It’s that time of the year again: whispers, murmurs and tedious droning about the quality of the Booker Prize shortlist which was announced this Tuesday. There’s just no way to please the sceptics is there? If you put all the heavyweights through to the last round there are cries of ‘predictability’ and resentment for favouring ‘intellectualism’. If you put too many novices through then it’s a case of hidden agendas. I’m ready to throw my towel in the ring; I mean who really gives a damn, right? Any publicity is good publicity, and if the Booker Prize will sell books and get people into bookshops then surely everyone’s a winner.
Everyone except Allen Hollinghurst I expect. Winner of the Booker for his fine, but if you ask me, boring The Line of Beauty in 2004, he was the surprise omission from this year’s shortlist. The clear favourite when the longlist was released, the ‘he-deserves-it’, ‘will-he-at-last’ mantle (gratefully received by Howard Jacobsen last year), has this year been wrapped around Julian Barnes. Shortlisted for the fourth time without having won this prestigious *yawn* award, Barnes is now widely tipped to win. His book, or rather novella, The Sense of an Ending actually sounds very interesting: a middle-aged man’s meditation on life and the role memory plays in the perception of one’s life.
Maybe it is a reaction to everyone finding fault with this year’s shortlist that I am strangely excited by it. Part of the reason, I admit, is the fact that five of the six books are published by independent publishers rather than the traditional literary giants such as William Heinemann (Random House) or Hamish Hamilton (Penguin). Not surprisingly perhaps, I consider these to be the most exciting on the list.
Top of that list for me is Carol Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie, published by one of my favourite publishers, Cannongate. It is the story of an unusual friendship between Jaffy Brown and Charles Jamrach, a nineteenth-century eccentric entrepreneur and wild animal collector. A work of historical fiction, it is meant to be very poetic and imaginative and somewhat reminds me of one of my favourite books, Measuring the World and the standout debut of 2010 (in my opinion), Boxer, Beetle.
Pigeon English, published by Harry Potter’s Bloomsbury, was hailed by BBC 2’s Culture Show as one of the promising debutant novelists to look out for and has also been shortlisted for the 2011 Guardian First Book Award. Not bad going. The story is told from the point of view of a 11-year-old Ghanaian boy, Harrison Opoku. Reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time it centres around inner-city life, suspense, innocence, growing up in an alien country and gang culture, all of which seems particularly pertinent given the recent London riots.
Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters and Brothers published by Granta is an “offbeat western about a reluctant assassin and his murderous brother”. If the Cohen Brothers wrote books, this is probably the kind of book they would write. Apprently. The other two books, Half Blood Blues (Esi Edugyan) and Snowdrops (A D Miller) published by Serpent’s Tail and Atlantic respectively, don’t really take my fancy so I won’t 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 again
and yet, like those inevitable ‘will-he-won’t-he’ rumours circling overhead
like preying vultures, I have gone and done it again. Oh well. My money this
time round is on Barnes, the heavyweight whom that elusive prize has eluded
until now, the veteran who kept getting knocked down in the final round. I
don’t yet know if his book is a knock-out, but hey, he deserves it right?
Check out Matthias Mueller’s excellent Cultural Constellations blog