Shortlist for 2014 Booker Prize announced

The shortlist for the 2014 Man Booker Prize has been announced, and this year marks the first time that American authors are eligible to compete for this vaunted prize. The description below is taken from the announcement posted on the Booker Prize’s webpage:


Joshua Ferris – To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (Viking)

Richard Flanagan – The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Chatto & Windus)

Karen Joy Fowler – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Serpent’s Tail)

Howard Jacobson – (Jonathan Cape)

Neel Mukherjee – The Lives of Others (Chatto & Windus)

Ali Smith – How to be Both (Hamish Hamilton)

The Man Booker Prize 2014 shortlist is out. Although it won’t have been chosen with this in mind, the list is a thing of perfect balance. As they sat in their last meeting the judges will have been too busy winnowing the longlisted books and arguing the case for dismissal or inclusion to have noticed what was shaping up in front of them. The realisation will have come only when they breathed out after the wrangling and found they had picked a shortlist that contains not just two women and four men but an ecumenical national representation too – three Brits (one Indian-born), two Americans and one Australian. The books’ themes show the same even-handedness: there is the future (Howard Jacobson’s J) and the past (Richard Flangan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North); the formally traditional (Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others) and the experimental (Ali Smith’s How to be Both); the modern technological (Joshua Ferris’ To Rise Again at a Decent Hour) and the imaginative twist (Karen Joy Fowler’s We are All Completely Beside Ourselves). There are even five different imprints represented on the list. The judges, clearly, are natural democrats and meritocrats.

The list offers other nice comparisons too. It contains the oldest writer on the longlist (ungallant to name him I know) in Howard Jacobson at 72 and the youngest, Joshua Ferris at 39. If Jacobson wins he will become only the fourth multiple winner in the Man Booker’s history (having previously won in 2010 with The Finkler Question) alongside J.M. Coetzee, Peter Carey and Hilary Mantel. Not bad company. If Ali Smith wins it will cap three Man Booker shortlistings. If Ferris or Fowler win they will become the first US novelists to scoop the prize. If Richard Flanagan wins he will be the first Man Booker laureate to have some river rapids named after him – “Flanagan’s Surprise” on the Franklin River in Victoria, Australia. If Neel Mukherjee wins he will become the first Anglo-Indian winner since Salman Rushdie in 1981.

What the list also recognises is expertise born of practise. None of the chosen novelists are literary ingénues, all have served their apprenticeships. Jacobson is the author of 13 novels, Fowler of seven, Smith and Flanagan of six, Ferris and Mukherjee of three. That’s a cumulative 38 novels before the innumerable short stories, plays and works of non-fiction have even been taken into account. These are all authors who know something about constructing novels. At this stage the judges will have read each of the shortlisted books at least twice and it is a rare book that merits a second reading. Privately the judges will admit that some of the novels in fact improve on a further reading.

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