Actually, I'm not sure the Booker is as prestigious as it once was. Now books from all over the world, but mainly America, are eligible. Yet I can't get a Pulitzer and I don't suppose I'm eligible for prizes in Ireland, Canada, Israel or anywhere else for that matter. Still, I suppose it's symbolic. Mainstream publishing is pretty homogeneous, with only a half-dozen UK-based combines at most. So why shouldn't the prize-giving be equally international and, well, bland?
This year's shortlist of six is:
- A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara, which sounds a lot more exotic than it is. Yanagihara is actually an American writer and is about 4 New England graduates who take up worthy occupations like actor, architect, artist and lawyer. In other words, whilst its outcomes are hopefully fresh, the premise could scarcely be any more hackneyed.
- A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler. A generational love story recalled on a golden afternoon in the late Fifties when all is ripe and good in America. Yada, yada, yada.
- A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James - at least only tangentially American in that it mentions the CIA - is about the attempted murder of Bob Marley in Jamaica in the Seventies. At least it sounds like something new.
- Satin Island by Tom McCarthy is, to be fair, a proper Booker nominee. A corporate anthropologist known only as U tries to fathom the post-capitalist dystopia. Actually, this is one I want to read immediately.
- The Year of the Runaways by Sanjeev Sahota is so positioned for the Booker, it even has a cover blurb by Salman Rushdie. Indian immigrants wind up in Sheffield. I like Indian literature. But this does not appeal.
- The Fisherman by Chigozie Obioma may well be the favourite - a tale of growing up in Nigeria in the Nineties from an author billed as the new Chinua Achebe. Achebe, of course, won the Man Booker International Prize in 2007 for his corpus, not for any particular opus. He left spectacularly large shoes and I don't envy any contemporary Nigerian novelists charged with filling them.
The Samuel Johnson list is discussed in my next post.