As the Man Booker Prize looms ahead, Umapagan Ampikaipakan looks at some great reads from the Booker longlist
EARLIER this week, the judges for the 2012 Man Booker Prize announced the Booker Dozen, their longlist of 13 novels, all vying for what is arguably Britain’s most prestigious literary prize. Over the next few months, the judges will wrangle over these books, whittling them down to a shortlist of six, before finally announcing a winner on Oct 16.
“The longlist includes four debut novels, three small independent publishers and one previous winner. Of the 12 writers, seven are men and five women, nine are British, one Indian, one South African and one Malaysian. The eldest on the list is Michael Frayn at 78 and the youngest is Ned Beauman at 27.”
And the nominees are, in alphabetical order:
Nicola Barker (The Yips), Ned Beauman (The Teleportation Accident), Andre Brink (Philida), Tan Twan Eng (The Garden of Evening Mists), Michael Frayn (Skios), Rachel Joyce (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry), Deborah Levy (Swimming Home (And Other Stories), Hilary Mantel (Bring up the Bodies), Alison Moore (The Lighthouse), Will Self (Umbrella), Jeet Thayil (Narcopolis), Sam Thompson (Communion Town).
These last few years have been somewhat refreshing with regards to the Booker. The folks on the prize committee have tried their hardest to shed their stuffy and staid image, they’ve tried their best to become more accessible to the general reading public, by longlisting Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap, by rewarding the wonderfully comedic Howard Jacobson.
Of late, these folk that decide the prize have been accused of a great many things. They have been accused of being too populist. They have been charged with pandering. I, however, believe that they are merely evolving. And for the better. They are moving away from the unadventurous and respectable for the cutting edge and memorable. They are ditching the sedate and overwhelmingly unreadable. Slow they may be. But it is surely something.
The purpose of a prize is to reward inspiration. It is meant to recognise excellence and not just return to the same old same old. It is meant to be representative and reflective of the contemporary, of the world around, of the pulse of society. And the Man Booker Prize is doing its best to be reflective of the times and to remain in touch.
Over the next couple of months, these pages will feature an in depth look at this year’s selections. For now, however, here are three great reads from some recent Booker longlists.
by Christos Tsiolkas
496pp / Penguin
This is a book chock-full of all those insidious 21st Century diseases. Vanity. Entitlement. Infidelity. Homophobia. It tears through that mirage of political correctness. It is unapologetic in its profanity, in its violence.
At a barbecue in a Melbourne suburb, an intensely obnoxious four-year-old is slapped by a man who isn’t his father. It is a momentous incident and one on which the novel turns. What follows is eight different viewpoints of the incident. Of the outrage that follows. Of the inherent insularity of suburbia. Of all the strains and stresses that occur when raising a child.
This is the most in your face novel you will read this year. Think about all those illusions and delusions of suburbia, the happy families, the neighbourly parties. Think about all those relationships, those fake connections, superficial, cursory, in no way deep or meaningful. Think Desperate Housewives, only grittier. Think Tom Perrotta but rawer, harsher, dirtier.
On Canaan’s Side
by Sebastian Barry
272pp / Viking Adult
On Canaan’s Side takes us once again into the life of one of the Dunnes, a family whose members we have become more than familiar with through the many works of Sebastian Barry, in Annie Dunne, in A Long, Long Way, and in The Steward of Christendom. This time we embark, along with the 89-year-old Lilly Bere, on a 17-day narrative of her life.
This is, at its core, a book of reflections, of memories lost and reclaimed. It may feel familiar at times. It may even seem predictable. Yet another tale of that Irish-American diaspora. But all of that is easily overlooked for very few authors do it this well.
This is a book that is epic in scale but intimate in execution. This is prose with a deep rooted sense of the poetic. Irrespective of whether Barry is referring to Lilly’s inner life: “I wonder if I were to have an X-ray at the hospital, would the machine see my grief? Is it like a rust, a rheum about the heart?” or merely making an observation about life’s little pleasures: “Not the big victories that crush and kill the victor... But the saving grace of a Hollandaise sauce that has escaped all the possibilities of culinary disaster and is being spread like a yellow prayer on a plump cod steak.”
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet
by David Mitchell
496pp /Random House
David Mitchell is one the most versatile novelists working today. His writings span every possible genre, from science fiction to postmodernism, from a Lord of the Flies look at life in rural Black Swan Green to the metaphysical deconstructions to what is real and what is not.
In The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet, Mitchell once again flexes his fictional muscles by taking us all the way back to Japan at the turn of the 19th Century. The tale takes place on a small quarantined Dutch outpost where Jacob, our young and naive protagonist, is tasked with cleaning up the trading station’s entrenched culture of corruption.
While there, he falls quickly and hopelessly in love with the Japanese midwife Orito Aibagawa. He forsakes his fiancee in the Netherlands. He finds himself lost in a world where the only relationships allowed between foreigners and locals are of the paid variety.
Mitchell successfully creates believable worlds. He conjures up characters that act accordingly, that behave authentically, that speak with a voice that is both veritable and verifiable. Every page is stained and saturated with only the most intricate detail. It is a majestic historical romance but one with an incredibly modern sensibility. It possesses the literary punch of a true master.