Man Booker International Prize Shortlist

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Today saw the announcement of the Man Booker International Prize Shortlist, which followed close on the heels of the Shadow Jury’s shortlist, revealed yesterday. Three novels made it onto both lists:

Elena Ferrante (Italy) Ann Goldstein, The Story of the Lost Child (Europa Editions)

Han Kang (South Korea) Deborah Smith, The Vegetarian (Portobello Books)

Yan Lianke (China) Carlos Rojas, The Four Books (Chatto & Windus)

No great surprises here. The Vegetarian has been, rightly, lauded since it appeared, and the publication of Han Kang’s second novel in the meantime, Human Acts, has enhanced her reputation. Similarly, praise for Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan series has gathered strength since My Brilliant Friend was ignored by the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2012 and, though increasing popularity has brought detractors, The Story of the Lost Child is generally seen as a fitting conclusion to a considerable achievement. Perhaps less obvious, the inclusion of The Four Books surprises no-one who has read it – it was a novel in which drew praise from all the Shadow jurors.

The remaining novels chosen by the official jury were as follows:

José Eduardo Agualusa (Angola) Daniel Hahn, A General Theory of Oblivion (Harvill Secker)

Orhan Pamuk (Turkey) Ekin Oklap, A Strangeness in My Mind (Faber & Faber)

Robert Seethaler (Austria) Charlotte Collins, A Whole Life (Picador)

These were in marked contrast to the Shadow Jury’s choice, with both Agualusa and Pamuk generally regarded among the weakest on the long list. Instead we arrived at:

Maylis de Kerangal (France) Jessica Moore, Mend the Living (Maclehose Press)

Marie NDiaye (France) Jordan Stump, Ladivine (Maclehose Press)

Kenzaburō Ōe (Japan) Deborah Boliner Boem, Death by Water (Atlantic Books)

There were some regrets that Tram 83 narrowly missed out (hopes it might appear on the official list were quickly dashed) and only the rather eccentric A Cup of Rage was quickly dismissed. The one controversial entry (discounting one juror’s loathing for Mend the Living) was Death by Water, the jury divided between those with a love of Japanese literature (and Oe in particular) and those with less experience (or, as I would say, patience). As my only prediction this year was that a woman would win, I was particularly pleased.

It strikes me that the variation in choices results from a different view of both the Prize’s intention and of the purpose of literature. Though the previous Man Booker International Prize often rewarded difficulty, it now, like the IFFP, seems to have one eye on the market. Agualusa and Pamuk are known quantities, past winners, and are writers you are likely to already find in a bookshop. Seethaler is, of course, appearing in English for the first time, but even before his long listing, he was subject to a marketing campaign by Waterstones. All offer something pleasant and harmless – something ‘apolitical’. Except that it is, of course, very political, presenting exotic poverty and suffering to us as a form of literary tourism. In A Whole Life we are asked to accept that Eggers’ years of loneliness and hardship are somehow redeemed because he lives on a nice mountain; similarly, in A Strangeness in my Mind six hundred pages of scraping a living are presented as the path to happiness; and in A General Theory of Oblivion violence, torture, colonialism, and civil war all vanish into the sleeves of its magician author while he distracts us with narrative tricks. Compare that to Ladivine, a novel which is genuinely puzzling and unsettling.

The good news is that it is highly likely a novel on both shortlists will win the official prize. For the Shadow Jury, I think the decision will be a lot harder.

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7 Responses to “Man Booker International Prize Shortlist”

  1. BookerTalk Says:

    I’ve been trying to buy The Vegetarian and The Four Books over here in USA but they are nowhere in sight. Sigh…. I was hoping not to have to get an e version.

  2. JacquiWine Says:

    Interesting to see you thoughts on this, Grant. I don’t feel able to add much to this debate as I’ve only read the Ferrante (which I’m very pleased to see on the shortlist). I feel a little sad for Maclehose Press (and their authors) as they seem to have missed out here..

    • 1streading Says:

      Yes – I had both Maclehose books on my personal shortlist. However, other publishers missed out entirely – at least they made the long list (and our shortlist, which is the one that really matters!)

  3. Claire 'Word by Word' Says:

    I was looking forward to reading LaDivine, I’ve been away so only just catching up with all the news, surprised that Death By Water didn’t make the official shortlist.

    Very interesting perceptions about the difference between the old MBI and the new prize, it seems some kind of compromise may be exerting an influence in order to get more people reading translated fiction, which is similar to the original objectives of the Booker Prize to try and get more people reading literary fiction.

    • 1streading Says:

      I’m not so surprised Death by Water didn’t make it as I think appreciation depends greatly on previous knowledge of Oe’s work. I was genuinely surprised that neither Ladivine or Mend the Living was there. I can see the books they’ve chosen are ‘easier’ but I think that underestimates readers.

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