Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Booker Prize 2014: The longlist

Booker Prize 2014 Longlist

It's that time of year again: the Man Booker Prize longlist is announced and every book blogger in the UK is obliged to write a post about it. These days, I tend to approach the longlist with casual interest rather than excitement: I always like to see what's been included, but I don't see it as a benchmark for what's 'good' in fiction. I know from experience that books nominated for the prize tend to have certain themes and styles in common, and while they're usually well-written, they're not always interesting or original.

Here are this year's nominees:

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt
J by Howard Jacobson
The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee
Us by David Nicholls
The Dog by Joseph O'Neill
Orfeo by Richard Powers
How to be Both by Ali Smith
History of the Rain by Niall Williams

And here are some of my thoughts:
– No real interest in the Joshua Ferris, Richard Flanagan, Richard Powers and Niall Williams books.
– Vague interest in the Paul Kingsnorth novel - interesting themes, and I really like the fact that it was published via a book-crowdfunding site, Unbound - but probably not the sort of thing I will ever actually read.
– Vague interest also in the Neel Mukherjee and Joseph O'Neill novels, but again, I doubt I'll end up reading them.
– Originally, I was actually intending to read the Karen Joy Fowler book, but a few months ago I came across a significant spoiler which I realised immediately would ruin at least part of the story, so I decided against it. I know it's been well-received, but I don't feel that I've missed out on much.
– I read Howard Jacobson's 2010 Booker-winning novel, The Finkler Question, and thought it was just okay; but I'm really intrigued by the idea of J anyway. It just sounds so different from anything else of his I've heard of. May read this one when it comes out next month.
The Bone Clocks is something I'd have wanted to read anyway. I kind of feel the same about How to be Both... As with Jacobson, I've read one Ali Smith book before (There but for the) and liked it but was underwhelmed; however, this one looks very interesting.
– I'm surprised to see David Nicholls included - and the same goes for the Joshua Ferris book, really, as I'd pigeonholed it at the same kind of thing; lightweight, humorous, male-equivalent-of-chick-lit stuff. (This may be totally unfair as I've never read anything by Ferris, but the Booker nomination hasn't really made me want to change that.)
– I loved The Blazing World and I love Siri Hustvedt; of all the good books I've read this year, I would probably have chosen this as a potential Booker nominee, so naturally I'm delighted to see it included.
– Obviously I'm not the first to make this observation, but the list is disappointing in terms of ethnic and gender diversity. Particularly given the fact that this is the first year books published in any country can be nominated.
– I am, at least, glad to see this year's longlist is an improvement on 2013 in terms of cover designs. Some of last year's were actually hideous, and a lot of the others were banal; these are mostly nice and bold. (Although I feel like the Niall Williams one is extremely similar to something else, I just can't put my finger on what it is?)
– I've heard so many people saying that Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch should have been included, but to be honest, I'm really glad it wasn't. It's already won the Pulitzer; it hardly needs any more exposure or acclaim. Plus I'm so glad not to have to wade through yet more moaning from overgrown students (invariably men) falling over themselves to shout louder than anyone else about how it's so terrible and inferior and not ~literary~ enough. Ugh.
– Aside from Siri Hustvedt's novel, I would have put Linda Grant's wonderful Upstairs at the Party on the longlist. I also think Deepti Kapoor's A Bad Character would fit perfectly on the list. When I first read it, I would have nominated The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh, but the chart success it's had since publication perhaps makes it more of an outsider (mind you, if they can have David Nicholls in there...) It's a pity Ned Beauman was nominated two years ago, because I'd have preferred to see him on this year's list - Glow is much better than The Teleportation Accident.

What do you think of this year's Booker longlist? Will you be reading any of the books?

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1 comment:

  1. I've only read 'We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves' and it's best to read this blind, without knowing anything. Because once you know, it's kinda over for you as reader. What I really liked about this book, is that the characters were believable, they were all at the right level of bizarre. Bizarre enough to be interesting but not too bizarre that it detracts from the plot or is just super annoying.

    As for the others, no idea.