Fo­lio prize re­turns with non­fic­tion join­ing nov­els on the 2017 short­list

The £20,000 award es­tab­lished as a more lit­er­ary ri­val to the Booker has found a new spon­sor and ex­tended its reach to cover fac­tual books

Sunday Trust - - TAMBARI - Source: The­

Three years af­ter it was born from lit­er­ary-world frus­tra­tions with the Man Booker prize, the Fo­lio prize has re­turned, with a short­list that has more than a lit­tle in com­mon with other prizes this year.

The Fo­lio prize was cre­ated in the wake of the 2011 Man Booker short­list, when the judges con­tro­ver­sially em­pha­sised “read­abil­ity” and a book’s abil­ity to “zip along”, per­ceived by some to be at the ex­pense of lit­er­ary merit. Mar­garet At­wood deemed it “much needed in a world in which money is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing the mea­sure of all things”.

The prize was es­tab­lished with the rule that any English-lan­guage writer could be con­sid­ered, at which point the Booker would not con­sider writ­ers be­yond the Com­mon­wealth. The Booker re­sponded in 2014 by widen­ing its re­mit to in­clude fic­tion in English from across the globe, rais­ing ques­tions as to whether there was a need for an­other prize for lit­er­ary fic­tion.

The first Fo­lio was awarded to Amer­i­can short story writer Ge­orge Saun­ders, then In­di­anAmer­i­can Akhil Sharma in 2015. In 2016, the Fo­lio had a fal­low year while or­gan­is­ers found a new spon­sor and has now re­launched for 2017, with the back­ing of in­vest­ment com­pany Rath­bone, and a new cri­te­rion to dis­tin­guish it from the Booker: al­low­ing non­fic­tion.

The 2017 short­list is evenly split be­tween fic­tion and non­fic­tion. China Miéville’s fan­tasy novella This Cen­sus-Taker is listed along­side CE Mor­gan’s “great Amer­i­can novel” The Sport of Kings, Francis Spufford’s his­tor­i­cal romp Golden Hill and Madeleine Thien’s story of the af­ter­math of China’s Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion, Do Not Say We Have Noth­ing.

Hisham Matar’s mem­oir of his miss­ing fa­ther, The Re­turn, is listed, as is The Van­ish­ing Man by Ob­server art critic Laura Cum­ming, which tells the story of the Span­ish artist Velázquez and an English book­seller who thought he had found a lost paint­ing. The Arg­onauts, Mag­gie Nel­son’s in­ti­mate ac­count of her re­la­tion­ship with her trans­gen­der part­ner, is nom­i­nated along­side Burn­ing Coun­try: Syr­i­ans in Revo­lu­tion and War by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila Al-Shami.

The eight fi­nal­ists were cho­sen from a list of 62 ti­tles nom­i­nated by the Fo­lio Academy, a body of more than 250 writ­ers and crit­ics in­clud­ing At­wood, Peter Carey, AS By­att, Zadie Smith and JM Coet­zee.

THE 2017 RATHBONES Thien’s novel was nom­i­nated for the 2016 FO­LIO PRIZE SHORT­LIST Man Booker, while by Laura Spufford won the Costa first book award and Cum­ming (Chatto & Win­dus) Mor­gan is in con­tention by Hisham Matar for the 2017 Bai­leys prize. Matar’s The Re­turn was nom­i­nated for the Costa bi­og­ra­phy award and the Bail­lie Gif­ford prize for non­fic­tion, while Cum­ming’s The Van­ish­ing Man is nom­i­nated for the James Tait Black prize.

Chair Ahdaf Soueif, who is judg­ing along­side fel­low au­thors Lucy Hughes-Hal­lett and Rachel Holmes, said that the prize stood out from oth­ers in be­ing formed by nom­i­na­tions from the Fo­lio Academy, and also for al­low­ing non­fic­tion. “It is in­ter­est­ing that there is an over­lap (Vik­ing) with other prizes … but it is not surprising,” she said. “It would be lovely to have lots and lots of new books, but it makes sense that there is a fair amount of over­lap.”

From the trans­gen­der themes of Nel­son’s The Arg­onauts, to the jour­neys made in Burn­ing Coun­try and The Re­turn, bor­ders could be seen as the com­mon thread through­out the short­list, said Soueif: “You could make an in­ter­est­ing case. Laura Cum­ming’s book is all about fudged bound­aries be­tween art and life, The Re­turn and Burn­ing Coun­try are very clearly about bound­aries … I guess a lot of what these books are do­ing is con­sid­er­ing bound­aries, then cross­ing them.”

The win­ner will be an­nounced at a cer­e­mony on 24 May at the Bri­tish Li­brary and will re­ceive a cheque for £20,000. by China Miéville (Pi­cador) by CE Mor­gan (4th Es­tate) by Mag­gie Nel­son (Melville House) by Francis Spufford (Faber & Faber) Madeleine Thien (Granta) (Pluto Press) by Robin by

Fic­tion and fact … Fo­lio prize short­lis­tees Hisham Matar and Madeleine Thien.

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