The Man Booker International Prize 2017

With equal parts excitement and trepidation, today I learned which books had made it onto the Man Booker International Prize long-list. The trepidation occurs because, once again, I am going to be reading all of them as part of the Shadow Jury and therefore questions such as, Have I read any? Do I own any others? and How long are they? take on much greater significance.

The 2017 Man Booker international prize longlist:
Compass by Mathias Énard (France), translated by Charlotte Mandell and published by Fitzcarraldo Editions
Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg (Poland), translated by Eliza Marciniak and published by Portobello Books
A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman (Israel), translated by Jessica Cohen and published by Jonathan Cape
War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans (Belgium), translated by David McKay and published by Harvill Secker
The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen (Norway), translated by Don Bartlett and published by MacLehose Press
The Traitor’s Niche by Ismail Kadare (Albania), translated by John Hodgson and published by Harvill Secker
Fish Have No Feet by Jón Kalman Stefánsson (Iceland), translated by Philip Roughton and published by MacLehose Press
The Explosion Chronicles by Yan Lianke (China), translated by Carlos Rojas and published by Chatto & Windus
Black Moses by Alain Mabanckou (France), translated by Helen Stevenson and published by Serpent’s Tail
Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer (Germany), translated by Katy Derbyshire and published by Fitzcarraldo Editions
Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors (Denmark), translated by Misha Hoekstra and published by Pushkin Press
Judas by Amos Oz (Israel), translated by Nicholas de Lange and published by Chatto & Windus
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin (Argentina), translated by Megan McDowell and published by Oneworld

This year I have only read two of the long-listed novels, Swallowing Mercury and Fever Dream, two of the shorter novels, and two of only three by women writers. The lack of women writers is disappointing, though it partly reflects the proportion of women who are translated. It’s a shame that two excellent Peirene novels (The Empress and the Cake and Her Father’s Daughter) both missed out – Peirene have been represented since 2011 (if we regard the prize as continuing from the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize), every year of their existence.

Tilted Axis Press and And Other Stories might also feel disappointed not to feature, though two novels from Fitzcarraldo Editions makes up for the snubbing of Mathias Enard’s Zone in 2015 (a move which so infuriated the Shadow Jury they called it in). Both Harvill Secker and MacLehose Press (both long-time supporters of literature in translation) are also represented twice.

Eight of the thirteen books are European (the Guardian originally seemed to suggest Iceland and Albania were not part of Europe though I notice this has been changed. Alain Mabanckou is still “a French writer born in the Republic of the Congo” though, whatever that implies – perhaps that nine are European, or eleven if we use Eurovision rules and include Israel). This compares to only five European books last year (six if Turkey is regarded as European). A pity, then, that Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound was excluded, and Japanese female writers like Yoko Tawada and Hiromi Kawakami.

The list is certainly not short of well-established writers (including Nobel Prize winners in waiting, some might say): Ismail Kadare is 81, Amos Oz 77, and David Grossman, Roy Jacobson and Stefan Hertmans are all in their sixties. (Samantha Schweblin is, I think, the youngest). Many of the books themselves are heavyweights – Bricks and Mortar runs to 670 pages, Compass and The Explosion Chronicles to 480, Fish Have No Feet a comparatively paltry 380… the rest (luckily) are more manageable, and it’s unlikely anything can match the tedium of reading Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness in my Mind.

I’m most looking forward to reading The Explosion Chronicles having been impressed by The Four Books last year; similarly Compass should be a treat based on my experience of Zone. As a long-time admirer of Kadare I would have read The Traitor’s Niche anyway; the same applies to Dorthe Nors, though on the basis of only one previous book. Mabanckou and Stefansson I’ve also read before though with less relish (The Sorrow of Angels I think of with my own personal sorrow). The other writers are entirely new to me.

Let the reading begin!

(You can read the Official Shadow Panel response to the long list here).

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11 Responses to “The Man Booker International Prize 2017”

  1. BookerTalk Says:

    you have your work cut out to read al the remaining titles before April 20 – I see from one of your fellow panel members that some of these are rather long

  2. Lisa Hill Says:

    *chuckle* If you use Eurovision rules, then you can include Australia!
    I’ve read (and reviewed) The Explosion Chronicles and War and Turpentine and agree that both are worthy inclusions, but I’m having my own personal sulk about The Winterlings because I really liked that one.
    Yes, I’ll be reading the Kadare anyway, and I’ll probably read Compass anyway once I read Zone which is on my TBR.
    But I am mighty glad I am not on the Shadow Jury because I am a bit tired of chunksters… I’ve read some great ones, but the books I enjoy most are those that take me 2-3 days to read, the length of a Zola, about 250-325 pages.

  3. JacquiWine Says:

    Interesting reflections, Grant. I do admire your dedication to reading this longlist year in, year out. It’s a huge commitment, but very rewarding too no doubt. I’m sure you’ve got some great reading ahead of you! I’ll be very interested to see which books make your own personal shortlist.

    • 1streading Says:

      It can seem a bit of chore at times, but it’s great for discovering new writers, and reading to judge a prize (even if you’re just pretending!) is a different kind of reading I think.

  4. Caroline Says:

    I finally have to read Clemens Meyer. I keep on collecting his books.
    I couldn’t read a whole long list like this but it’s tempting. I’m looking forward to finding out which ones you liked best.

    • 1streading Says:

      Despite its size Bricks and Mortar is one I’m looking forward to as it gives me the excuse to read Meyers.
      At least reading the long list means you never have to think about what you’re going to read next!

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