Booker Prize 2013: A Wildly Unreliable Last Minute Form Guide

on Tuesday, October 15, 2013
Ok punters, get ready! They're in the home stretch. With less than twenty-four hours to go here's how the Booker race is shaping up.

Harvest by Jim Crace
What the Bookie says: 11/8
What I said: "Crace lays bare the darkest corners of human existence and shows its ultimate futility in the face of progress... a definite contender for Book of the Year." (Microviews 27)
The Final Pitch: Seven months after reading it, Harvest remains one of my favourite books of the year. It is literary fiction in the grand old fashion and yet it possesses a certain allegorical prescience that keeps it feeling thoroughly modern and relevant. In any other year, Crace could rock up to the Booker dinner with a box of popcorn, sit down with his feet on the table and munch away until his name was called. Alas, with such a strong group of contenders, he'd better polish up on his table manners and fake smile because this is anything but a sure bet.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
What the Bookie says: 11/4
What I said: "... a rich, rollicking tale that can be enjoyed by casual readers and Litsnobs alike." (Microviews 40)
The Final Pitch: A fun, exciting and deftly woven brick of a book, The Luminaries is the work of a young writer in perfect command of her craft. But then again, that was already evident in her debut, The Rehearsal (a book that, when I read it, I had hoped would get a Booker nod). I'm glad the literary establishment has caught on. Eleanor Catton is the kind of writer that ought to be championed. As for her chances, it would certainly be a shot of adrenaline into a fairly stagnant enterprise and, given the recent moves to make the Booker less parochial, not an overly unlikely one. Whatever the outcome, Catton can rest easy - she may not win it this time, but she will almost certainly win it.

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin
What the Bookie says: 4/1
What I said: "There's no Judas, no Last Supper, not even an Immaculate Conception to be found in Toibin's sober retelling of the Jesus story." (Microviews 27)
The Final Pitch: They copped it when McEwan won for Amsterdam. They copped it even worse when they gave it to Barnes for The Sense Of An Ending. Are they willing to weather the barrage of irate snobs lobbing hardcover copies of War and Peace from their crystal palaces by awarding one of the most prestigious literary prizes to a relative pamphlet? On merit alone, The Testament of Mary is a worthy candidate. It's a masterful act of biblical ventriloquism that, I dare say, may well have been diluted by unnecessary verbal wanderings. Like Harvest, it is one of the best things I've read this year. But it is only a hundred pages.

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozecki
What the Bookie says: 8/1
What I said: "... a fascinating thought experiment, but had Ozecki just stuck to telling Nao's story, it would have made for a much more satisfying book." (Microviews 41)
The Final Pitch: My affection for Ozecki's book has waned in the month or so since reading it. It's not that I don't like it or wasn't moved by Nao's heartbreaking story, it's just that A Tale For The Time Being has disappeared into the ether of pretty good books I've read. Of all the books on the shortlist, this is the one I think stands the least chance. It just lacks a certain je ne sais pas. That said, it is still in there with a chance and, given my history of predicting these things, will probably win.

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
What the Bookie says: 9/1
What I said: "Lesser works than this have won the Booker Prize. But then again, so have much greater." (Microviews 41)
The Final Pitch: If a single chapter could win the Booker Prize, then Bulawayo would be a dead set certainty. I have been raving about those ten or so pages to anyone unfortunate enough to be standing within hearing distance for the past five weeks. I will continue to do so long after the big dinner has come and gone. Alas, one passage does not a winner make.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
What the Bookie says: 9/1
What I said: "... a beautifully balanced endeavour, tender yet angry and, perhaps of particular note, unadorned by literary tricks or grandstanding." (Microviews 42)
The Final Pitch: I don't know why this is so low on the punters' list. Perhaps it is because The Lowland is the most conventional narrative. Or maybe it's a backlash of sorts against the opening of the prize to American authors which, let's face it, Lahiri really is. Whatever the reason, people are idiots. I actually think she's in with a very good chance. Indeed, if I was a betting man who hadn't already lost more money than he'd care to admit on this prize, I'd actually put a few quid on her. With a Pulitzer in the bag and a National Book Award in the offing, I'd even chuck a dollar or two on the trifecta.

The Bookworm's Bet: Not that I have any form whatsoever in getting these things right, but I'd have to say Jim Crace will most likely win it this year. He very much deserves to. That said, I won't be quite as embarrassed as before if I get it wrong because this is the strongest field of shortlisted novels in recent memory. There's not a single book that can't stand proudly among the list of previous winners (although a couple might stand a bit closer to Vernon God Little than Midnight's Children). I'd love to see it go to Eleanor Catton - her blend of youth, extraordinary talent, fierce intelligence and (if the reports are to be believed) all round decency are exactly what the book world needs right now. And she's made it easy for us by writing a marvellous novel in The Luminaries. Similarly, a win for Colm Toibin would be a nice cat amongst the pigeons for the snobby establishment, not to mention the dogmatic god botherers in the audience. So those are my three picks in order: Crace, Catton and Toibin. Hopefully I don't prove to be the kiss of death again. I really want one of them to win it. I'll round out the bottom half as well: Lahiri, Bulawayo and Ozecki. You know what that means, right? Rush into your local Bookie and put your house on A Tale for The Time Being.


Post a Comment