Wednesday, 28 July 2010

That was the day that was - The Booker Prize, anticipation, and disappointment

I spent much of yesterday engaged in wild bibliophilic speculation on Twitter about which books would make the Booker Longlist. It was great fun, and provided one of the few days of the year when all contemporary fiction could be discussed with passion and disagreement. At times the anticipation grew too much, particularly when the official Twitterer changed their avatar to a bright red logo that shouted 'impending announcement'.

And yet, when it came, the announcement was met with a chorus of electronically shrugged shoulders. It wasn't just the inevitable anti-climax that accompanies getting what you've been waiting for, either; it was because the list is largely uninspiring. The books that have been most exercising people over the past few weeks - Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor, Nourishment by Gerard Woodward, And the Land Lay Still by James Robertson - were surprisingly and disappointingly omitted, while established authors Peter Carey and Rose Tremain appear to have been rewarded for books which were met with very mixed reviews on release. David Mitchell will be an instant favourite, which probably means he'll be overlooked. It all seems a little obvious to me.

But perhaps this is sour grapes. I haven't yet read any of the books on the longlist and the two that I was most vociferously backing have been ignored. That said, I'm delighted Helen Dunmore is on the list. I loved The Siege and have been intending to read The Betrayal ever since it was released. It will be the first of the Booker longlist that I read.

Others that follow are likely to be Room by Emma Donoghue, and In a Strange Room by the fascinating Damon Galgut. Otherwise, I suppose I may get around to reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell, The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, or C by Tom McCarthy, but I'm not exactly sprinting to my local bookshop to buy them.

It is an uninspiring list. White, western, and solid Booker territory. There is a healthy balance of men and women but no genre-bending surprise to inspire debate, just a parade of what appear well written enough literary tomes about issues and people. Lyrical prose appears to have been overlooked.

As ever, the Booker Prize has inspired fervent enthusiasm for books and literature. But the longlist has been a bit of a damp squib. I sincerely hope that the shortlist and winner announcements inspire passion a la last year, rather than the general disinterest of 2008, 2007 and 2006.


If so, these are the books that will do it.

Peter Carey Parrot and Olivier in America (Faber and Faber)
Emma Donoghue Room (Pan MacMillan - Picador)
Helen Dunmore The Betrayal (Penguin - Fig Tree)
Damon Galgut In a Strange Room (Grove Atlantic - Atlantic Books)
Howard Jacobson The Finkler Question (Bloomsbury)
Andrea Levy The Long Song (Headline Publishing Group - Headline Review)
Tom McCarthy C (Random House - Jonathan Cape)
David Mitchell The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet  (Hodder & Stoughton - Sceptre)
Lisa Moore February (Random House - Chatto & Windus)
Paul Murray Skippy Dies (Penguin - Hamish Hamilton)
Rose Tremain Trespass (Random House - Chatto & Windus)
Christos Tsiolkas The Slap (Grove Atlantic - Tuskar Rock)
Alan Warner The Stars in the Bright Sky  (Random House - Jonathan Cape)

At this stage, if I were to pick a likely shortlist it would be:
Helen Dunmore The Betrayal (Penguin - Fig Tree)
Damon Galgut In a Strange Room (Grove Atlantic - Atlantic Books)
Andrea Levy The Long Song (Headline Publishing Group - Headline Review)
David Mitchell The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet  (Hodder & Stoughton - Sceptre)
Paul Murray Skippy Dies (Penguin - Hamish Hamilton)
Christos Tsiolkas The Slap (Grove Atlantic - Tuskar Rock)

And the winner? I have no idea whatsoever.

4 comments:

Nikki Dudley said...

I was given a free copy of David Mitchell's new book at Hodder. I tried reading the first few pages but it seemed rather dull and a little gross (not in a good way!)

Sam Ruddock said...

Hi Nikki. I have a proof copy and I love the synopsis but I've never been amazed by any of his work. I don't hate it but it leaves me slightly puzzled at what all the fuss was about! Thought Black Swan Green, the one lots of people lambast, was by far the best of his I've read.

Sarah said...

You don't have to buy them - extra copies are being ordered for the library!

I agree that The Betrayal and Room are the two I want to read the most.

Sam Ruddock said...

But you'd get mad at me if I wrote all over it and then decided to keep it sitting on my bookshelf!