So this year’s Man Booker has been announced and comprises:
- Diane Cook (USA) The New Wilderness (Oneworld Publications)
- Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe) This Mournable Body (Faber & Faber)
- Avni Doshi (USA) Burnt Sugar (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House)
- Gabriel Krauze (UK) Who They Was (4th Estate, HarperCollins)
- Hilary Mantel (UK) The Mirror & The Light (4th Estate, HarperCollins)
- Colum McCann (Ireland/USA) Apeirogon (Bloomsbury Publishing)
- Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia/USA) The Shadow King (Canongate Books)
- Kiley Reid (USA) Such a Fun Age (Bloomsbury Circus, Bloomsbury Publishing)
- Brandon Taylor (USA) Real Life (Originals, Daunt Books Publishing)
- Anne Tyler (USA) Redhead by The Side of The Road (Chatto & Windus, Vintage)
- Douglas Stuart (Scotland/USA) Shuggie Bain (Picador, Pan Macmillan)
- Sophie Ward (UK) Love and Other Thought Experiments (Corsair, Little, Brown)
- C Pam Zhang (USA) How Much of These Hills is Gold (Virago, Little, Brown)
I thought I’d throw in my first thoughts and I am sure it comes as no surprise to anyone that Hilary Mantel is in the running with The Mirror and the Light (which I really must finish now! I put it to one side when the covid lockdown began). I am however shocked that Ali Smith’s Summer has not been nominated – rich, lyrical and wonderful, that final installment of the Seasonal Quartet, and in fact the entire Quartet as a unit, are exceptional! And where is Hamnet? And whilst I’ve not read it David Mitchell is a regular on the shortlist and there is no sign of Utopia Avenue…
However, there are a lot of debut novels here – eight I think from the information on the Booker Prize website and Amazon – and several authors who are completely new to me: Gabriel Krauze looks very intriguing as a Polish-British voice, an example of autofiction (which is not a term I like) and
the first-hand account of a young man who has lived a life of violent crime, and who expresses it boldly, accurately, and at times even beautifully.
Also intriguing are Kiley Reid and Sophie Ward, whose Love and Other Thought Experiments has already piqued my interest. It is great to see a fairly wide racial representation here with Zimbabwe where, in This Mournable Body
we meet Tambudzai, living in a run-down youth hostel in downtown Harare and anxious about her prospects after leaving a stagnant job. At every turn in her attempt to make a life for herself, she is faced with a fresh humiliation, until the painful contrast between the future she imagined and her daily reality ultimately drives her to a breaking point.
And also 1930s Ethopia in The Shadow King where
Hirut and the other women long to do more than care for the wounded and bury the dead. When Emperor Haile Selassie goes into exile and Ethiopia quickly loses hope, it is Hirut who offers a plan to maintain morale. She helps disguise a gentle peasant as the emperor and soon becomes his guard, inspiring other women to take up arms. But how could she have predicted her own personal war, still to come, as a prisoner of one of Italy’s most vicious officers?
All in all, this looks like an intriguing and unusually fresh longlist. It is going to be a challenge going head-to-head with Hilary Mantel, obviously, but the Booker Judges have shown themselves willing to shake things up and share the award. I wonder whether this year will repeat the outcome from last year…
So, let’s head to the bookshop and ignore the unread longlisted books from last year as we blow today’s paycheck on another weight of novels!
And which one excites me most? Probably, on a cursory glance over them, The Shadow King or The New Wilderness.
15th September 2020: Shortlist Announced
November 2020: Winner Announced