28 Nov The Guardian – The Man Booker prize 2017 longlist: who should be on it?
This year’s ‘Booker dozen’ is released on Thursday. Who will make the cut is hard to guess, but there are plenty of strong candidates.
From the longlist to the eventual winner, in the last couple of years, second-guessing the winner of the Man Booker prize has become harder than ever. With the field now open to American authors, and a focus on bringing indie gems such as His Bloody Project and A Brief History of Seven Killings into the spotlight, each July the Booker dozen has been full of surprises. It certainly makes the “posh bingo”, as Julian Barnes put it, more exciting – but who could we, should we, might we see on the longlist this Thursday?
This Booker year runs from 1 October 2016 to 30 September 2017, putting some brilliant novels from big-name authors in the running: Sebastian Barry’s intimate epic of the US civil war, Days Without End, which has already hoovered up any number of prizes; The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead’s historical phantasmagoria about slavery, also much garlanded; Ali Smith’s Autumn, a marvellously quirky response to the EU referendum. I’d love to see these three on the list, but will they feel like last year’s books?
Other high-profile possibilities include Zadie Smith’s novel of friendship and failure, Swing Time; Colm Tóibín’s rewriting of Greek tragedy, House of Names; Paul Auster’s one-man-four-lives breeze-block, 4321; and of course the 1997 winner Arundhati Roy, whose second novel The Ministry of Utmost Happinesshas met with a mixed response. Still to come are Salman Rushdie’s The Golden House, about America in the Obama years, which is out in September; as is Smile by Roddy Doyle, a devastating novel about child abuse in Christian Brothers’ schools.
The two I’d feel most confident putting my fiver on at this stage are short-story maestro George Saunders’ debut novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, for its structural playfulness, characterisation and emotional force; and Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13, also a book in many voices, which wonderfully records the human, animal and botanical rhythms of life in an English village. Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West is a powerful, thought-provoking response to the migration crisis as well as an incredibly original piece of work, while Yaa Gyasi’s astoundingly ambitious debut Homegoing looks at slavery and its effects over hundreds of years.
Could this year’s lucky indie publisher be Galley Beggar? We That Are Young by Preti Taneja recasts King Lear in contemporary India to fascinating effect. Or maybe Oneworld, publisher of Paul Beatty and Marlon James, could make it three in a row with Nicole Dennis-Benn’s Here Comes the Sun, about the hard lives of Jamaican women.
My pick of the US debuts would include Spoils, an excellent Iraq war novel by veteran Brian Van Reet, and the forthcoming My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent, an outstanding book that could be this year’s A Little Life: it has the same melodramatic intensity and shock value (from child abuse to finger-shooting and scorpion-eating), but is brilliantly written and less vulnerable to accusations of titillation.
There were remarkable books exploring female creativity and pushing at the bounds of the novel form from US author Dana Spiotta (Innocents and Others), Baileys-shortlisted Gwendoline Riley (First Love) and Ireland’s Sara Baume (A Line Made By Walking). In the US, Zinzi Clemmons’ lyrical debut What We Losemused on bereavement, race, identity and sex through a collage of prose, diagrams, lyrics and more. Indian author Meena Kandasamy took autofiction to extremes with When I Hit You: Or, a Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife, an explosive takedown of domestic abuse and Indian cultural mores. There’s also a very different kind of autofiction, out next week: Omar Robert Hamilton’s debut The City Always Wins, an inside view of the hope, chaos, disappointment and horrors of the failed 2011 Cairo revolution, which urgently reinvents the political novel.
Nigerian fiction has been strong this year: could we see a place for Ayobami Adebayo’s Stay With Me, or Olumide Popoola’s When We Speak of Nothing, set around the 2011 London riots, from groundbreaking indie Cassava Republic? There are many others I’d like to mention – Davina Langdale’s The Brittle Star, Tim Murphy’s Christodora among them – but in the end, there are only 13 places on the list. Who would you choose?
* This article was amended on 26 July 2017, to remove Vivek Shanbhag’s Ghachar Ghochar, which is a translated novel and therefore ineligible for the Man Booker prize.