Thursday saw the announcement of the long list for the Man Booker International Prize, slightly shorter than its predecessor the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, but with a strong selection of fiction from around the globe.
José Eduardo Agualusa (Angola) Daniel Hahn, A General Theory of Oblivion (Harvill Secker)
Elena Ferrante (Italy) Ann Goldstein, The Story of the Lost Child (Europa Editions)
Han Kang (South Korea) Deborah Smith, The Vegetarian (Portobello Books)
Maylis de Kerangal (France) Jessica Moore, Mend the Living (Maclehose Press)
Eka Kurniawan (Indonesia) Labodalih Sembiring, Man Tiger (Verso Books)
Yan Lianke (China) Carlos Rojas, The Four Books (Chatto & Windus)
Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Democratic Republic of Congo/Austria) Roland Glasser, Tram 83 (Jacaranda)
Raduan Nassar (Brazil) Stefan Tobler, A Cup of Rage (Penguin Modern Classics)
Marie NDiaye (France) Jordan Stump, Ladivine (Maclehose Press)
Kenzaburō Ōe (Japan) Deborah Boliner Boem, Death by Water (Atlantic Books)
Aki Ollikainen (Finland) Emily Jeremiah & Fleur Jeremiah, White Hunger (Peirene Press)
Orhan Pamuk (Turkey) Ekin Oklap, A Strangeness in My Mind (Faber & Faber)
Robert Seethaler (Austria) Charlotte Collins, A Whole Life (Picador)
My first reaction is that is a particularly global list, with fewer than half the books from Europe, and representation from Africa, Asia and South America. Though there are only four women writers (the same as last year, though a better proportion), they are all strong candidates, and it would not surprise me if a woman won the inaugural Man Booker, just as a woman won the final IFFP. (In Marie NDiaye’s case I say that on the strength of Three Strong Women: in keeping with Booker tradition, Ladivine has not yet been released).
I have already reviewed three of the books (The Vegetarian, White Hunger, and A Cup of Rage) and, as two of them made my best of the year list for 2015, and the third was released in January, it’s safe to say I’m pleased with their inclusion. I’ve also read The Story of the Lost Child, and, while there has been some disquiet about judging what is the fourth volume of a series as a stand-alone novel (I’m looking at you, Tony), it would seem unreasonable to exclude it on those grounds.
Of the other books, Tram 83 has received a lot of praise, as has Eka Kurniawan – though much of this has been for the ineligible Beauty is a Wound. Raduan Nassar is perhaps a surprise inclusion, not only because, as he stopped writing in 1984, many may have concluded he was dead, but because A Cup of Rage is probably not long enough to be regarded as a novella. The list also includes two Nobel Prize winners, Kenzaburō Ōe and Orhan Pamuk. I’m disappointed with the inclusion of Pamuk, IFFP winner with The White Castle and also short-listed with Snow, as his previous novel, The Museum of Innocence, was one of the dullest reads I have ever experienced, and this one is another meandering tale of his love for Istanbul. Another previous IFFP winner is José Eduardo Agualusa – I found that novel (The Book of Chameleons) rather superficial so it will be interesting to see how this compares. In both cases it’s hard not to wonder whether the fact the Man Booker has the same permanent chairman as the IFFP has some bearing on their inclusion. (The same might also be said of Yan Lianke, who was short-listed for Dream of Ding Village in 2012, but I am much more excited about reading The Four Books).
Inevitably there are some surprising omissions, particularly from Spain. The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse by Ivan Repila was my book of the year last year, and Jesus Carassco’s Out in the Open also made my top ten. In the Night of Time by Antonio Munoz Molina was also highly thought of, as was Agustin Fernandez Mallo’s Nocilla Dream. (Presumably Javier Maria’s Thus Bad Begins was eligible too). Sticking with the Spanish language, the inclusion of Yuri Herrera’s Signs Preceding the End of the World seemed a certain bet. Having said this, no long list can contain everyone’s favourites, and if this one only echoed my tastes I would have nothing left to read. It’s the voyage of discovery ahead that I’m most looking forward to.