The Booker Prize is really the most extraordinary publishing ploy. Every Autumn, a longlist is singled out on who knows what criteria – no doubt changing from year to year – and the serried ranks run shrieking to bookshops to pile them high in their arms and flap cash under the nose of booksellers. Well, I do, at least.
But the jury changes every time, so there’s absolutely no gauging the tastes and preferences of each year’s panel until you’re thirty pounds down and either reeling in pleasure or sulkily thumbing over yet another page.
This year, I fear, is one for thumbing. I only successfully picked one of the shortlist to read (We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves) but have now sampled several of the longlist (Orfeo, The Bone Clocks, some of The Blazing World) to little joy. The shortlist, plus my ill-informed opinion, is as follows:
Joshua Ferris (US) – To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (worth a go)
Richard Flanagan (Australian) – The Narrow Road to the Deep North (sounds promising)
Karen Joy Fowler (US) – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (readable but unimpressive in my view)
Howard Jacobson (British) – J (Likely to be painfully obscure apparently)
Neel Mukherjee (British) – The Lives of Others (Sounds remarkably similar to Lahiri’s The Lowland from last year’s shortlist)
Ali Smith (British) – How to be Both (Haven’t liked Ali Smith yet, not convinced I’ll start now)
The big relief is that The Blazing World isn’t on here, an absolute horror from the longlist that I’ve already tried three times to no avail. Really, dreadful.
The big surprise of the list is the omission of David Mitchell’s (he of Cloud Atlas fame) The Bone Clocks, which I finished just yesterday. You’ll have to hang on for the review, you poor mites, but it’s no high literature prize-winning fare in my view.
What a Scrooge I am. And yet this year’s panel may have let me down. Bring back cousin Matthew! (Downton Abbey actor Dan Stevens, on last year’s panel.) Write another book, Catton or Franzen! In the meantime, Ferris and Flanagan – you’re my hopes.