Its that time of the year again: whispers, murmurs and tediousdroning about the quality of the Booker Prize shortlist which was announcedthis Tuesday. Theres just no way to please the sceptics is there? If you putall the heavyweights through to the last round there are cries ofpredictability and resentment for favouring intellectualism. If you put toomany novices through then its a case of hidden agendas. Im ready to throw mytowel in the ring; I mean who really gives a damn, right? Any publicity is goodpublicity, and if the Booker Prize will sell books and get people intobookshops then surely everyones a winner.
Everyone except Allen Hollinghurst I expect. Winner of theBooker for his fine, but if you ask me, boring The Line of Beauty in 2004, he was the surprise omission from thisyears shortlist. The clear favourite when the longlist was released, thehe-deserves-it, will-he-at-last mantle (gratefully received by HowardJacobsen lastyear), has this year been wrapped around Julian Barnes. Shortlisted for thefourth time without having won this prestigious *yawn* award, Barnes is nowwidely tipped to win. His book, or rather novella, The Sense of an Ending actually sounds very interesting: amiddle-aged mans meditation on life and the role memory plays in theperception of ones life.
Maybe it is a reaction to everyone finding fault with thisyears shortlist that I am strangely excited by it. Part of the reason, Iadmit, is the fact that five of the six books are published by independentpublishers rather than the traditional literary giants such as WilliamHeinemann (Random House) or Hamish Hamilton (Penguin). Not surprisinglyperhaps, I consider these to be the most exciting on the list.
Top of that list for me is Carol Birchs Jamrachs Menagerie, published by one ofmy favourite publishers, Cannongate. Itis the story of an unusual friendship between Jaffy Brown and Charles Jamrach,a nineteenth-century eccentric entrepreneur and wild animal collector. A workof historical fiction, it is meant to be very poetic and imaginative and somewhatreminds me of one of my favourite books, Measuringthe World and the standout debut of 2010 (in my opinion), Boxer, Beetle.
Pigeon English,published by Harry Potters Bloomsbury,was hailed by BBC2s Culture Show as one of the promising debutant novelists to look out forand has also been shortlisted for the 2011 GuardianFirst Book Award. Not bad going. The story is told from the point of viewof a 11-year-old Ghanaian boy, Harrison Opoku. Reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in theNight-Time it centres around inner-city life, suspense, innocence, growingup in an alien country and gang culture, all of which seems particularlypertinent given the recent London riots.
Patrick deWitts TheSisters and Brothers published by Granta is an offbeat westernabout a reluctant assassin and his murderous brother. If the Cohen Brothers wrotebooks, this is probably the kind of book they would write. Apprently. The othertwo books, Half Blood Blues (Esi Edugyan) and Snowdrops (A D Miller) publishedby Serpents Tail and Atlantic respectively, dont reallytake my fancy so I wont write about them. Crazy, huh? You can read about them here,though, if you are interested.
After my cynical rant last year I vowed to never do it againand yet, like those inevitable will-he-wont-he rumours circling overheadlike preying vultures, I have gone and done it again. Oh well. My money thistime round is on Barnes, the heavyweight whom that elusive prize has eludeduntil now, the veteran who kept getting knocked down in the final round. Idont yet know if his book is a knock-out, but hey, he deserves it right?
Check out Matthias Muellers excellent Cultural Constellations blog