed their heads together, while scalding tears fell to their feet, watering the grave of Uncas like drops of falling rain.”

Yet I will go crazy if I don’t read something British, so I am poring over the Man Booker Prize longlist (posted here), which, astonishingly,  features five Americans.   The only book I’ve read on the list is Elizabeth Strout’s  brilliant Booker-worthy novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton. 

Even more fun  than the longlist is the fuss about it.  Critics and bloggers have their favorites.

At the TLS blog, Toby Lichtig  analyzes the longlist and shares his personal longlist.  He writes,

When it comes to the Man Booker I’m firmly with Julian Barnes on the “posh bingo” front. As I discussed last night on Front Row with Alex Clark and John Wilson, this year’s is a particularly surprising list, blindsiding the critics with several novels that have barely been reviewed in the British press. Having not seen all 155 submitted books – and having, frankly, not read many of the ones on the current list – it would be unfair of me to criticize the choices. But while many of the entries are no doubt worthy of recognition, I could quite imagine an alternative reality in which all of these thirteen were replaced by thirteen deserving others. And certainly the list as a whole looks a little narrow to me. Everyone on it is either North American or British, with the exception of J. M. Coetzee, who represents the whole of African and Australasia. There are no Irish writers and no Asian ones (Madeleine Thien is a Canadian of Chinese parentage). There are fewer doorstops this year than in previous ones, and fewer sweeping narratives, with an emphasis on the family, the domestic.

I have read none of the books on Lichtig’s list (read the post!), but I do have Edna O’Brien’s The Little Red Chairs on my e-reader.  Does that count?

Then there’s The  Guardian Every summer it sponsors an informal Not the Booker Prize. There are 100 or more on the list, and you can vote for two choices.

Sam Jordison writes,

OK, I’m happy to admit that the main prize has a few things going for it. But I always feel that its longlist is just as notable for its omissions as the books that are chosen. This year was no exception. A few good books sometimes sneak on there – but dozens more don’t make it. And you know what? The Booker’s so-called longlist isn’t even that long. Not like the Not the Booker. As you will see below, our list really is long.

Well, I’ve only read three on this list.  Are they Not the Booker-worthy?  Here are my thoughts:

lionel shriver the mandibles 41m4GoRGmnLLionel Shriver’s The Mandibles, a brilliant, comical,  often dark  dystopian novel about money, is three-fourths Not the Booker-worthy. It’s fascinating, but some of the information about money (which we learn in dialogue) seems dumbed down.  (I also noted this dumbing down in the movie Money Monster with George Clooney and Julia Roberts.  People think we’re dumb about money–and yet…)

The Girls Cline 9780812998603Emma Cline’s The Girls, an eerie atmospheric novel about a woman looking back at her 1960s adolescence and her peripheral involvement with a Manson-like cult, is definitely Not the Booker-worthy (but British reviewers don’t seem to get it, so I think it’s an American thing, and that’s why it didn’t make the actual Booker list).

Charlotte Wood’s The Nature of Things, an Australian dystopian novel in the tradition of Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale.  It’s brilliant, but a bit slow in the beginning.  Is it Not the Booker-worthy?  It won the Stella Prize in Australia, but it wouldn’t be my choice.


At A Little Blog of Books, Clare writes,

Like many others, I had particularly high hopes for The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry and ‘The Tidal Zone’ by Sarah Moss but unfortunately both of these titles either missed out or were not submitted for entry. The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan’s forthcoming ‘Nutshell’ are other notable absentees. However, as well as ‘Eileen’ and ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’, I also picked out ‘Do Not Say We Have Nothing’ by Madeleine Thien as a potential longlisted book in my predictions list and I am looking forward to reading it over the summer. I must also confess that I didn’t realise until today that ‘Purity’ by Jonathan Franzen was actually eligible last year – for some reason, I thought it had been published in November in the UK rather than September last year so apologies if I misled anyone with that!

The Essex Serpent and Do Not Say We Have Nothing haven’t been published here yet, but I do want to read them.

Phillip Edwards at PGE’s Booker Blog analyzes,

…this list reminds me of 2011 – not because of its “readability” – but because I see a lot of also-rans.

I had a hunch back then that the wide open longlist full of unknowns left the way clear for Julian Barnes, who was far and away the biggest name on the longlist, and this time around I’m wondering if the same applies to JM Coetzee.

