Booker Prize 2015: Best. Shortlist. Ever. (Well, not ever, but almost)

on Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Fifteen minutes down and I'm ready to call it: This is the best Booker Prize shortlist in years. Smart, literary and accessible, it promises hours of satisfying reading for those of us who stubbornly push our way through every nominated word in every nominated sentence in every nominated book every fucking year. And, while I'm a pretty smug bastard, I'm not only saying it because I pretty much picked it.

If you haven't seen the announcement yet, the six novels vying for Booker glory are:

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Leaving aside the Gold Watch nomination for Tyler, and Sahota's book that I know nothing about (but, judging by the other nominees is probably excellent), we have been gifted with four very worthy books, any of which will not bring shame or disappointment to the Booker name. It might even settle the great Booker/Folio shitfight.

As I said when the long list was announced, smart money would be on either Marlon James or Chigozie Obioma. I've only read the latter and I knew from the outset that it was bound to end up here. Meanwhile, I've heard nothing but the most frenzied of raves for James's story of Jamaica's most tumultuous period (which happened to include the attempted assassination of Bob Marley). Satin Island is brilliant - one of my favourite books this year - but it might be a bit intellectually offbeat for such a mainstream literary prize. And while I haven't read the Yanagihara yet, her last book, The People of the Trees, is one of the few truly revelatory novels of the past five years and, if the hype is to be believed, this is just as good.

I'm a little disappointed that Bill Clegg's long listed novel Did You Ever Have a Family didn't make it. I'm halfway through and it is a deeply moving novel about loss; a chain of voices reminiscent of the late great Andre Brink combined with Iain Pears and the mid-to-late 20th century American storytelling tradition of Wallace Stegner, William Faulkner and Richard Yates. The parochial Australasian in me is similarly disappointed that Anna Smaill didn't get through with her well-received novel, The Chimes but hey, we bagged it last year. And, for what it's worth, I'd have liked to see Marilynne Robinson's Lila there instead of Tyler's book. I'm never one for gold watches (I'm looking at you Ian McEwan).

The Booker Prize will be announced on October 15. I'm still calling it for Obioma. But we all know how that's likely to turn out.


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