Sur­prise as heavy­weights fail to make Booker Prize Short­list

Sunday Trust - - ARTS & IDEAS - Source: TheBook­seller.com

The de­but novel by York book­seller Fiona Mo­z­ley has made the cut for the £50,000 Man Booker Prize short­list, along with de­buts by Ge­orge Saun­ders and Emily Frid­lund.

They are joined by Mohsin Hamid for Exit West (Hamish Hamil­ton), Au­tumn by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamil­ton) and 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (Faber & Faber), who are also fi­nal­ists for the prize.

Chair of the judges Baroness Lola Young said it had been a “very col­lab­o­ra­tive” judg­ing process with “no fights yet”. She went on to say they had been look­ing for books that ei­ther “en­hanced un­der­stand­ing” or “chal­lenged our think­ing”, and each of the short­listed ti­tles “pushed against the bor­ders of con­ven­tion”.

Mo­z­ley’s El­met (JM Orig­i­nals), hailed by the judges as a “gutsy” and “force­ful” first novel, is about fam­ily as well as a med­i­ta­tion on land­scape in South York­shire. Pub­lished last month, it was the first ever ac­qui­si­tion of John Mur­ray as­sis­tant ed­i­tor Becky Walsh, who re­vealed Mo­z­ley wrote the story while com­mut­ing on the train.

The 29-year-old book­seller at Lit­tle Ap­ple Book­shop in York told The Book­seller in July that mak­ing the longlist felt “re­ally sur­real”. “I didn’t ex­pect any­thing like this,” she said at the time.

In praise of Mosley, prize judge and au­thor Sarah Hall com­mented: “It’s not a slight book but it’s not a long book and it’s tremen­dously po­tent. The one thing that re­ally trav­elled through ev­ery­thing is that very un­usual, unique voice. It al­most has the po­tency of a short story. And I think that’s what we all thought was com­ing through that gutsy qual­ity ... It seems like a very par­tic­u­lar book but, as with judg­ing any lit­er­ary prize, what is very lo­cal can seem very uni­ver­sal at the same time, and that is the strength of these books.”

Saun­ders, a pro­lific short story writer, is in the run­ning for the prize for Lin­coln in the Bardo (Blooms­bury). The fa­therand-son story, which has al­ready se­cured a film deal, fea­tures Abra­ham Lin­coln and is set in 1862 against the back­ground of the Amer­i­can Civil War. The judges hailed it “greatly dar­ing and ac­com­plished - a novel with a rare ca­pa­cious­ness of mind and heart”.

Fel­low Amer­i­can Emily Frid­lund has the third de­but to be short­listed for His­tory of Wolves (Wei­den­feld & Ni­col­son), set in a dy­ing com­mune in the Amer­i­can Mid­west.

Smith’s Au­tumn is part of an am­bi­tious series of four sea­sonal nov­els, partly in­spired by Brexit. She has been short­listed for the Man Booker four times but has never won it. Hamid’s Exit West, about mi­gra­tion and mu­ta­tion, is a mag­i­cal vi­sion of the refugee cri­sis, and Auster’s 4 3 2 1, his first novel in seven years, is an “epic” story of birth right and pos­si­bil­ity based on the story of char­ac­ter Archibald Isaac Fer­gu­son.

The short­list is evenly split be­tween the sexes with three men and three women in the run­ning while two au­thors are Bri­tish, one is Bri­tish-Pak­istani and three are Amer­i­can writ­ers.

Pen­guin Ran­dom House im­print Hamish Hamil­ton has two ti­tles in the run­ning, while Ha­chette im­prints Wei­den­feld & Ni­col­son and JM Orig­i­nals have one each. Two ti­tles have made the cut from in­de­pen­dent pub­lish­ers Faber & Faber and Blooms­bury.

Those who didn’t make it through from the longlist are Zadie Smith, Arund­hati Roy, Se­bas­tian Barry, Col­son White­head, Kamila Sham­sie, Mike McCor­mack and Jon McGre­gor.

