By NoVi­o­let Bu­l­awayo

Friday - - Leisure -

Some­thing about literary prizes can cause a mo­ment of panic in even the most avid of book lovers. Af­ter all, ‘high­brow’ fic­tion isn’t al­ways the most en­ter­tain­ing – as any­one who’s ever strug­gled to get through the likes of James Joyce’s Ulysses will agree. But there’s been a flurry of ex­cite­ment at the an­nounce­ment of the short­list of the 2013 Man Booker prize – one of the world’s most pres­ti­gious and rich­est (at Dh308,000) literary awards. Be­cause this year’s nom­i­nated books aren’t all by stuffy old men who write like they’ve swal­lowed a dic­tionary for break­fast, but by an un­usual ar­ray of au­thors, sev­eral of whom have been vir­tu­ally un­known un­til now.

From 27-year-old New Zealan­der Eleanor Cat­ton, to Zimbabwean NoVi­o­let Bu­l­awayo, In­dian/Amer­i­can/ English Jhumpa Lahiri, Cana­dian Ruth Ozeki and pre­vi­ous nom­i­nees, Ir­ish Colm TÓibín and English Jim Crace, this has been hailed as “the most di­verse list ever” by the likes of for­mer Booker judge GabyWood.

And all this comes in the wake of con­tro­ver­sial news that as of 2014 the Man Booker is to be opened up to au­thors of all na­tion­al­i­ties (pre­vi­ously it could be won only by a cit­i­zen of the Com­mon­wealth of Na­tions, the Repub­lic of Ire­land, or Zim­babwe).

So why should you care? Be­cause there are some truly fine nov­els to get stuck into (it turns out that five ex­pert literary judges do know a thing or two about a good read).

We won’t know the over­all win­ner un­til Oc­to­ber 15, but why not get down to your lo­cal book­store this weekend so you can de­cide who de­serves the prize for your­self? To help you choose where to start, here’s our take on the six nom­i­nated books: Thirty-one year old NoVi­o­let Bu­l­awayo is the first Zimbabwean to make the longlist and short­list for this prize and her novel is the only de­but on the short­list. Her short story Hit­ting Bu­dapest (2010) won the 2011 Caine Prize for AfricanWrit­ing. This mod­ern tale tells the story of 10-yearold Dar­ling who lives in a fic­tional African shanty town called Par­adise. Her daily life is a con­stant hunt for food as homes and schools are razed by para­mil­i­tary forces. Hop­ing to re­verse her mis­for­tune, the young girl moves to the US with her aunt where in­stead of cul­tur­ally en­rich­ing her life she faces the irony of com­par­ing those who live in ab­ject poverty with those who live in con­sumerist ex­cess. Dh85, Ki­noku­niya

by Eleanor Cat­ton

Eleanor Cat­ton is the youngest au­thor to fea­ture on this year’s short­list and should she pick up the cov­eted prize, would be­come the youngest ever win­ner at 28. At more than 800 pages, the length of Cat­ton’s tome was off-putting for even the judges: “When an 823-page book turns up in a par­cel, a sink­ing sen­sa­tion could oc­cur to a per­son who is try­ing to read a book a day [from an over­all to­tal of 152] while do­ing the things that pay their mort­gage,” says judge Natalie Haynes. But the ef­fort more than pays off: “Within about six pages of the book I felt like I’d got into a bath.”

Set in 1866, Wal­ter Moody is the pro­tag­o­nist, and he is drawn into a mys­tery af­ter try­ing to strike it rich in New Zealand’s gold mines. Upon ar­rival in a small min­ing com­mu­nity he be­comes in­trin­si­cally linked to three crimes that have taken place in one day; the dis­ap­pear­ance of the town’s rich­est man, the ap­pear­ance of a huge stash of gold in the home of a lo­cal vagabond and a woman found un­con­scious on the side of a road. Noth­ing, how­ever, is to be taken at face value in this daz­zling tale. Dh85, Ki­noku­niya Sixty-seven-year-old Jim Crace is this year’s old­est au­thor and has been writ­ing nov­els for the past 39 years – his 1997 novel Quar­an­tine was also short­listed for the Booker Prize. Har­vest, which ac­cord­ing to the au­thor will be his last work of fic­tion, is set in a pre-in­dus­trial ru­ral English vil­lage. The novel takes place over seven days in which the nar­ra­tor Wal­ter Thirsk watches his vil­lage

by Jim Crace

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