Monday, July 30, 2012

Reading Notes: The Booker Prize Long List project

Stephen Romei wrote in The Australian last Friday that this year's Man Booker Prize long list (the final 12 novels chosen for consideration, out of around 150 submitted to the prize committee) is "not so much a who's who but a who's that?"

Looking at the list, I can see what he means - there aren't many superstar names, and nothing (incidentally) by an Australian. There are 4 books by debut novellists, which I think has got to be a first for the Booker, which tends to celebrate novels that reflect a certain amount of ... craft maturity?

Still, I think it's probably a healthy sign that the committee is selecting on merit alone, really. As Romei points out himself, this is meant to be a premier prize for the best novel of the year, not the best-known author. There is no reason to assume that the best set of books have been produced by the elder statespeople or rockstars of the literary field.

So, this is the list. How many of the books have you heard of / read? How many of the writers?
- The Yips by Nicola Barker
- The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman
- Philida by Andre Brink
- The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
- Skios by Michael Frayn
- The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
- Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
- Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
- The Lighthouse by Alison Moore
- Umbrella, by Will Self
- Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil;
- Communion Town by Sam Thompson.

(Joyce, Moore, Thayil and Thompson are the debut novelists.)

I usually try to read at least some of the long list books each year. That's how I discovered books like Emma Donoghue's Room, after all; it encourages me to get out of my comfort zone a bit and read things I might otherwise never stumble across.

This year, because reading in bed of a night is the key remaining leisure activity I am affording myself while working lots of hours, I have decided to try (try being the operative word!) to read all 12 books before the prize winner is announced on 16 October. As I have not yet read even one, this is a fair challenge, so we'll see; but I want to give it a go.

I'm going to start with something I know I'll like - Andre Brink's Philida - and one of the new authors - Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. I have loved Andre Brink's work forever - one day I'll write one of my writer-fangirl panegyrics to him - and I am confident Philida will be a treat for me. I'm quite intrigued by the precis of Joyce's book, so let's see how that goes.

I plan to review them in pairs - Brink and Joyce first, followed, I think, by Deborah Levy's Swimming Home and Sam Thompson's Communion Town. My pairings will be totally arbitrary, naturally, just based on whim. I'm also going to give a personal guess as to whether the book will make the September 11 shortlist. (This part will be dicey, as I will not have read all 12 by September 11, but I'll give it a whirl anyway).

Could be fun! I hope so, anyway.

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