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Joseph O'Neill – Irish, American or Emirati?

Joseph O'Neill – Irish, American or Emirati?

Joseph O'Neill, Man Booker longlisted with The Dog, can sleep slightly easier this week. His novel is set in Dubai and has just gained the stamp of approval of the emirate's premier newspaper, The National. Although far from uncritical of the place he calls an “abracadabrapolis” for its sudden appearance out of the desert sands, his portrayal, says the paper, “does feel worryingly authentic”. Authenticity in this case means dying construction workers, “desolate lives in corporate tower blocks and the greed and vacuity of wealth” (the paper's words not O'Neill's). The novelist finds something else there too: “I’m convinced a lot of western people living in Dubai are running away from something.” It is a place full of stories then.

To understand better the nature of this year's longlisted authors, read the Q&A with each of them that are appearing on this very site. Come the shortlist there will be podcasts too. In the meantime, if you would like an aural fix, BBC Four's Front Row has made available its past interviews with Karen Joy Fowler, Joshua Ferris, Siri Hustvedt and Neel Mukherjee. To hear their thoughts, log on here.

One way to check whether the Man Booker judges' longlist is approved by those who have actually read the books, rather than just seen the authors' names and felt inclined to comment regardless, is to keep a weather eye on the reviews. With the usual time-lapse that follows the announcement, the critics' thoughts are starting to roll in across the board. On the aggregation site The Omnivore, at the time of writing, Howard Jacobson's J is getting 4 stars plus (out of 5), as is Paul Kingsnorth's The Wake. Niall Williams is hitting 3½ to 4 stars (but that's based on only a pair of reviews). Joshua Ferris ranges from 3 to 4½, while Siri Hustvedt stretches from (a solitary) 2 to 4½. If the critics had their way, then Richard Flanagan would take the palm with a nap hand of 4½s and 5s. But then the Man Booker isn't a figure-skating competition and critics don't decide who wins. 

Prompted by the news that Audrey Niffenegger is writing a sequel to The Time Traveler's Wife, the Guardian mused on other sequels it would like to see. Among those volunteered below the line by readers was this encomium from “MajorLeeGasol”: “A sequel to Fingersmith by Sarah Waters would not only be just about the best thing that could ever happen but would also be totally unexpected as Sarah has stated clearly that she will never write another Victorian novel.” There's something  exceptionally sweet about that “best thing . . . ever” that should keep the multiply Man Booker shortlisted (2002, 2006, 2009) Ms Waters smiling for weeks.