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.