The longlist of authors competing for the 2011 Man Booker prize was announced yesterday, giving you plenty of time to familiarize yourself with all 13 titles — including work by four first-time novelists — before the winner is revealed at a ceremony on October 18. “We are delighted by the quality and breadth of our longlist, which emerged from an impassioned discussion,” explained Dame Stella Rimington, who is the chair of the five-judge panel and the former director-general of MI5. “The list ranges from the Wild West to multi-ethnic London via post-Cold War Moscow and Bucharest.” According to The Guardian , Alan Hollinghurst, a previous Man Booker prize winner, is “almost certain to become the bookies’ favorite,” but click through to figure out where you want to start your reading.
Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending
It’s probably worth noting that Barnes is a three-time finalist for the Booker. According to Anita Brookner at The Telegraph , his latest novel, which reflects back on “an uncomfortable weekend” spent by a group of school friends now that they are adults, is a lot like Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw — and not just because it’s short. “His reputation will surely be enhanced by this book,” she writes. “Do not be misled by its brevity. Its mystery is as deeply embedded as the most archaic of memories.”
Sebastian Barry, On Canaan’s Side
As Alex Clark at The Guardian explains, in Barry’s fifth lyrical novel, which features an 89-year-old narrator recounting her life story, the author’s “concentration on isolating tiny fragments of experience and apprehension makes for an intense and immersive read, one in which brutal events are cast in a diffuse light that gives them an almost mythic quality.” Barry has previously been shortlisted twice.
Carol Birch, Jamrach’s Menagerie
In this story of male friendship, which like Moby Dick was inspired by the story of Essex, Washington Post critic Ron Charles writes that “Birch holds her own with breathtaking descriptions of the harpooners in action, the gory rendering of the world’s largest mammals and timber-splitting storms that crash down on the ship like giant ax blades.” This is her 11th novel.
Patrick deWitt, The Sisters Brothers
Carolyn Kellogg at The LA Times says, “If Cormac McCarthy had a sense of humor, he might have concocted a story like Patrick deWitt’s bloody, darkly funny western The Sisters Brothers.” We don’t know about you, but that’s recommendation enough for us. Also of note: deWitt is an Oregon-based writer, but is eligible for Booker consideration because he was born in Canada.
Esi Edugyan, Half Blood Blues
The promised Afro-German story gets unfortunately sidelined in Edugyan’s novel, which examines a group of Black jazz musicians trying to survive in France and Germany during World War II, writes The Guardian‘s Bernardine Evaristo. “In spite of this, Edugyan really can write, and the final chapter is redemptive.”
Yvvette Edwards, A Cupboard Full of Coats
“‘My characters are like me and my family: black British,” Edwards has explained. Publishers Weekly says that her debut novel, which explores the relationships that lead to the narrator’s mother’s brutal murder in East London, is “engrossing and human to the core” and “wrings the heart in the most tender of ways.”
Alan Hollinghurst, The Stranger’s Child
“Last acclaimed for nailing the social and political zeitgeist of Britain –- or, more accurately, England –- in the 1980s, Hollinghurst has reacted with a confidence that might seem to border on recklessness,” writes Richard Canning in his review for The Independent . “For while The Stranger’s Child tells a very particular story -– of the life and legacy of a war-slain Georgian poet –- it simultaneously maps the thousands of changes to befall England, Englishness and English subjects across the past hundred years.” Perhaps now you can guess why this is the one to watch.
Stephen Kelman, Pigeon English
As Rachel Aspden points out in her Guardian review, the back story on Kelman’s debut novel, which might be one of the most hyped releases on the longlist, is the stuff of literary fairy tales — pulled from the slush pile, the manuscript led to a high six-figure advance. Of the novel itself, she writes, “does an admirable job of revealing the frightened teenage boys behind gang members’ tough façades. But it is too conscious of the gulf between its subjects and its inevitably middle-class readers to be truly convincing.”
Patrick McGuinness, The Last Hundred Days
As the title suggests, McGuinness’ debut novel is a literary thriller set during the fall of the Ceausescu regime in Romania. Also known for his poetry, he is a Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Oxford University.
AD Miller, Snowdrops
“AD Miller was the Moscow correspondent for The Economist a few years back, and he has clearly drawn on his experiences to tell the story of Nick, an English lawyer who travels to the Russian capital to broker huge deals between banks, oil companies and property developers,” explains Doug Johnstone at The Independent. This is Miller’s debut novel.
Alison Pick, Far to Go
Fun fact: In the course of writing this novel set during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, which was inspired by her grandparents’ own story, Pick actually converted to Judaism. Says Geraldine Sherman at the National Post, “By delicately tilting her observer’s mirror, Alison Pick glimpsed the outline of an original tale that could cast new light on old shadows — enough, I argue, that even the Holocaust-saturated will admit there’s room for more of these stories if their vantage point is well chosen.”
Jane Rogers, The Testament of Jessie Lamb
This apocalyptic novel about a lab of “Sleeping Beauties” facing “maternal death syndrome” could be considered a surprising pick by Booker judges — and a small victory for science fiction lovers. In her review at The Independent , Katy Guest compares Rogers’s story to Never Let Me Go, writing, “the scary thing about this novel is that the questions it raises are so close to home.”
DJ Taylor, Derby Day
In the mood for a Victorian mystery story? “Derby Day is a triumphant success, and a great reminder of why Wilkie Collins, Dickens, and Trollope, while writing carefully plotted novels, often with a strong element of the thriller or the whodunnit, were never forced into the tedium of outlining police procedure,” AN Wilson writes at the Financial Times. “Taylor glories in the fact that his tightly plotted story all hangs on the full-blown characters he so exuberantly paints on his crowded Frith-like canvas.”