Water­stones fic­tion buyer Chris White praised the short­list and said it was “great” to see three de­buts in the run­ning. How­ever, he said US au­thor Col­son White­head’s The Un­der­ground Rail­road was a “shock­ing” omis­sion from the fi­nal con­tenders.

“We’re all used by now to the Booker judges de­liv­er­ing sur­prises but the omis­sion of The Un­der­ground Rail­road from the fi­nal six cer­tainly ranks among the big­gest shocks I’ve wit­nessed,” he said. “I think that, when we look back at 2017, we may see this as the one which got away.

“That said, I don’t be­grudge a sin­gle one of the fi­nal con­tenders their place. For the lifeblood of lit­er­a­ture and the book in­dus­try more gen­er­ally, it’s great to see three de­but nov­el­ists (well, two plus Ge­orge Saun­ders) make it.”

Tak­ing an early punt on the win­ning ti­tle, White said he thought Lin­coln in the Bardo was “in with a good shout” but added he was “go­ing to stick my neck out and say that Exit West a brave, beau­ti­ful and in­ven­tive book for our times - will emerge vic­to­ri­ous.”

“I hope that doesn’t jinx its chances,” he added.

Baroness Young, in the role of chair of the judges, was joined on the panel by lit­er­ary critic, Lila Azam Zan­ganeh; Man Booker Prize short­listed nov­el­ist, Sarah Hall; artist, Tom Phillips CBE RA; and travel writer, Colin Thubron CBE.

They said the ti­tles “each in its own way, chal­lenge and sub­tly shift our pre­con­cep­tions - about the na­ture of love, about the ex­pe­ri­ence of time, about ques­tions of iden­tity and even death”.

Young added that the six books “push against the bor­ders of con­ven­tion”. “Play­ful, sin­cere, un­set­tling, fierce: here is a group of nov­els grown from tra­di­tion but also rad­i­cal and con­tem­po­rary,” she said. “The emo­tional, cul­tural, po­lit­i­cal and in­tel­lec­tual range of these books is re­mark­able, and the ways in which they chal­lenge our think­ing is a tes­ta­ment to the power of lit­er­a­ture.”

In re­sponse to con­cerns around the prize’s “Amer­i­can­i­sa­tion” - af­ter half the au­thors on this year’s short­list hail from the US - Young said: “All we can say is we judge the books that are sub­mit­ted to us; we make our judge­ment based not on any­one’s na­tion­al­ity or gen­der or any­thing else, other than what is writ­ten on those pages.” She added: “One can say that time will tell.”

The six fi­nal­ists for the £50,000 prize were re­vealed on Wed­nes­day (13th Septem­ber) at a morn­ing press con­fer­ence at Man Group, the head­quar­ters of the prize spon­sors, in Lon­don.

The short­list was se­lected from a longlist of 13 nov­els, known as the Man Booker Dozen.

Each of the short­listed au­thors will re­ceive £2,500 and a spe­cially bound edition of their book. A Man Booker short­list party is due to take place on Wed­nes­day evening (13th Septem­ber) at the Ser­pen­tine Pavil­ion, Kens­ing­ton Gar­dens.

The 2017 win­ner will be an­nounced on 17th Oc­to­ber in Lon­don’s Guild­hall at a black-tie din­ner, with the cer­e­mony to be broad­cast by the BBC.

Last year the cov­eted prize was taken by Paul Beatty, giv­ing in­de­pen­dent pub­lisher Oneworld its sec­ond con­sec­u­tive win af­ter Mar­lon James scooped the award in 2015. Beatty was also the first Amer­i­can au­thor to win the prize. Prior to 2014 only cit­i­zens of the Com­mon­wealth, the Repub­lic of Ire­land or Zimbabwe were el­i­gi­ble for the prize.

The six books short­listed for the 2017 Booker Prize

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