Begin The Booker Beguine

on Saturday, July 30, 2011
Is it just me or does Booker season begin earlier every year? Pretty soon they will be announcing the longlist before they've even awarded the previous year's prize. (Cue the sound of me stepping off my soapbox...)

Anyway, the nominees (for nomination) for the 2011 prize have just come out and it's a rather intriguing affair. Some safe choices are there, as are a handful of debuts. And, of course, there are a couple of glaring omissions. For the most part, however, mediocrity reigns.

In case you have yet to see it, this year's Booker Dozen is:

The Sense of an Ending 
by Julian Barnes
On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry
Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvette Edwards
The Stranger's Child 
by Alan Hollinghurst
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness
Snowdrops by A.D. Miller
Far to Go 
by Alison Pick
The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers
Derby Day by D.J. Taylor

Having only read three of them (Birch, Miller, Edwards), and given that I intend on following my usual tradition of reading them all before the prize is awarded in October, I'll only make a few cursory comments for now. Firstly, Snowdrops is awful. Perhaps when they were bandying about potential nominees they meant to include Andrew Miller (whose wonderful new book Pure seems to have missed out) but got confused and put the wrong Andrew Miller on the list (an easy mistake to make, as I learnt when I read Andrew D. Miller's Earl Of Petticoat Lane believing it was by the author of Ingenious Pain). Secondly, Jamrach's Menagerie is pretty good, but it is hardly worthy of the most prestigious prize in Commonwealth literature. And anyway, as I've noted in an earlier post, they've already given it to a story about a boy who plays with a tiger and ends up in a shipwreck. Lazy!

Speaking of lazy, while I don't doubt that both Hollinghurst and Barnes have produced fine novels, they were very safe picks in a list that seems to be reaching for something a little more interesting. Hollinghurst has already won, and Barnes should have won for England, England. Perhaps there's another Consolation Booker in the offing. The Sense of An Ending is a slim affair, only 160 pages, which worked wonders for Ian McEwan when he won his after missing out for Enduring Love.

Bitching aside, it is nice to see Sebastian Barry back on the list. He is consistently great, although rather understated and so unlikely to throw down a serious gauntlet. For what it's worth, I'd like to see him win; I have On Canaan's Side sitting on my bedside table and have my fingers crossed that it's good enough to get him over the line.

As always I like to put up my pick for Booker Underdog and this year it goes to Patrick deWitt's The Sisters Brothers. It's also sitting on my bedside table (above the Barry actually), and looks like a joyous romp of a noir, if there is such a thing. No Country For Old Men meets True Grit meets some sort of absurdist Marx Brothers creation. I'll report back soon.

For those who care about the details, the Booker Shortlist will be announced on Tuesday 6 September but you'll have to wait until Tuesday 18 October to find out who wins.


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