I promised myself that I’d pay more attention to the Man Booker Prize this year than I have previously. Here are my initial thoughts on the twelve books in the 2012 longlist:
Nicola Barker, The Yips
Barker is a previous Booker shortlistee (for Darkmans in 2007), though I’ve never read her myself. The Yips is a comedy set in 2006, revolving around a golfer who’s losing his touch. I’ve heard praise for this book, but the extract I read did not encourage me to investigate further.
Ned Beauman, The Teleportation Accident
When I heard about Beauman’s debut novel, Boxer, Beetle, I was intrigued; when I read it, I was disappointed. The blurb for The Teleportation Accident (‘a historical novel that doesn’t know what year it is; a noir novel that turns all the lights on…’) makes it sound right up my street; but I read the extract, see the familiar prose style, and remember last time…
André Brink, Philida
Brink’s name was new to me, but he was shortlisted twice for the Booker in the 1970s. Philida is the story of a slave’s journey across 1830s South Africa in order to escape the fate which has been laid out for her. That could be interesting – I can’t find an extract of Philida online, but I’d be inclined to try the book out.
Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists
It’s always a pleasure to see books from small presses on award lists; Newcastle’s Myrmidon publishes the first of three here. The novel itself concerns a female Malay judge and an exiled Japanese gardener in post-war Malaya. It seems to have been well received, and could be worth a look.
Michael Frayn, Skios
Frayn was previously shortlisted for the Booker in 1999; his current novel concerns a scientific conference on its titular Greek island. I read an extract and was charmed by the prose style – definitely a book I’d be interested to read.
Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
A candidate for breakout debut of the year, Joyce’s book is one of two on the longlist that I’ve already read. I’ve also reviewed it here: I thought the novel good, particularly in the way it balances eccentricity and seriousness – but I didn’t have it down as a Booker contender.
Deborah Levy, Swimming Home
And here’s the second longlistee that I’ve read. It’s particularly gratifying to see a title from And Other Stories being recognised by the Booker – they started only last year, and have an exciting community-based publishing model that deserves to succeed. It seems almost churlish to note that Swimming Home left me cold, but other people with good taste have thought very highly of it.
Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies
It seemed almost a foregone conclusion that this would be shortlisted, given Mantel’s Booker win in 2009. I wouldn’t contemplate reading Bring Up the Bodies without reading Wolf Hall first; but the extract I looked at suggests a very good book. I still find it hard to conceive of this winning, though.
Alison Moore, The Lighthouse
The second of four debuts on the longlist, and the third and final small press title (this time from Salt). I was both surprised and pleased to see The Lighthouse listed, partly because I didn’t know about it, and partly because I so enjoyed Moore’s Nightjar chapbook a couple of years ago. This is going straight on my to-read list.
Will Self, Umbrella
I’ve never read a Will Self book before (only his piece in the Granta Horror issue) and, from what I’ve heard of Umbrella’s layout (400 pages of unbroken paragraphs), I doubt this is a suitable place to start. I can’t really say more than that.
Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis
The third debut novel, this one centring on a Bombay opium den. Based on the extract I’ve read, I’m undecided about Narcopolis.
Sam Thompson, Communion Town
Any novel which comes with comparisons to David Mitchell and Italo Calvino, and a cover quote from China Miéville, is one I want to investigate. CommunionTown looks as though it could have shades of Jeff Vandermeer’s Ambergris as well, which is no bad thing. The fourth longlisted debuts also joins my to-read list.
What to make of that list overall, then? It’s a good balance between new and established names; decent enough in terms of gender diversity; less so in its diversity of ethnicity and nationality.
At this point, I certainly want to read The Lighthouse and Communion Town, and am very much inclined to read Skios. I don’t so much want to read The Teleportation Accident as to have read it. The rest, I could take or leave.
How about you, reader – what are your thoughts on the longlist?