I have to admit that at first the 2011 Man Booker Prize longlist left me a little cold. I recognised a few of the names on the list but many of them were completely unfamiliar. Then I cast my mind back over the year and realised that very few Man Booker Prize regulars had published books in the last year. The longlist didn’t feel like a longlist without names like Margaret Atwood, A.S. Byatt, Peter Carey, Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan, John Banville, Michael Ondaatje etc…
But over the last few hours I have had a chance to take a closer look at the contenders and there is much to get excited about.
Take a closer look…
The Man Booker Prize 2011 Longlist
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Tony Webster and his clique first met Adrian Finn at school. Sex-hungry and book-hungry, they would navigate the girl-less sixth form together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit. Maybe Adrian was a little more serious than the others, certainly more intelligent, but they all swore to stay friends for life.
Now Tony is in middle age. He’s had a career and a single marriage, a calm divorce. He’s certainly never tried to hurt anybody. Memory, though, is imperfect. It can always throw up surprises, as a lawyer’s letter is about to prove.
The Sense of an Ending is the story of one man coming to terms with the mutable past. Laced with trademark precision, dexterity and insight, it is the work of one of the world’s most distinguished writers.
Julian Barnes is the author of eight novels, including Metroland, Flaubert’s Parrot, A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters, England, England and Love Etc., and two collections of short stories, Cross Channel and The Lemon Table.
UPDATE: I have just read The Sense of an Ending. You can read it in one sitting, but it would be wrong to. Let the book work upon you. It raises, examines and ultimately answers many of life’s most teasing puzzles. Brilliant.
On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry
As they used to say in Ireland, the devil only comes into good things.
Narrated by Lilly Bere, On Canaan’s Side opens as she mourns the loss of her grandson, Bill. The story then goes back to the moment she was forced to flee Dublin, at the end of the First World War, and follows her life through into the new world of America, a world filled with both hope and danger.
At once epic and intimate, Lilly’s narrative unfurls as she tries to make sense of the sorrows and troubles of her life and of the people whose lives she has touched. Spanning nearly seven decades, it is a novel of memory, war, family-ties and love, which once again displays Sebastian Barry’s exquisite prose and gift for storytelling.
Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955. His novels include The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty (1998), Annie Dunne (2002), A Long Long Way (2005) and The Secret Scripture (2008). A Long Long Way, which was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Dublin International Impac Prize, was the Dublin: One City One Book choice for 2007. The Secret Scripture won several awards. It was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He lives in Wicklow with his wife and three children.
Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
‘I was born twice. First in wooden room that jutted out over the black water of the Thames, and then again eight years later in the Highway, when the tiger took me in his mouth and everything truly began.’ 1857. Jaffy Brown is running along a street in London’s East End when he comes face to face with an escaped circus animal.
Plucked from the jaws of death by Mr Jamrach – explorer, entrepreneur and collector of the world’s strangest creatures – the two strike up a friendship. Before he knows it, Jaffy finds himself on board a ship bound for the Dutch East Indies, on an unusual commission for Mr Jamrach. His journey – if he survives it – will push faith, love and friendship to their utmost limits.
Brilliantly written and utterly spellbinding, Carol Birch’s epic novel brings alive the smells, sights and flavours of the nineteenth century, from the docks of London to the storms of the Indian Ocean. This great salty historical adventure is a gripping exploration of our relationship to the natural world and the wildness it contains.
Carol Birch is the author of nine previous novels including Scapegallows and Turn Again Home, which was longlisted for the Booker Prize. She has won the Geoffrey Faber Award and the David Higham Award. She lives in Lancashire.
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Oregon, 1851. Eli and Charlie Sisters, notorious professional killers, are on their way to California to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm. On the way, the brothers have a series of unsettling and violent experiences in the Darwinian landscape of Gold Rush America. Charlie makes money and kills anyone who stands in his way; Eli doubts his vocation and falls in love.
And they bicker a lot. Then they get to California, and discover that Warm is an inventor who has come up with a magical formula, which could make all of them very rich. What happens next is utterly gripping, strange and sad.
Told in deWitt’s darkly comic and arresting style, The Sisters Brothers is the kind of western the Coen Brothers might write – stark, unsettling and with a keen eye for the perversity of human motivation. Like his debut novel Ablutions, The Sisters Brothers is a novel about the things you tell yourself in order to be able to continue to live the life you find yourself in, and what happens when those stories no longer work. It is an inventive and strange and beautifully controlled piece of fiction, which shows an exciting expansion of Dewitt’s range.
Patrick deWitt is the author of the critically acclaimed Ablutions: Notes for a Novel. Born in British Columbia, he has also lived in California, Washington, and Oregon, where he currently resides with his wife and son.
