The Booker's (baker's) dozen 2014

It doesn’t seem a year since I was pleasantly surprised to see the second novel by one of my favourite new authors make the Man Booker Prize longlist. I didn’t dare think at the time that she would go on to win, but she did – so, as far as I’m concerned, this year’s Booker jury have a very tough act to follow.

Now we have a first glimpse of where the 2014 Man Booker Prize may go, with the publication of the longlist:

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, Joshua Ferris (Viking)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan (Chatto & Windus)
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (Serpent’s Tail)
The Blazing World, Siri Hustvedt (Sceptre)
J, Howard Jacobson (Jonathan Cape)
The Wake, Paul Kingsnorth (Unbound)
The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell (Sceptre)
The Lives of Others, Neel Mukherjee (Chatto & Windus)
Us, David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Dog, Joseph O’Neill (Fourth Estate)
Orfeo, Richard Powers (Atlantic Books)
How to be Both, Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)
History of the Rain, Niall Williams (Bloomsbury)

Now, it’s true that I’m not as invested in a single novel this year as I was with The Luminaries (I hadn’t read The Luminaries at this point last year, but I was anticipating it like nothing else), so I’m approaching this list in a more detached frame of mind. Still, though, I wish I could be more excited by this selection. The books that intrigue me most are the Kingsnorth (which is set shortly after the Battle of Hastings and written in a version of Old English) and the Smith (a ‘literary fresco’ – narrative layered on narrative?). The Mitchell could be interesting; the Powers and Fowler, maybe; the rest, I’m not really fussed about exploring.

Overall, at first blush, this feels like a longlist that’s playing it safe – a lot of major names, not a lot that sounds particularly unusual. I also find it disappointing that, after the Prize has been opened up to Anglophone writers of any nationality, we’ve ended up with a longlist that’s not very structurally diverse at all.

So I won’t be following the Booker too closely this year. There’s potential for an interesting shortlist, and I hope we get one – but I don’t see it reaching the heights of last year’s Prize.

7 Comments

  1. I can’t understand how Fowler made this list at all. And Nicholls while a writer of readable books wouldn’t be in my list either. The most disappointing aspect is the lack of really diverse ethnic origins.

  2. For me the two Richards were books I had on my radar and looking at list earlier the wake looks a little different

  3. Looking forward to the Mitchell, who seems very much to be becoming the Leonardo-DiCaprio-at-the-Oscars of the Booker Prize. A perennial nominee.

  4. I’ve read two on the list: the Flanagan and the Fowler. If I’m going for anything it’s the Flanagan only because I admire its ambition and scope, plus he missed out on awards here so I feel sorry for him, not valid reasons I know but he’s a lovely man and has been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin a few times. But I didn’t love it, found it hard to access the heart of it and feel any emotion for the characters, especially the main character. Many people here call it a masterpiece, and these are people who I rate as knowing their stuff. I did love the Fowler though, but to me it doesn’t seem a ‘big’ enough book for a major award. Perhaps that’s unfair. I’m keen to read The Bone Clocks; there’s a fair bit of fuss about it here in Australia.

  5. Having tried to read the Old English during my lunch break I found I need to put it to one side until I had the time to try and work out whether there was any point behind it other than simply being clever. There may well be, but it wasn’t apparent in the first twenty pages.

    I’m with BookerTalk here. I am really disappointed that Commonwealth authors seem to have missed out and been replaced by Americans.

  6. There’s books on the list I may read, but the list itself is uninspiring and I don’t really see the point of the prize at this point. What value is there in alerting people to new books by already pretty well known writers who’re already pretty well publicised?

  7. I didn’t enjoy The Luminaries very much so for me, it’s not such a hard act to follow. I think picking a longlist must be a dreadful job. The one I was really shocked to se on there was Joshua Ferris. His debut was wonderful, and his second was flawed but still great but for me his latest was unreadable – ranting and painful. I enjoyed Fowler’s books but it certainly didn’t stand out for me as a prize-winning type book. I’ve just started The Blazing World and have high hopes for it so far.

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