Submitted by The Booker Prizes on Fri, 2019-08-30 16:26
As the clock ticks inexorably towards the Booker shortlist announcement on 3 September, one of the writers hoping to make the cut is Deborah Levy. She has been discussing the current distractions in her life and as well as films, food and the city of Marseilles it seems that swimming also floats her boat. “I always carry my Speedos and goggles around with me just in case I bump into a swimming opportunity. Preferably wild swimming,” she says. Her hobby can take unlikely forms: “I was once signing books at a literary festival in Norwich and two women in the queue told me they were digging a lake on their land. I was invited to try it out.” The trouble is she’s keen to take up the invitation but doesn’t know who the lake-diggers are. “How’s it going?” she asks. “Just send word and I’ll be there.”
Another longlisted author, Oyinkan Braithwaite, won’t endear herself to her fellow nominees by admitting that she wrote My Sister, the Serial Killer in the blink of an eye. “I was working on another novel at the time and I wasn’t happy with it,” she says, “so I decided to leave the ‘great’ novel I was writing and work on something short and light-hearted. I chose to write a novella. I gave myself a fixed deadline, a word count and I wrote every day.” That deadline was a month – yes, a single month. “But a little while later, post-agent, when I was developing the novella into a novel, I took another month. So, it was actually two months before my editors came on board.” I’m not sure that confessing to two months rather than one for such an accomplished work helps all that much.
Many people still think of Salman Rushdie as British but of course he is now an American, having attained citizenship in 2016. As he puts it: “I resist nationalist labels but it’s true that during my 20 years of life in America, I have taken it on as a subject, and so, to paraphrase the opening of (Saul) Bellow’s (The Adventures Of) Augie March, ‘I am an American, Bombay born.’” Although he straddles a world between British, Indian and American literature (another Booker writer, Jhumpa Lahiri, occupies much the same space) his longlisted novel Quichotte has Spanish roots. Its concern though is universal: “It is not a novelist’s duty to offer hope, particularly in an increasingly tragic time,” he says. “But if you want to look for hope in the novel, you will find it in a third parallel dimension, which is love.” As to the future, he has no idea. More novels? “Maybe another 19 books. Maybe none.”
As it happens, Jhumpa Lahiri (shortlisted in 2013 for The Lowland) has just been appointed to the prestigious position of Director of Creative Writing at the Lewis Centre for the Arts at Princeton University. Her particular cause for pride is that “Never before has our faculty represented such a multitude of cultures, languages, and perspectives.” That’s the stuff of literature.
Anna Burns’s year as reigning Booker laureate is coming to an end. For those keen for a post-Milkman hit, help is at hand. Just three days after the announcement of this year’s Booker winner, Faber Stories will be publishing Burns’s Mostly Hero which was written before she hit the big time and was originally self-published online. This will be its first appearance in print since it left Burns’s computer. Faber Stories are selected in collaboration with Gaby Wood, the Booker’s Literary Director, and someone who has therefore followed Burns’s ascendancy with a lot of interest.