The Booker Prize 2016: The Blah Booker... (The Longlist)

on Saturday, July 30, 2016
Trust the first whiff of LitPrize Silly Season to lure me out from my cyber-cave. Yep, my hyperventilating over the senselessly subjective jockeying for literary immortality (yeah, who could possibly forget such classics as Paul Scott's Staying On or anything by Verner Von Heidenstam?) ought now be considered one of life's certainties along with death, taxes and the crushing disappointment of adulthood. It has, of course, been a cold winter so my arthritic bones have taken a little longer to click into gear than they have in the past (apparently, hitting 40 does that to you), but here I am!

And here is the 2016 Man Booker Prize Longlist.

Paul Beatty (US) - The Sellout (Oneworld)
J.M. Coetzee (South African-Australian) - The Schooldays of Jesus (Harvill Secker)
A.L. Kennedy (UK) - Serious Sweet (Jonathan Cape)
Deborah Levy (UK) - Hot Milk (Hamish Hamilton)
Graeme Macrae Burnet (UK) - His Bloody Project (Contraband)
Ian McGuire (UK) - The North Water (Scribner UK)
David Means (US) - Hystopia (Faber & Faber)
Wyl Menmuir (UK) - The Many (Salt)
Ottessa Moshfegh (US) - Eileen (Jonathan Cape)
Virginia Reeves (US) - Work Like Any Other (Scribner UK)
Elizabeth Strout (US) - My Name Is Lucy Barton (Viking)
David Szalay (Canada-UK) - All That Man Is (Jonathan Cape)
Madeleine Thien (Canada) - Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Granta Books)


Many of us had hoped that, once the fear of the American invasion subsided, the competition would be the great apocalyptic battleground of the English Language NovelTM. Or at least the Gladiator Arena. Turns out it's become little more than a kitchen table thumb wrestle. I usually try to talk it up but even the starry-eyed optimist in me can't get overly excited about this year's crop. First up, the absences. I thought Julian Barnes's latest was quite beautiful and worthy of a longlisting, if not something more. Jonathan Safran Foer and Michael Chabon must be smarting - I'd put a buck or two on them considering themselves the rightly winners of the first trans-Pacific Booker. Don Delillo probably couldn't care less which, I suppose is a good thing, because that seemed to be his attitude to the second half of his latest novel, Zero K. And then there's Ian McEwan. In steady decline, he might have been hoping that the forthcoming Nutshell would scoop him from the literary doldrums. His omission from Team Booker's love-in does not bode well.

As for the books that did get a nod, I've read only two. Ian McGuire's The North Water was a mostly riveting collision of Conrad, Melville and McCarthy set on a high seas whaler. It's got one of the best McCarthyesque villains of recent times and, for the most part, it rockets along with admirable vigour. Oddly, though, it peters out and leaves the reader - pardon the pun - cold in its lack of resolve. Paul Beatty's book has been the darling of the American literary world for the better part of a year. It's brash, funny and irreverent. Given the recent spilling over of racial tension in that country, it is also very timely. Anyone who imagines a batshit crazy African American guy's attempt to reintroduce segregation into his neighbourhood and then so deftly does so with tongue-firmly in cheek is deserving of attention. There are parts of The Sellout that are jaw-droppingly great. Anything with the unnamed narrator's father had me on the floor laughing. And some of the satirical barbs were inspired genius. But, much like McGuire's book, I was left a little disappointed by the work as a whole. Maybe it was the hype. Or maybe it's just not quite as good as people say.

As for the rest of the field, I'm very keen to see J.M. Coetzee get another nod. The sequel to his uneven but quite interesting The Childhood of Jesus, The Schooldays of Jesus looks to be more Kafkaesque in its execution which can only be a good thing. The first half of Childhood was brilliant in its ability to unsettle and disorient the reader before devolving into ploddy straight narrative. If Schooldays maintains the weird without following its predecessor into the narrative quagmire I suspect we're in for quite a treat. I have high hopes for Deborah Levy, too. She is consistently excellent and has been on the Booker radar before. Ditto A.L. Kennedy who very rarely fails to impress. Of the lesser known names, Ottessa Moshfegh stands out in particular. Though the judges seem to think Eileen is her debut, I was greatly impressed by her actual first novel McGlue with its muscular, rowdy and unflinching energy. I'm also quite the fan of any small press book that bucks the typical literary trends so Graeme MacRae Burnett's crime thriller has piqued my interest. As for the others, hmmmm... I'll give as many of them a go as I can but I somehow think that this ain't going to be remembered as Booker's finest years.

So, back into my cave for now. I'll catch you in a couple of weeks for the announcement of the Miles Franklin Award. It's a great field and, of course, I'm backing AS Patrić, but almost any of the contenders are worthy of the award. At least it's a great year for Australian Literary Prizes. At least we've got that!


Post a Comment