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
Chip told us not to go out. Said, don’t you boys tempt the devil. But it been one brawl of a night, I tell you.
The aftermath of the fall of Paris, 1940. Hieronymous Falk, a rising star on the cabaret scene, was arrested in a cafe and never heard from again.
He was twenty years old. He was a German citizen. And he was black.
Fifty years later, Sid, Hiero’s bandmate and the only witness that day, is going back to Berlin. Persuaded by his old friend Chip, Sid discovers there’s more to the journey than he thought when Chip shares a mysterious letter, bringing to the surface secrets buried since Hiero’s fate was settled. In Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan weaves the horror of betrayal, the burden of loyalty and the possibility that, if you don’t tell your story, someone else might tell it for you.
And they just might tell it wrong…
Esi Edugyan has degrees from the University of Victoria and Johns Hopkins University. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, including Best New American Voices 2003. Her debut novel, written when she was 25, The Second Life of Samuel Tyne, was published internationally. She currently lives in Victoria, British Columbia.
A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards
Crushed by an impossible shame, Jinx’s life has been little more than a shell; estranged from her husband, she is even relieved when he takes her young son with him.
When Lemon, an old friend of her mother’s, turns up on her doorstep, Jinx is forced to confront her past, and with the pain of remembrance comes the possibility of redemption. But Lemon has his own secrets to share, and together they unravel an unforgettable family drama, stoked with violence and passion.
Rich with voices from East London and the West Indies, Edwards’s narrative is delivered with a unique and uncompromising bite that announces a new talent in British fiction.
Yvvette Edwards lives with her family in East London. A Cupboard Full of Coats is her first novel.
The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst
Alan Hollinghurst’s first novel since The Line of Beauty, winner of the 2004 Man Booker Prize
It is the late summer of the last year before the first Great War. Cecil Valance, a beautiful young aristocratic poet, is visiting Two Acres, the home of his Cambridge friend and lover, George Sawle. On his departure, Cecil leaves a poem, dedicated to George’s younger sister Daphne, which when published becomes a touchstone for a generation, symbolizing an England in its final glory. Meanwhile Daphne has also become involved with Cecil’s family, visiting their Victorian Gothic country house, Corley, and developing a relationship with Cecil’s brooding, manipulative brother, Dudley, that will link the families for ever.
The Stranger’s Child begins as a novel about two families and two houses: by the time it reaches its profound and moving conclusion, it has become an epic tale told in five parts covering almost a hundred years. Like The Line of Beauty, this is a deliciously funny novel, glittering with acute observation and arch insight into the worlds of those who belong and of those who are excluded, of carefully hidden secrets which are finally, dramatically revealed.
Alan Hollinghurst is the author of four previous novels, The Swimming-Pool Library, The Folding Star, The Spell and The Line of Beauty. He has received the Somerset Maugham Award, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction and the 2004 Man Booker Prize. He lives in London.
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
Deeply funny, moving, idiosyncratic and unforgettable, Pigeon English introduces a major new literary talent
Newly arrived from Ghana with his mother and older sister, eleven-year-old Harrison Opoku lives on the ninth floor of a block of flats on an inner-city housing estate. The second best runner in the whole of Year 7, Harri races through his new life in his personalised trainers – the Adidas stripes drawn on with marker pen – blissfully unaware of the very real threat all around him.
With equal fascination for the local gang – the Dell Farm Crew – and the pigeon who visits his balcony, Harri absorbs the many strange elements of his new life in England: watching, listening, and learning the tricks of inner-city survival.
But when a boy is knifed to death on the high street and a police appeal for witnesses draws only silence, Harri decides to start a murder investigation of his own. In doing so, he unwittingly endangers the fragile web his mother has spun around her family to try and keep them safe. A story of innocence and experience, hope and harsh reality, Pigeon English is a spellbinding portrayal of a boy balancing on the edge of manhood and of the forces around him that try to shape the way he falls.
Stephen Kelman was born in Luton in 1976. After finishing his degree he worked variously as a warehouse operative, a careworker, and in marketing and local government administration. He decided to pursue his writing seriously in 2005, and has completed several feature screenplays since then. Pigeon English is his first novel.
The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness
When our narrator, a young English student with a damaged past and an uncertain future, arrives in Bucharest he finds himself in a job he never applied for. With duties that become increasingly ambiguous and precarious, he soon finds himself uncomfortably and often dangerously close to the eye of the storm. He learns, as he goes, the uncertainty of friendships in a surveillance society: friendships that are compromised and riddled with danger and duplicity. He encounters dissidents, party apparatchiks, black-markerteers, diplomats, spies and ordinary Romanians, their lives all intertwined against a background of severe poverty and repression as Europe’s most paranoid regime plays out its bloody endgame.
