The shortlisted titles are at the bottom of the page, separated by a small rant with added commentary. Feel free to skip ahead if opinionated booksellers merely frustrate the reader in you.
The Man Booker Shortlist is something of an event (glaring statement of the obvious) but the initial sideshow of who shoulda, who coulda, and what were they thinking is almost as fun. In 2010 the exclusion of Christos Tsiolkas (The Slap) and David Mitchell (The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet) raised some eyebrows, Joseph O’Neill (Netherland) in 2008 was a baffler, Claire Messud (The Emperor’s Children) and David Mitchell (Black Swan Green) in 2006 generated some indignation (poor David Mitchell, the shortlist bridesmaid in 2001 (Number9Dream) & 2004 (Cloud Atlas) has since been demoted to longlist page boy). Personally, I was enraged and disillusioned in 2005 when James Meek (The People’s Act of Love) didn’t make it to the shortlist, a non-event that brought on much ranting and vitriol as well as a determined effort to hand sell more of that book than any other on the shortlist (free bitching included in sale). A somewhat disproportionate reaction I was told at the time, but if you can’t commit to the books you love then what hope is there in the paper-bound world?
This year the two big exclusions are Alan Hollinghurst (The Stranger’s Child) and Sebastian Barry (On Canaan’s Side). Hollinghurst’s The Strangers Child was the bookmakers favourite from the longlist (pretty much the kiss of death, judging from past example), not to mention the darling of the critics, so it’s absence from the shortlist is notable. Both exclusions are summed up by Stella Rimington’s comment, “We wanted people to buy these books and read them, not buy them and admire them.” A dubious criterion at best, but still… um… well, if you want a rant you can find me at the vicbooks store.
Regardless, the shortlist remains full of excellence and interest: from the established and wonderful Julian Barnes, through two debutantes, A D Miller & Stephen Kelman, to the rising stars of Patrick deWitt, Esi Edugyan and Carol Birch. Barnes is now the bookmaker’s favourite (Death mwuah). I’m backing Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, but Carol Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie looks like a fantastic novel and may slow burn its way to the top. All I do know is that it would take a brave reader to put a large dollop of money on any of them at this stage. There’s a good break down of the books on The Independent’s website, as well as the Man-Booker site.
Here are the books themselves (follow the links to see more):
The Sense of an Ending (released 16 September)
by Julian Barnes
Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they would navigate the girl-less sixth form together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was… read more
by Carol Birch
London, 1857: After surviving an encounter with an escaped tiger on the streets of Bermondsey, nine-year-old Jaffy stumbles into a job for its owner, the wild animal collector, Mr Jamrach. Commissioned by Jamrach to find and collect a sea dragon… read more
by Patrick deWitt
Oregon, 1851. Eli and Charlie Sisters, notorious professional killers, are on their way to California to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm. On the way, the brothers have a series of unsettling and violent experiences in the Darwinian landscape… read more
Half Blood Blues (Publisher currently out of stock)
by Esi Edugyan
This is a new part of an old story: 1930s Berlin, the threat of imprisonment and the powerful desire to make something beautiful despite the horror. The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymous Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene… read more
by Stephen Kelman
Newly arrived from Ghana with his mother and older sister, eleven-year-old Harrison Opoku lives on the ninth floor of a block of flats on an inner-city housing estate. The second best runner in the whole of Year 7, Harri races through his new life in his personalised trainers – the Adidas stripes drawn on with marker pen… read more
by A. D. Miller
an intensely riveting psychological drama that unfolds over the course of one Moscow winter, as a young Englishman’s moral compass is spun by the seductive opportunities revealed to him by a new Russia: a land of hedonism and desperation, corruption and kindness, magical dachas and… read more
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