Saturday, 1 September 2012

Man Booker Prize, 2012: the Longlist

And bang! -- went August. The order, here, is the order in which I read the books, and has no other special significance; although it so happened the first book I read also turned out to be the best of the lot. Anyway:

Booker Longlist 2012 1: Hilary Mantel, Bring Up The Bodies

Booker Longlist 2012, 2: Michael Frayn, Skios

Booker Longlist 2012, 3: Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists

Booker Longlist 2012, 4: Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Booker Longlist 2012, 5: Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis

Booker Longlist 2012, 6: Sam Thompson, Communion Town: a City in Ten Chapters

Booker Longlist 2012, 7: André Brink, Philida

Booker Longlist 2012, 8: Will Self, Umbrella

Booker Longlist 2012, 9: Alison Moore, The Lighthouse

Booker Longlist 2012, 10: Ned Beauman, The Teleportation Accident

Booker Longlist 2012, 11: Deborah Levy, Swimming Home

Booker Longlist 2012, 12: Nicola Barker, The Yips

So, briefly (gotta be somewhere ... you know how it is) some overall thoughts. Well, it seems to me a pretty weak longlist. Of this twelve, only Mantel absolutely deserves to be here; although I'd be happy enough to see Barker, Beauman and Moore go through to shortlist. Of the rest some are interesting more-or-less failures, some are pretty bad, and some are so bad (Frayn, Levy, I'm looking at you) as to make the reader slap his/her forehead in disbelief, Wallace-and-Gromit-style, with his/her meaty plasticine hand.

This is the shortlist I expect to see from yon farrago of titles: Barker; Brink; Joyce; Moore; Self; Mantel. The first, though slack, feels unlike anything else and has the proper 21st-century tang; the second is worthy and dull but the judges will think 'Brink surely deserves a nod; he's 111 years old and has subsisted too long in the shadow of Coetzee, and he's written several score novels all making the case that slavery and racism are bad'; the third is sentimental and easy to read, and the judges will put it forward to balance out the density and difficulty of some of their other choices; the fourth is actually a pretty good novel; the stodgy fifth is not a pretty good novel (not pretty at all) but it flatters the judges into thinking they're connoisseurs of complex Modernist art; the sixth will go on to win the prize.

Oh, but what might have been! Where is John Lanchester's Capital? Where's Zadie Smith's NW? Adam Thorpe's Flight? Where oh where is M John Harrison's extraordinary Empty Space? Indeed (only Beauman, and he only glancingly, escapes the severity of my Jeremiah-tone here) why is there no SFF at all on this longlist? What about Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker? Margo Lanagan's Sea Hearts? M D Lachan's Lord of Slaughter? These novels are all better than at least half of the longlist, and some of them are better than all-but-one. If you see what I mean.

1 comment:

Kathy said...

I've yet to read Beauman and Tan Twan Eng, but based on the 10 I've read so far, I'd make a similar prediction, more or less. I really don't think Umbrella should get a nod, but I don't disagree that it will, for the reasons you cite. I wonder about Narcopolis, though; might it edge out one of the more marginal ones?

(If by some chance Umbrella actually wins, I will be very unimpressed indeed).