On a Strong 2016 Man Booker International Shortlist, Ferrante Still Looks Like a Sure Thing


The revised Man Booker International prize is slowly coming into its clout. Before last year, the prize went to an author for her entire body of work; this fact separated it from the Man Booker Prize for Fiction (which originally was restricted to the Commonwealth) and made it a kind of lesser-known sibling to the Nobel. In 2015, the Man Group reconfigured the prize by making it yearly (instead of biennial) and awarding it on the basis of a single work. The last winner under the original rubric was László Krasznahorkai, a Hungarian writer who (in a just world) could win the Nobel. Who will be the first to win under the new scheme?

The winner, to be clear, will be an author and a translator. Specifically, the prize will go to Elena Ferrante and her translator Ann Goldstein, a woman some already believe to be Ferrante. (Did anyone consider that “Ferrante” might be an ingenious scam that allows Goldstein to keep prize money for herself?) Not only is Ferrante’s novel deserving and good; it’s also one of the strongest on the shortlist, which was announced yesterday. And it presents the final opportunity for the judges to default to the prize’s initial purpose: to award an author for her body of work. Ferrante will probably win the prize on the strength of the entire Neapolitan Quartet.

The remaining books are fine; some are excellent. (Though I would have preferred to see Marie NDiaye’s Ladivine, out in the US later this month and translated by Jordan Stump, or Eka Kurniawan’s Man Tiger, translated by Labodalih Sembiring.) Here is the complete shortlist:

A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa, translated by Daniel Hahn.

The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang, translated by Deborah Smith.

The Four Books by Yan Lianke, translated by Carlos Rojas.

A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Ekin Oklap.

A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler, translated by Charlotte Collins.

Of the books on the shortlist, both Han Kang’s pleasingly weird The Vegetarian (one of the best novels published this year in the US) or Yan Lianke’s The Four Books could halt Ferrante’s inevitable lurch toward the prize. But, again, they won’t.

Does your prize have clout if it isn’t party to betting on Ladbrokes? The UK gambling site hasn’t held betting on the Man Booker International since 2011 (as far as I can tell). Still, how many prizes can claim a shadow jury? The blog “Tony’s Reading List” (which has the tagline “TOO LAZY TO BE A WRITER – TOO EGOTISTICAL TO BE QUIET”) assembled such a jury to police the judges of the International. I think their list is slightly better:

Elena Ferrante (Italy) & Ann Goldstein, The Story of the Lost Child (Europa Editions)

Han Kang (South Korea) & Deborah Smith, The Vegetarian (Portobello Books)

Maylis de Kerangal (France) & Jessica Moore, Mend the Living (MacLehose Press)

Yan Lianke (China) & Carlos Rojas, The Four Books (Chatto & Windus)

Marie NDiaye (France) & Jordan Stump, Ladivine (MacLehose Press)

Kenzaburō Ōe (Japan) & Deborah Boliver Boehm, Death by Water (Atlantic Books)

How will Ferrante accept the prize when she wins it on May 16? Will she send a comedian? Or Donna Haraway? Is she Donna Haraway? Will Donna Haraway send an abandoned doll to accept the prize? I don’t know.