Submitted by The Booker Prizes on Thu, 27/07/2017 - 11:04
The wait, or at least the first part of the wait, is over, and the 13 titles comprising the Man Booker Dozen – the longlist for the 2017 prize – have been revealed. You would expect it to be, as usual, varied in theme, style, gender and nationality, and it is. It also contains surprises. The list is:
4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (US) (Faber & Faber)
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Ireland) (Faber & Faber)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Ireland) (Canongate)
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (UK) (4th Estate)
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK) (JM Originals)
The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (India) (Hamish Hamilton)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US) (Bloomsbury Publishing)
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan) (Bloomsbury Circus)
Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (US) (Fleet)
At first glance it looks a high-powered list full of familiar names. Arundhati Roy, a former winner, is perhaps the most noticeable contender, not least because there is a nice symmetry to her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, appearing exactly 20 years after her prize-winning first novel The God of Small Things. Mohsin Hamid is another returnee, having been shortlisted 10 years back, in 2007, with The Reluctant Fundamentalist. The two Smiths, Ali and Zadie, have been shortlisted before – in 2005 with The Accidental and On Beauty. Indeed they shared the list then with Sebastian Barry (A Long, Long Way). The trio will be looking at one another slightly askance and thinking thoughts of déjà vu. Jon McGregor meanwhile has been longlisted twice before, in 2003 with If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things and in 2006 with So Many Ways to Begin.
Among the newcomers, Paul Auster hardly needs an introduction, having been writing fiction for 35 years: 4 3 2 1 is his 20th novel. Nor George Saunders, usually lauded as a writer of short stories. Mike McCormack (Solar Bones has already won the 2016 Goldsmiths/New Statesman Prize), Kamila Shamsie and Colson Whitehead have all been building reputations for some time.
The surprises are the two youngest writers on the list, both women and both debut novelists: Emily Fridlund and Fiona Mozley. Fridlund cut her teeth on short fiction while Mozley describes herself in the briefest of terms: ‘I grew up in York and later lived in London, Cambridge and Buenos Aires. I am now back in York, where I am writing a PhD thesis on the concept of decay in the later Middle Ages, as well as writing fiction.’ Her novel, Elmet, is not yet published so readers will have to wait until 10 August to see what the judges found in her.
So, nationality: there are four UK writers on the list (and two UK-Pakistani) and four Americans, two Irish, and one Indian. A pretty decent geographical spread, even if that won't have been in the judges' minds. And there are six women against seven men. Among the publishers, Hamish Hamilton comes out top with four books, Faber and Bloomsbury both have two each, Canongate, Fourth Estate, John Murray Originals, Weidenfeld & Nicolson and Fleet (a Little, Brown imprint) having one apiece – no small independents this year.
As to the contents, they are equally diverse in range. History is there in Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer-prize winning tale of slaves trying to escape the plantations of South Carolina, in Saunders's evocation of President Lincoln grieving the death of his son, and in Barry's story of two friends fighting in the US Army of the 1850s. Coming of age is treated by Auster in his whopping 866-page story of the life of Archie Ferguson told at four different times in four different versions, by Zadie Smith in Swing Time, a tale of the friendship between two young London girls, and Fridlund's account of a teenage girl struggling and isolated in rural Minnesota.
Darkness underlies McGregor's Reservoir 13 and its account of a 13-year-old girl who goes missing in the Peak District. The travails of immigrants are at the heart of Kamila Shamsie's and Hamid's books, while Roy's novel is an epic set against a rapidly modernising India. Ali Smith's Autumn meanwhile examines the nature of time itself, McCormack's Solar Bones poetically anatomises small-town life as the Irish boom turns to bust, and Mozley's Elmet is a disturbing fable of family and landscape.
This rich and heady mix will leave regular prize-watchers struggling to second-guess the judges' opinions: no one theme, time-frame, place or style stands out above any other. Each book contains a world that is distinctively its own. While the judges embark on their re-reading to see if they can narrow down the possibilities to find the best of all possible worlds, readers can simply pick a direction and embark on a journey of exploration.