So the Man Booker shortlist has been announced. Jim Crace (no surprise there), Colm Toibin (for the third time), Eleanor Catton (why not? Thought they might), NoViolet Bulawayo, Ruth Ozeki and Jhumpa Lahiri (*checks again, slightly taken aback*).
While I am extremely pleased that the list includes four women, I think some excellent, original writing has been elbowed out by vast, sometimes sensational, plots. Every year I find myself somewhat mystified by the choices that are made. Wonderful novels aren’t even shortlisted, some fairly mediocre ones make the cut. Some glorious ones make the cut too. But not in any way that makes quantifiable sense.
I’ve often read the Booker shortlist, but this is the first year I’ve read the entire longlist. I’m so glad I did. Fancy missing out on The Marrying of Chani Kaufman, or Unexploded. My arms might have thanked me for missing out on Richard House’s The Kills – boy was that a heavy hardback – but it has been so interesting to see the rise of digital books, and to note the different reactions to The Kills from those who read the enhanced digital version and those who (like me) stuck to the traditional paper (for paper read brick) format.
I feel slighted on behalf of the novels that weren’t shortlisted, even though they didn’t all appeal to me personally. My criticism of Macleod’s Unexploded was that its historical setting felt apart from the themes and concerns of the plot and characters. But she’d have been brilliant on the shortlist. It’ll all be about Eleanor Catton now, who is young and beautiful and whose novel is long and clever and all twisty-turny. Is that what we are looking for in our literature now? I’m pleased for her, as I am for all the shortlisted novelists. But as we now start lionizing the shortlisted novelists, let’s not forget those who got themselves all prepared for the South Bank event tonight, whose novels are the product of just as much love, talent and blood as the ones whose writers will be on the stage.
May the shortlisted show as much humility as the out-of-the-running longlisted have shown grace. And thank you all for writing.