2009 Man Booker longlist announced
For those of you who haven’t seen it, the longlist for the 2009 Man Booker Prize has been announced. The judges are calling it “one of the strongest lists in recent memory” (which I’m sure isn’t meant to sound as much like faint praise as it does), and at one level they’re right, since it’s headed up by previous winners such as J.M. Coetzee, William Trevor and A.S. Byatt, but to my mind it’s an oddly subdued list.
I’m sure I’ve aired my views about the Australian fixation on the Booker before, but there’s something oddly colonial about the way we fetishize it, particularly given our relative lack of interest in American awards such as the Pulitzer and the National Book Award. No doubt that’s got a bit to do with the fact that the Booker admits Australian writers, while the major American awards don’t, but I suspect it’s got rather more to do with our lingering attachment to old prejudices.
That said, there’s no doubt that as literary horse races go, the Booker is one of the best. Artfully stage-managed until recently by administrator Martyn Goff, it has made an art form of the contrived controversy (for a more in-depth analysis of the reasons for the Booker’s pre-eminence you might want to read John Sutherland’s 2008 analysis of the prize’s evolution and Goff’s role in that process, ‘The Booker’s Big Bang’).
As for this year’s list, it’s nice to see my Faber stablemate, Sarah Hall get a guernsey for How to Paint a Dead Man. I was an admirer of her dystopian fable, The Carhullan Army, a book which took the allegorical power of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and married it to an incredibly fine-grained sense of the textures of the landscapes it inhabited. Likewise Colm Toibin’s quietly brilliant Brooklyn has to be a serious contender for the shortlist, if not the prize itself, as does the new Coetzee, Summertime. If these things really came down to quality, I’d say the Byatt was in with a chance as well, but remarkable as it is it’s such a deliberately unfashionable and idiosyncratic creation that it’s difficult to see it edging out more audience-friendly books like the Toibin.
But if I were a betting man, my money would be on the Mantel, Wolf Hall. It is, quite simply, a magnificent book: effortlessly intelligent, beautifully written, pulsing with life, and proof positive (if anyone had any doubt) that Hilary Mantel is one of the best writers working anywhere at the moment.
Anyway, the full longlist is:
A.S. Byatt, The Children’s Book (Chatto and Windus)
J.M. Coetzee, Summertime (Harvill Secker)
Adam Foulds, The Quickening Maze (Jonathan Cape)
Sarah Hall, How to paint a dead man (Faber and Faber)
Samantha Harvey, The Wilderness (Jonathan Cape)
James Lever, Me Cheeta (Fourth Estate)
Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate)
Simon Mawer, The Glass Room (Little, Brown)
Ed O’Loughlin, Not Untrue & Not Unkind (Penguin)
James Scudamore, Heliopolis (Harvill Secker)
Colm Toibin, Brooklyn Penguin (Viking)
William Trevor, Love and Summer (Viking)
Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger (Virago)