The Man Booker Prize is huge, and in 2014 it got even bigger. It’s been open to novelists who come from The Commonwealth of Nations, plus Ireland and Zimbabwe, writing in English, but from 2014 the USA was included.
The sales generated by making it on to the MAN Booker list are exceptional, with writers expecting to sell at least five times as many books the week after appearing on the list as the week before. Shortlisting can double that, and winning can send sales through the roof. The prize itself is 50,000GBP (~$76,000).
The 2014 winner was The Narrow Road To The Deep North by Richard Flanagan
The 2013 winner was The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Last year the MAN Booker judges sifted through 151 books to bring us the longlist of 13, and further sifted to bring us the shortlist.
Man Booker Judges 2015
2015 Prize dates for your diary:
Longlist: Wednesday 29 July 2015
Shortlist: Tuesday 15 September 2015
Winner: Tuesday 13 October 2015.
I’l order the books in two ways, in the quick list below I’ll put them likelihood of winning order, using the bookies’ view with the shortest odds first, longest last. It will be interesting to see if readers here agree with the bookies. In the main list where each book is separately listed I’ll put them in the order I’m most likely to read them in, so I’ll fill you in as I go along as to my opinions, I’d love to know if you agree (and if you think I should skip some).
The 2015 MAN Booker Longlist
Here they are, in the order I’ll likely read them. Let’s be honest, I won’t get through them all by the time the shortlist is out, and I don’t have a great track record of reading the winner early, but who knows, maybe this year. There is a slightly annoying quirk in that the longlist often contains books that haven’t been published yet, so the field for early reading is limited.
The Year of The Runaways – Sunjeev Sahota (UK)
I picked this one to start with as it is set in Sheffield, England, a city I’ve spent quite a bit of time in. I do enjoy reading books where I can picture walking on the exact same streets that the characters do.
It’s topical too, with the main protagonists being illegal immigrants to Britain, living and working in poverty, off the books, whilst still dreaming of the lives they’d hoped for when they set out from their home countries. So far I’m loving the writing style, which draws you in and builds real empathy for the characters. The backstory scenes where we learn more about the life they’ve left are beautifully evocative. They did put me in mind a little of Khaled Hosseini, of The Kite Runner fame, but more in the “And the Mountains Echoed” style.
A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James (Jamaica)
This is next up for me. I’ve read mixed reviews. Most claim it’s a work of stunning brilliance (hurrah), some claim it’s a work literary triumph (oh dear), others call it overly complex and confusing with language that’s difficult to understand (yikes).
I’m hoping I side with the majority, and that the latter group are people who complain that foreign films are no good because they have subtitles and would be much better as remakes. Set in Jamaica from the late 70’s into the early nineties, I do expect a lot of Jamaican patois, but as I grew up in the English midlands around that time there was plenty of that patois in the cities, so it shouldn’t be too tricky.
The Moor’s Account – Laila Lalami (US)
Another “history” novel. This time the imagined account of the slave from Morocco in North Africa who accompanied the original Spanish Conquistadors on a voyage of discovery to what is now Florida.
I won’t be giving too much away in telling you it wasn’t a fun trip for anyone. You can read the real journals of the Spaniards on the trip, but no-one ever really thinks about what such “adventures” were like for people brought against their will as slaves. I’m looking forward to reading more.
The Fishermen – Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria)
The Green Road – AAnne Enright (Eire)
Did You Ever Have a Family – Bill Clegg (US)
A Spool of Blue Thread – Anne Tyler (US)
A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara (US)
The Chimes – Anna Smail (NZ)
Lila – Marilynne Robinson (US)
Sleeping on Jupiter – Anuradha Roy (India)
The 2014 Shortlist
So when the the 2014 Man Booker shortlist was out, there was one big literary shocker. The Bone Clocks didn’t make the grade. It was hotly tipped, but plenty of the longlist favourites didn’t make the cut .
So this is a novel about dentistry, or so it seems from the first couple of pages. From there on in things start to get a little strange as our dentist’s online life is taken over by an imposter. If a stranger set up a whole virtual you how would you feel? We learn more about our dentist and his lives and loves as the tale gets stranger.
I really enjoyed this as a page turner with an offbeat sense of humour and some real questions about who we are, what we believe and how we’re perceived by others. I didn’t think it was a winner though.
Here’s a more detailed review.
This one was high on my “to read” list for the rather prosaic reasons that it’s both short and cheap (rather like a boyfriend I once had, briefly).
I rolled along nicely with this book, there’s plenty of layered stories to keep the pages turning. Everybody has a slightly weird family, with things that are normal at home suddenly not seeming quite so normal when you grow up and meet other people, other families.
This family has more than its fair share of oddness, something we discover as the layers of normality are steadily peeled back. Here’s a more detailed review.
You’ve got to be pretty confident to call your novel “J”, and as Jacobson has already won the Booker once, I guess he’s feeling pretty swag. People seem to dislike both this book and its author, I haven’t read it yet, so I won’t comment.
The Bone Clocks
To a wail of outrage, The Bone Clocks did make it onto the shortlist, having been a big bookies favorite on the longlist.
I was completely drawn in by Cloud Atlas, I was hoping this will be a similar treat. It was similar in a magical realism timey-wimey brain bending kind of way, but I didn’t love it, there was a little bit of me that kept thinking he was just showing off a bit. If I’d read it before the shortlist I’d have thought it would be a shoo-in, just because it was so show-offy but maybe the judges felt the same way.
I got part way through and this seems to be a novel about installing music into killer bacteria, or killer bacteria into music, I’m not sure which.
Either way the idea is intriguing, as long as ebola doesn’t get a disco beat, but it got soaked when I was caught in a thunderstorm in London, and then I put it to one side as I read more engaging things.
My Favorite Man Booker Prize Winners
Julian Barnes’ book is very short, but has as much going on as a novel twice as long. He simply doesn’t waste a word as he revisits his younger self and learns the truth about what happened, and larger truths about himself.