For fiction writers, the Man Booker Prize is like the Academy Awards — actually, since this prize is only open to citizens of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland, make that the BAFTA’s. Once summertime roles around, anyone whose novel was published that year eagerly sits by their phone in anticipation of the call letting them know they’ve been nominated for the prestigious literary accolade. Being nominated is good for publicity, but that extra £50,000 ($82,000) prize isn’t something to shake a stick at. Just ask last year’s winner Aravind Adiga whose novel The White Tiger has currently sold over half a million copies.
For those of you who may enjoy a few new additions to your summer reading list, here’s a cheat sheet to help you navigate the thirteen nominees.
Byatt has won the Booker Prize previously, and her nominated novel has yet to be released in the US, so you’ll either have to wait until October to read this dark 19th century tale of family, secrets, and survival — or nab it during an overseas excursion to Canada or the UK.
J.M. Coetzee: Summertime
The New York Review of Books has done us a solid, friend. A couple of weeks ago, they excerpted this two-time Booker Prize winner’s upcoming novel so that we don’t have to describe it to you. Wasn’t that kind of them? Check it. Note: If he’s victorious this year, he’ll be the first author ever to win three times.
Adam Foulds: The Quickening Maze
Remember that story you used to tell at slumber parties about the two girls who were home alone in a big, creaky house on a rainy night and heard on the radio that a crazed murderer has recently escaped from an asylum? Well, this book has a similar plot, except that there aren’t two girls. And the escapee isn’t a murderer. But it is set in England so there’s definitely rain! And the asylum! Don’t forget the asylum! Note: This one is also only available in the UK for now.
Sarah Hall: How to Paint a Dead Man
Art lovers, this book is for you. Death, inhibited sight, landscapes, sexual abandon, madness, and meditative existential meanderings: Sarah Hall has outdone herself with a novel that defies categorization. How postmodern.
Samantha Harvey: The Wilderness
On her first pass out of the gate, Samantha Harvey beat out Toni Morrison for the Orange Prize for Fiction, so you know this work is going to be soul shaking and complex. Bringing to mind Sarah Polley’s painfully beautiful film Away From Her, this story centers on a 65-year-old architect’s descent into Alzheimer’s. You’ll either need tissues or a Philosophy 101 refresher course for this one.
Wow. The world never knew it was missing an autobiography of Tarzan’s chimpanzee companion, Cheeta. The author of this novel thought it was so good that he hid the fact that he’d written it… until it was nominated for an award, of course. Who knew a monkey writing his Hollywood tell-all story could be so good? Allegedly this one’s hilarious.
Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall
The Tudors have staying power in popular culture, that’s for sure. From the Portman-Johansson blockbuster to the currently running Showtime series, Henry VIII’s reign provided an endless supply of dramatic material for creative types to choose from in their respective craft. Mantel writes this tale of Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s chief minister, for the tragically power hungry.
Simon Mawer: The Glass Room
As an itinerant military brat, it’s no surprise that Mawer is into history. When one spends one’s youth shifting from place to place every few years, it provides the opportunity for reinvention, as well as a kind of constant loss of self since humans are largely defined by consistency of place and memory. This novel is about re-invention from someone who has no doubt mastered the feat.
Ed O’Loughlin: Not Untrue and Not Unkind
Since newspapers are dying, some journalists are trading in their notebooks for a typewriter. Well, maybe not a typewriter, per se, but you get my point. Former Middle East correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald Ed O’Loughlin is using the subject he knows best (journalism) to craft a gripping story of an Irish newspaperman dropped into the midst of a war torn African country. Think Jennifer Connelly in Blood Diamond — except that was Sierra Leone in 1999 and this is the 1996 Rwandan-Congolese conflict — in the mood of The Constant Gardener.
James Scudamore: Heliopolis
A child in a Sao Paulo favela is yanked from poverty’s grasp and adopted into the family of an uber-wealthy businessman to see what happens (what?) when people stop being deferential and start getting real. We can hear the critics’ screams debating authenticity now, so read this before they ruin it for you.
Colm Toibin: Brooklyn
We know. We should have started with this one given its NYC-centric title, but we wanted to maintain the bias-free alphabetizing of the list, which actually isn’t bias-free at all since those with surnames beginning with a letter closer to the front of the alphabet tend to get first dibs on everything. Toibin’s tome traces a young Irishwoman’s escape to Brooklyn to make a new life as a 1950s shopgirl. Read our interview with him here.
William Trevor: Love and Summer
What a name for a beach read! Though this novel has all the makings of a Harlequin romance — a dark-haired stranger on a bicycle, a newly-liberated daughter, and a young convent girl in a quite country hamlet — something tells us this passion-filled summer won’t be the hot and steamy kind.
This dark and somewhat humorous mystery is a little stranger than the other books on this list, that’s for sure. Sarah Waters presents a psychological supernatural thriller that departs from her past work, which has earned her the label of “lesbian writer.” Indeed there are no lesbians in this book at all. How nice of Waters to supply us with the first two chapters to whet our appetite.
Now go forth and read people; the winner of the Man Booker Prize will be announced on October 6th.