At this time of year, I always make a few additions to my reading list so that I am ready with an opinion when the Booker panel whittle the longlist down to the final six.
The Man Booker Prize is changing. The last few years have seen some interesting choices finding their place onto the longlist and this year is no exception. Says its director, Ion Trewin, “It used to be very much, quote, ‘literary fiction’. Now, if it’s particularly good, what you might call genre is no bar to being listed.” Indeed, among this list, The Telegraph sees being too literary as a distinct disadvantage, predicting that this will bar Alan Hollinghurst from walking away with the £50,000 prize.
Four debut novels have seen off stiff competition from established authors. Against the likes of fourth-time nominee Julian Barnes (the Richard Burton of the Literary world and currently William Hill’s 6/1 second favourite) and previous winner Alan Hollinghurst (5/1 favourite), Stephen Kelman, is being feted as the underdog. A warehouseman, care worker and local government administrator in previous guises, he took up writing relatively recently in 2005. His novel, Pigeon English, drawing on the murder of 10-year-old Damilola Taylor as its inspiration, spent time on the slush pile before becoming the subject of a bidding war and being picked up by Bloomsbury who must now be grinning from ear to ear. (I am more than a little worried by the blurb as it sounds a little too close to the plot of the book I am currently working on.) Kelman gets the vote of The Bookseller’s Alice O’Keeffe who calls its inclusion ‘hugely exciting’ crediting it with ‘pitch-perfect narration by an 11-year-old boy, newly arrived from Ghana.’ She also champions Atlantic’s Snowdrops by A D Miller, a Moscow-set tale of corruption and compromised morals, ‘which I’ve been raving about since the proof landed on my desk back in August last year.’
Other surprise selections includes novels which failed to capture the imagination of newspaper literary editors – such as Yvvette Edwards’s A Cupboard Full of Coats, which has made an impact despite not being reviewed by the national press – and three Canadian novels that have yet to make any impact in the UK Market (Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, Alison Pick’s Far To Go and Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan).
Another development is the domination of independent publishers on the longlist – nine of the 13 titles – while titles from Penguin and Harper Collins failed to make the grade. Will Atkinson, Faber sales and marketing director, said: “Publishing fiction of the highest quality is in the life’s blood of the Independent Alliance. We are all delighted that our publishing efforts have been so strongly confirmed by this tranche of books on the Booker longlist.”
Exciting times, I say!
The shortlist will be announced on 6th September.