By NoViolet Bulawayo
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