The Empire Strikes Back: The Booker Prize Longlist 2014

on Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Rest easy Padawans, Britain has survived the great literary plague. Here is the 2014 Booker Prize long list:

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris (Viking)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (Chatto & Windus)
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (Serpent's Tail)
The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt (Sceptre)
J b Howard Jacobson (Jonathan Cape)
The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth (Unbound)
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (Sceptre)
The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee (Chatto & Windus)
Us by David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Dog by Joseph O'Neill (Fourth Estate)
Orfeo by Richard Powers (Atlantic Books)
How to be Both by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)
History of the Rain by Niall Williams (Bloomsbury)

A fair mix of Commonwealth and usurper novels, but a reasonable list overall. I'm particularly excited by the inclusion of Paul Kingsnorth, whose very strange phonetic/Old English novel of the years after 1066 has been sitting on my bookshelf for a couple of months begging to be picked up. Time to start reading!

Begin the Booker Beguine (Again)

Well, we're just hours away from the announcement of this year's Booker long list and, I can't help but feel, this will be the most hotly debated bunch of books ever. Yep, this year marks the first time that nominees aren't limited to Commonwealth authors but anyone writing in the English language. No doubt you'll recall the big brouhaha when the rules were changed - you'd have been forgiven for thinking the British literary Empire had fallen. Well, we're about to learn how it's going to pan out. Ironically, Team Booker couldn't have chosen a worse (or perhaps better) year to open the floodgates. A quick look at the list of eligible books from just the old Commonwealth countries and I find myself in some sort of book nerd heaven. So many previous winners and nominees have new books - Ian McEwan, David Mitchell, Colm Toibin, Phillip Hensher, Sebastian Barry, Nicola Barker, Damon Galgut, Sarah Waters, Edward St Aubyn... hell, even the new Martin Amis looks promising after a run of complete duds. I can't help but smirk at the misfortune of the also-rans who truly ought to be in contention this year but may well miss out thanks to the former colony with the grating accent. On the other hand, whatever the list, we can safely say that literature from the Commonwealth has never looked quite so bloody healthy.

As for my tips... Hmmm... I'd love to see Jesse Ball, Elimear McBride, Darragh McKeon, Phil Klay and Jenny Offill on the list. I suspect Donna Tartt, Joshua Ferris, Dave Eggars or Peter Mathiessen might get a look in. But when the dust settles I'm betting the prize stays in the Commonwealth for at least one more year and I'd say the guy to do that will be David Mitchell. We'll know if I'm even slightly on target in just a few hours.

In, On and For A Book: My Strange Sojourn Into Eli Glasman's The Boy's Own Manual To Being A Proper Jew

on Wednesday, July 9, 2014
HOLY CRAP. I'M A FICTIONAL CONSTRUCT! Ok, so here's how it went down. A few months back, the lovely folk at Sleepers Publishing sent me a reading copy of the rather peculiarly titled The Boy's Own Manual To Being A Proper Jew by Eli Glasman. I'd known about the book for a while - Glasman is someone I see around the traps; we talk writing, he told me he'd be submitting it for publication and was quite rightly very excited when Sleepers took it on.

Fast forward a little bit and there I was ploughing my way through, doing my best impression of an objective reader, when BAM, I appear. Well, sort of. In the scene where some band called Yidcore plays in the courtyard of Melbourne's Orthodox Jewish boys' school, Yeshivah, it is me jumping up and down with the microphone. For the record, that really did happen. It was a Year 12 Muck Up Day prank. The students got us to come in, set up on the asphalt and start playing during class. Kids of all ages started streaming out and before we knew it, classes had been cancelled and there was a crowd of teenage religious kids moshing to a punk band (if only that was the most surreal thing to have happened to us!). Needless to say the scene flew by (it accounts for a single paragraph, but my mum was suitably proud) and I could return to the story. Yes, yes. Enough about me.

This book... what can I say? It's good. Really good. Sure, it's always difficult to read a friend objectively but I am genetically averse to lying, even to friends so when I say I liked it, I really mean it. And not just because of THAT paragraph. From the outset it's clear that Glasman is a talented writer - he's witty, daring and full of heart. The book, about an orthodox Jewish boy in Melbourne coming to terms with his homosexuality, is told with a degree of depth and compassion that ought not be in the wheel house of someone so young. And with Glasman having grown up in the orthodox community, the book also has a level of insight that greatly exceeds anything the casual observer might be able to perceive. There's very little soapboxing - the question of homosexuality in orthodox Judaism is handled without judgement or cheap philosophising. Rather, the full complexity is drawn out in a way that leaves all involved in a dignified space without having to have sacrificed their values or positions. It is a very generous, open and positive portrayal of both young gay men and orthodox Jews.

Leaving aside the flattery of being made into a fictional character, I really recommend Glasman's book. And if you won't take my word for it, just check out the raves on the back cover... Oh... Suddenly, I'm trying to be Shteyngart. How very meta.