Coetzee would figure highly in any list of the world’s greatest living writers (even when no-one is quite sure who, or what, he is writing about) so if The Schooldays of Jesus is anywhere close to his best work he could be heading for a Booker hat-trick. Although Booker judges love to be unpredictable, and do usually drop the favourite at the shortlist stage…

Now there’s somebody who knows his Booker!

What books on the longlist do you recommend?  What do you think is missing?

I wonder what happened to Tessa Hadley’s The Past, which I wrote about here.  Was it published too early in the UK for this year’s Booker?

Who’s Reading the Man Booker Prize Longlist This Year & Will the Prize Go to an American Woman?

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We’re always excited when the Man Booker Prize longlist is announced. Over lunch I read the list to my husband.  I have read only one of them, Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton, a stunning, lyrical novel about a  writer’s  complicated relationship with her mother. (I wrote about it here).

Here is a sample of Strout’s gorgeous prose.

It was May, and then June, and I remember how I would stand and look out the window at the sidewalk below and watch the young women–my age–in their spring clothes, out on their lunch breaks; I could see their heads moving in conversation, their blouses rippling in the breeze. I thought how when I got out of the hospital I would never again walk down the sidewalk without giving thanks for being one of those people, and for many years I did that–I would remember the view from the hospital window and be glad for the sidewalk I was walking on.

It is Booker-worthy, but will they give it to an American woman?

The award has not yet gone to an American, let alone an American woman. In 2015 Karen Joy Fowler got robbed . (Many of us women bloggers thought so.) In her quirky short  novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, the narrator Rosemary relates the story of her search for Fern, the chimp who was raised as her sister for the first five years of her life by Rosemary’s psychologist parents in Bloomington, Indiana. Fowler won  the PEN/Faulkner Award last year.  But  I rather get the idea that slim, lyrical women’s novels do not get the respect in the UK they did in the ’90s.

My husband has read none of the books on the list, but is very excited about Coetze’s The Schooldays of Jesus, though it will not be published in the U.S. until next February.

In the early innocent days of book blogging (I’m dating it 2006, though it may have been later), several English and Canadian bloggers earnestly read the complete longlist year after year. I thought it was very sweet, and I participated (though I didn’t read the whole longlist ever! And I’m sure there were other American bloggers, though I can’t think of them.).  At our house we depended on Kevin of Canada, a good critic who was unswayed by others’ judgment.  Alas, he died this year, and I’m not sure if the Booker blogging goes on without him.

In 2009, my husband and I read several on the longlist.  I wrote at my old blog :

One hundred pages into A. S. Byatt’s stunning novel The Children’s Book, I’ve decided she wins the Booker Prize. I don’t have to read the rest of the contenders. The longlist was announced today, and Byatt’s on it, so she has a good shot, though my other nominee, Geoff Dyer, didn’t make it. I’m putting ALL my money on Byatt. It’s a good list this year – a relief after last year’s White Tiger debacle, when so many first-rate novels were winnowed from the list in favor of unpromising first novels. What happened to Hensher’s brilliant novel, The Northern Clemency, and Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies? My husband hated White Tiger, and I abandoned it after 30 pages.

My second on the list was  the quirky Me, Cheeta, which our library solemnly catalogued as a biography.  (Thank you, Library of Congress!)  In my post, I flippantly categorized it as  “a monkey comedy classic and spoof of celebrity autobiographies. Cheeta, the chimp who is Tarzan’s sidekick in the movies, tells all, bitching about the stars, animal rights, his own choice to be an actor rather than replaced by digital pixels, the pranks of Johnny Weissmuller and David Niven, the cocaine parties, the obnoxiousness of Lupe Velez, and more.”

Neither my first choice nor my second choice won. I was a little less enthusiastic for the next two years, and then I simply gave up the project because I wanted to read old books!

But I intend to try at least one of them this year.

The Man Booker longlist this year comprises the following:

Paul Beatty (American), “The Sellout”

J.M. Coetzee (South African-Australian), “The Schooldays of Jesus”

A.L. Kennedy (British), “Serious Sweet”

Deborah Levy (British), “Hot Milk”

Graeme Macrae Burnet (British), “His Bloody Project”

Ian McGuire (British), “The North Water”

David Means (American), “Hystopia”

Wyl Menmuir (British), “The Many”

Ottessa Moshfegh (American), “Eileen”

Virginia Reeves (American), “Work Like Any Other”

Elizabeth Strout (American), “My Name Is Lucy Barton”

David Szalay (Canadian-British), “All That Man Is”

Madeleine Thien (Canadian), “Do Not Say We Have Nothing”