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2011 Man Booker Prize Longlist Announced

Alan Hollinghurst

The big news overnight is the announcement of the longlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize. As usual it’s a mixed bag, with books by heavy-hitters such as Alan Hollinghurst rubbing shoulders with books by relative unknowns such as Esi Edugyan, but this year it’s also heavy on Canadians (Alison Pick, Patrick deWitt, Esi Edugyan) and debut novels (Stephen Kelman, A.D. Miller, Yvette Edwards and Patrick McGuiness). There are no Australians on the list.

I’ve only read a handful of the books on the list, so I’m not going to offer any organised views about it beyond saying that while it looks like an interesting and reasonably diverse selection of books, the proof, as always, will be in what kind of shortlist it shakes out into.

Of the books I have read, I’m pleased to see Sebastian Barry’s On Canaan’s Side has made the cut: I’m reviewing it for The Australian so I won’t go into too much detail, but I will say that while I’m not sure it’s quite as good as his extraordinary 2005 novel, A Long Long Way (if you haven’t read it do so, now) it’s a very fine novel. Likewise I’ve read part but not all of the Hollinghurst and while again I’m not convinced it has the urgency and unity of The Line of Beauty, it’s also very, very good. That said I reviewed Carol Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie, which is based on the wreck of the Whaleship Essex and was also longlisted for the Orange Prize, and while I like it, I’m a little surprised to see it turning up here, though that’s less because I don’t rate it as a book than because its brand of highly coloured, almost ecstatic historical fiction (think Golding rather than Mantel) seems a little at odds with the tone of the list as a whole.

Of the things I haven’t read I’ve heard uniformly terrific things about Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending, and I’m interested to see Jane Rogers, a writer who has been more than a little neglected in recent years make the list with what sounds like a piece of dystopian science fiction.

As always the other question is what’s not been included. The books the media have noticed are missing are Graham Swift’s Wish You Were Here and Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz. Of the two I’m unsurprised by the omission of the Swift, which I’ve reviewed for The Age, and while again I don’t want to preempt the review I will say is really quite bad. I’m more surprised about the Enright: while it’s not as striking or as urgent as either her short fiction or her 2007 Booker-winner, The Gathering, it’s a quite dazzling book at a textual and technical level, demonstrating not just great psychological and social acuity, but the marvellous combination of steeliness and orality that so distinguishes Enright’s prose. I’m also slightly surprised by the omission of Malcolm Knox’s The Life, which I assume was eligible for the prize, and should, all things being equal, have been in contention.

The other big omission is China Miéville’s Embassytown, which had been widely tipped to bring Miéville the mainstream recognition he so plainly deserves. I don’t want to revisit the genre vs literary argument here, but to my mind the failure to even longlist a novel as rich and prismatic as Embassytown says something about the narrowness of our literary culture.

I’m sure others can think of other SF and Fantasy books that perhaps should have been included, but I’d like to mention one in particular, which is Jo Walton’s Among Others. I have no idea whether it was even submitted, but if it wasn’t that seems a pity, since it’s both a wonderful novel and a book I suspect is likely to appeal to literary readers as much as it does to a segment of the SF and Fantasy readership. I’m planning to write something about it soon, so I won’t go on about it too much here, except to say I enjoyed it immensely, and it’s very definitely a book that deserves a wider readership.

Anyway, enough about me. You can read more about the list at The Guardian and The Independent (or anywhere, really), read the official announcement for more information about the prize and the judges, or find links to samples from the longlisted books on Galleycat. The shortlist is announced on Tuesday 6 September and the winner on Tuesday 18 October. The full longlist is below.

Update: Two more books I’m surprised aren’t on the list. The conclusion to Edward St Aubyn’s Melrose Trilogy, At Last, and my agent David Miller’s wonderful short novel about the death of Conrad, Today. I’m sure more will occur to me as the day goes on …

Julian Barnes – The Sense of an Ending
Sebastian Barry – On Canaan’s Side
Carol Birch – Jamrach’s Menagerie
Patrick deWitt – The Sisters Brothers
Esi Edugyan – Half Blood Blues
Yvvette Edwards – A Cupboard Full of Coats
Alan Hollinghurst – The Stranger’s Child
Stephen Kelman – Pigeon English
Patrick McGuinness – The Last Hundred Days
A.D. Miller – Snowdrops
Alison Pick – Far to Go
Jane Rogers – The Testament of Jessie Lamb
D.J. Taylor – Derby Day

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. So glad you mentioned the St Aubyn; he is truly an amazing writer though he should have won for Mothers Milk.

    July 27, 2011
    • He is, though I’m not sure this one is his best: somehow the book embodies the process of reconciliation it depicts, so a bit of the ferocious pain that makes the others so compelling is absent. But it’s still pretty damn good.

      July 27, 2011
  2. I haven’t read Embassytown yet, or The City & The City, but if Mieville’s style hasn’t improved since the Bas-Lag books I don’t think he deserves to be longlisted. He has an absolutely amazing imagination, creates fantastic worlds, and is more talented than most other fantasy and sci fi authors. But compared to high calibre literary authors, he still falls short. His dialogue is clunky and he’s too prone to lengthy introspection. Or at least, that’s what he’s like in the Bas-Lag books.

    I was also a bit disappointed by the shallowness of the nationalities – all British Isles with a few Canadians. It seems to be quite English-dominated in recent years. I suppose sooner or later India will become a more developed country and produce more educated writers, and they’ll come to dominate it. Has New Zealand ever even been shortlisted?

    July 27, 2011
  3. Keri Hulme is the only New Zealander I remember winning but there may be more. And I take your point about its Britishcentrism, but the shallowness is at least partly a function of the rules about publication in Britain.

    July 27, 2011
  4. Clare #

    Yes, THE LIFE was most certainly eligible and entered and all that good stuff…sigh.

    July 27, 2011
  5. Thanks for the link to your review of Carol Birch’s book, James – I just read the Guardian review and thought I’d seen yours somewhere. Great to hear what you think, I may well have a look at it sometime.

    August 15, 2011

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  1. Take a closer look at the longlist for the 2011 Man Booker Prize « Booktopia – A Book Bloggers' Paradise – The No. 1 Book Blog for Australia

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