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Travel by turning pages

Travel by turning pages

Timing is everything. Only one day until the announcement of the Man Booker International Prize longlist on 13 March – and merely weeks after the enactment of the “B word” – comes the news that sales of fiction in translation are at their highest point since recording began in 2001. Last year alone sales of translated fiction in the UK were up by 5.5 per cent (with “general/literary fiction” surging by a whopping 20 per cent). More than 2.6m books – worth £20.7 million – were sold. Nielsen Book, the company that crunches the numbers, pointed out that this rise stands in stark comparison with sales of English-language literary fiction over the period, which have hit a plateau and are currently at a level lower than in the mid-1990s. The appetite for translated fiction has in turn driven publishers to produce more of it and the amount of international fiction available in the UK has almost doubled in recent years; it currently accounts for 5.63 per cent of all published fiction. Scandi noir has obviously been a huge part of the trend but the Man Booker International Prize-winning Flights by Olga Tokarczuk from Poland and Lullaby by Leïla Slimani of France are other success stories: Lullaby, for example, has sold almost 100,000 copies. The Man Booker International Prize is naturally too modest to suggest that this phenomenon is down to its influence but the profile it has given foreign fiction since its inception in 2005 is not unrelated.


As if to show both the scale and the myriad ways the very best writers can find their careers going, Margaret Atwood will be in London on 9 September. It is no normal trip, however, but something more in line with a rock-star’s lifestyle. Atwood’s The Testaments, her sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, is being launched at midnight and will be followed by a live interview at the National Theatre that will be broadcast to 1,000 cinemas around the world (for good measure, the bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived author then embarks on a six-date tour of the UK and Ireland). Publishers always want a showy launch for their writers where possible but this is superstar-level stuff and, ahem, testament to the global popularity of Atwood and her tale of modern Puritanism. If you think you’ll be able to concentrate in the wee small hours then tickets can be bought, or at least applied for, here.


The Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction has announced its nominees and Man Booker writers are prominent amongst them. The 12 longlisted writers include three of last year’s Man Booker Prize books – Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black, Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight, and Robin Robertson’s The Long Take – as well as A Long Way From Home by former double winner Peter Carey, and books by previous nominees such as The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey, Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller, The Wanderers by Tim Pears, and All The Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy. Indeed there are only four novelists who have yet to grace the Man Booker annals, though there’s plenty of time yet. The winner of the £25,000 prize will be announced on 15 June.


Meanwhile, the Women’s Prize for fiction also follows the trend. Among its longlistees are the reigning Man Booker Prize laureate Anna Burns plus a 2018 longlistee in the shape of Sally Rooney and a previous winner, Pat Barker. You can run but you can’t hide – the Man Booker tendrils reach everywhere. The shortlist will be announced on 29 April.