The Man Booker Prize has announced a 2015 longlist featuring 13 novels by authors representing seven nations. The standing list for the £50,000 prize was pared from a selection of 156 books by a panel of five judges, including Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, John Burnside, Sam Leith and Frances Osborne. The shortlist will be announced on Tuesday, September 15th, and the winner of the prize will be made public in a broadcast by the BBC on October 13th.
The chair of the judging panel, Michael Wood, highlighted the formal range of the list in a press statement. “The range of different performances and forms of these novels is amazing,” Wood said. “All of them do something exciting with the language they have chosen to use.”
The language cited by Wood and chosen by these authors is of course English. The prize is not open to works in translation, but, as of last year, the Man Booker judges do invite writers of any nationality, given they work in the language of Martin Amis.
The decision to expand the horizon of the Man Booker Prize beyond the Commonwealth has not been met with universal applause. Last year at the Guardian, Australian author Peter Carey, who has won the prize two times, confessed that he finds it “unimaginable that the Pulitzer or the National Book award people in the United States would ever open their prizes to Brits and Australians.”
“There was and there is a real Commonwealth culture,” Carey added. “It’s different. America doesn’t really feel to be a part of that.”
Carey’s comments, justified or not, highlight one of the unsuspected consequences of opening up the Prize to international writers. The gap between British and American literary tastes may be wider than previously imagined.
Still, the longlist takes full advantage of the new rules. Only three of the thirteen authors are British; of the remaining ten: five are American — cue Telegraph piece espousing British literary nationalism — and the remaining five hail from the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, India, Nigeria and Jamaica.
The list also includes three debut novelists, one former winner, and, refreshingly, four authors from independent presses. Here’s your Man Booker Prize 2015 breakdown:
Bill Clegg (US) – Did You Ever Have a Family (Jonathan Cape)
A sleeper, this debut novel from a bestselling memoirist and US literary agent Bill Clegg could be the first American winner of the prize. It certainly has no shortage of critical support, including the endorsements of popular magazines. It also has the endorsement of former Booker winner (and fellow 2015 nominee) Anne Enright.
Anne Enright (Ireland) – The Green Road (Jonathan Cape)
By no means count out Enright, who won the 2007 Man Booker for The Gathering. And though it bears some resemblance to that novel, The Green Road’s robust, precise family narrative more aggressively rejects the “milk and cookies” (see below) drama of love and marriage. This means it stands apart — not only from her past work, but also from much of the Booker field.
Marlon James (Jamaica) – A Brief History of Seven Killings (Oneworld Publications)
I can’t shake the feeling that James’ panoramic novel, which is also the greatest crack narrative of recent times (and maybe ever), will grow in stature over the next few years — then maybe newspapers will stop calling it “the Bob Marley novel.” There is no better way to start this process than awarding his book the Man Booker Prize.
Laila Lalami (US) – The Moor’s Account (Periscope, Garnet Publishing)
Arguably the one proper “historical novel” on the list, Lalami’s decorated The Moor’s Account tells of the attempted conquest of (what is now) the Gulf Coast from the perspective of Estebanico, a Moroccan slave. A finalist for the Pulitzer, and one of the most roundly praised books of the last year.
Tom McCarthy (UK) – Satin Island (Jonathan Cape)
In Satin Island, McCarthy works on the borders of other disciplines — the philosophy of art, anthropology, psychoanalysis, whatever — and not because he is some one-man avant-garde, as at least one overexcited critic has suggested, but because he’s concerned about our future as much as our past. Alongside Roy’s novel, which deals with gender-based violence, McCarthy’s is the most intellectually current work on this list. Whether or not it wins, that stands for something.
Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria) – The Fishermen (ONE, Pushkin Press)
Obioma’s novel has the distinction of being praised by former Booker winner Eleanor Catton, who accurately described the book as “freighted with death” — “death” being the payload missing most from contemporary fiction. The Fisherman brings together recent history (it’s set in the 1990s) with teleological and mythological doom. This writer will not be upset if it wins.
Andrew O’Hagan (UK) – The Illuminations (Faber & Faber)
This is the fifth and best work of fiction (that I’ve read) by O’Hagan, a Scottish editor who also ghostwrote Julian Assange’s autobiography (and then trashed his principal). Among the proliferation of recent books that deal vaguely with memory, The Illuminations boasts some of the most lifelike “human portraits” and deftest prose.
Marilynne Robinson (US) – Lila (Virago)
Lila, among Robinson’s best work, is almost matchless in recent American fiction for its fluid time-shifts and subtlety of language. Still, I was surprised to see it win the National Book Critics Circle last year, mostly because lazy readers sometimes find it provincial and boring. We’ll see how lazy the Booker panel is.
Anuradha Roy (India) – Sleeping on Jupiter (MacLehose Press, Quercus)
The talented and oft-awarded Roy is always a favorite, and her new novel Sleeping on Jupiter, which tells of an orphan’s experience of sexual abuse at the hands of a guru in India, might finally land her the Booker.
Sunjeev Sahota (UK) – The Year of the Runaways (Picador)
Sahota’s work has been praised to the skies by the schismatic Salman Rushdie, who declared that his “talent [can’t] be redacted.” The novel, which has been applauded for its lyrical prose, takes a close look at the lives of Indian laborers who share a house in Sheffield.
Anna Smaill (New Zealand) – The Chimes (Sceptre)
Trained violinist Smaill offered one of hundreds of debut dystopian fictions this year, yet her novel, which deals with collective memory, was nonetheless compared to Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant. Celebrated but also admonished for its “fiendish” complexity and Rowling-like linguistic tricks.
Anne Tyler (US) – A Spool of Blue Thread (Chatto & Windus)
Divisive winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award, Tyler has no shortage of defenders in the UK. Still, her work, which often deals with love and marriage, been attacked by British critic and novelist Adam Mars-Jones for offering its readers the easy comforts of “milk and cookies.” It will be up to the Booker judges to determine whether Mars-Jones’ opinion of these milk and cookies — that they are “not quite fresh” — still stands.
Hanya Yanagihara (US) – A Little Life (Picador)
Crowd favorite in U.S.. Likely to please U.K. readers, who are more accommodating to literary page-turners than Americans would like to believe. Nominated The Great Gay Novel by The Atlantic. Author recently appeared on Seth Meyers, as did fellow longlister Marlon James, which suggests an insidious Seth Meyers-Man Booker Complex that deserves closer scrutiny. Paradoxical dark horse, fan favorite hybrid.