Wednesday, July 24, 2013

New reading challenge: The Man Booker Prize longlist

The longlist for the 2013 Man Booker Prize was announced yesterday, presenting an interesting 13-book selection. Featuring less debut authors than last year's list (there are three - Eve Harris, NoViolet Bulawayo and Donal Ryan), the list is nonetheless pretty diverse in terms of country of origin, theme and style. And unlike last year, there aren't any obvious heavy-hitters on the list - sure, Colum McCann and Jim Crace are strong, known performers, but at most of these writers have been niche successes at best before now. Here is the list:

Tash Aw,  Five Star Billionaire (Fourth Estate)
NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names (Chatto & Windus)
Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries (Granta)
Jim Crace, Harvest (Picador)
Eve Harris, The Marrying of Chani Kaufman (Sandstone Press)
Richard House, The Kills (Picador)
Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland (Bloomsbury)
Alison MacLeod, Unexploded (Hamish Hamilton)
Colum McCann, TransAtlantic (Bloomsbury)
Charlotte Mendelson, Almost English (Mantle)
Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being (Canongate)
Donal Ryan, The Spinning Heart (Doubleday Ireland)
Colm Tóibín, The Testament of Mary (Viking)

As I did last year, I'm going to give it a go to read and review the longlist before the announcement of the shortlist on 10 September. Given that I have, at this point, read ZERO books, and I start a new job next Tuesday, this is absolutely going to be a failed attempt, but I'll get as far as I can, then do any that are shortlisted that I haven't picked up on the longlist project before the prize announcement on 15 October.

Last year I came to the longlist with a strong suspicion that Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies was going to be the best book on the list, and win the prize. Sure enough, this proved to be the case; head and shoulders above the rest, it shone like the diamond it is, and deservedly took the honours. This year I can honestly say I have no particular preconceptions. I note that I like Jim Crace's work a lot, but as all the other authors on the list are new to me, I really am coming to this as a cleanskin, which is quite refreshing in a way.

I've bought Five Star Billionaire and Harvest for my Kobo to kick off - the first because it sounds really interesting, the second because I have previously enjoyed books by the author. I have decided to leave A Tale for the Time Being, TransAtlantic, The Kills and The Luminaries in the probably-not pile, to be read only if a miracle happens and I get through the rest - this is based on factors like reasonably priced availability (A Tale for the Time Being is selling as an ebook for a whopping $25) and lack of appeal based on their blurbs. So as an initial, and probably hopelessly optimistic, goal, I'm trying for 9 of the 13 over the coming 7 weeks. Really, I'd be happy to get through 6 and get reviews up of each, but we'll see.

I am starting Five Star Billionaire as soon as I've finished and reviewed three other things I'm almost through, but before I do any Booker reviews, I need to close the loop on the Hugo nominees (1 novel review and the novelettes to go). My first Booker review, therefore, will probably appear as part of the Interleaves column on The Shake in 2 weeks' time.

Anyone else planning to hit the Booker list, or, better yet, have you already read any of these? If so, please, steer me towards the gold (and away from the turkeys, if any!)

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