The socialist state is in stasis, the shops are empty and old Bucharest vanishes daily under the onslaught of Ceaucescu’s demolition gangs. Paranoia is pervasive and secret service men lurk in the shadows.
Patrick McGuinness is a Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Oxford University and a Fellow of St Anne’s College where he has taught since 1998. He lives in North West Wales.
Snowdrops by A.D. Miller
A. D. Miller’s Snowdrops is an intensely riveting psychological drama that unfolds over the course of one Moscow winter, as a young Englishman’s moral compass is spun by the seductive opportunities revealed to him by a new Russia: a land of hedonism and desperation, corruption and kindness, magical dachas and debauched nightclubs; a place where secrets – and corpses – come to light only when the deep snows start to thaw – Snowdrops is a chilling story of love and moral freefall: of the corruption, by a corrupt society, of a corruptible young man.
It is taut, intense and has a momentum as irresistible to the reader as the moral danger that first enchants, then threatens to overwhelm, its narrator.
Born in London in 1974, Andrew Miller studied literature at Cambridge and Princeton. He worked as a television producer before joining the Economist. From 2004 to 2007 he was the magazine’s Moscow correspondent, travelling widely across Russia and the former Soviet Union. He is the author of the acclaimed family history The Earl of Petticoat Lane; Snowdrops is his first novel. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.
Far to Go by Alison Pick
Far To Go is a powerful and profoundly moving story about one family’s epic journey to flee the Nazi occupation of their homeland in 1939, and above all to save the life of a six-year-old boy.
Pavel and Anneliese Bauer are affluent, secular Jews, whose lives are turned upside down by the arrival of the German forces in Czechoslovakia. Desperate to avoid deportation, the Bauers flee to Prague with their six-year-old son, Pepik, and his beloved nanny, Marta. When the family try to flee without her to Paris, Marta betrays them to her Nazi boyfriend. But it is through Marta’s determination that Pepik secures a place on a Kindertransport, though he never sees his parents or Marta again.
Inspired by Alison Pick’s own grandparents who fled their native Czechoslovakia for Canada during the Second World War, FAR TO GO is a deeply personal and emotionally harrowing novel.
Alison Pick’s grandparents were secular Jews, living in Czechoslovakia during the Nazi invasion. In FAR TO GO, she explores the history of a country and its people with which she has a strong personal connection.
Alison was the 2002 Bronwen Walace Award winner for the most promising writer under thirty-five in Canada. She has published two acclaimed volumes of poetry and her first novel, The Sweet Edge, was widely acclaimed. She lives in Toronto with her husband and daughter.
The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers
Women are dying in their millions. Some blame scientists, some see the hand of God, some see human arrogance reaping the punishment it deserves. Jessie Lamb is an ordinary girl living in extraordinary times: as her world collapses, her idealism and courage drive her towards the ultimate act of heroism. If the human race is to survive, it’s up to her.
But is Jessie heroic? Or is she, as her father fears, impressionable, innocent, incapable of understanding where her actions will lead?
Set just a month or two in the future, in a world irreparably altered by an act of biological terrorism, The Testament of Jessie Lamb explores a young woman’s determination to make her life count for something, as the certainties of her childhood are ripped apart.
Jane Rogers has written eight novels including Her living Image (Somerset Maugham Award), Mr Wroe’s Virgins (Guardian Fiction Prize runner-up), Promised Lands (Writers Guild Best Novel Award), Island (Orange long-listed), and The Voyage Home. She has written drama for radio and TV, including an award-winning adaptation of Mr Wroe’s Virgins for BBC2. Her radio work includes both original drama and Classic Serial adaptations. She has taught writing at the University of Adelaide, Paris Sorbonne IV, and on a radio-writing project in Eastern Uganda. She is Professor of Writing at Sheffield Hallam University, and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Jane lives on the edge of the moors in Lancashire.
Derby Day by D.J. Taylor
As the shadows lengthen over the June grass, all England is heading for Epsom Downs – high life and low life, society beauties and Whitechapel street girls, bookmakers and gypsies, hawkers and acrobats, punters and thieves. Whole families stream along the Surrey back-roads, towards the greatest race of the year. Hopes are high, nerves are taut, hats are tossed in the air – this is Derby Day.
For months people have been waiting and plotting for this day. Even in dark November, when the wind whistles through the foggy London courts, the alehouses and gentlemen’s clubs echo to the sound of disputed odds. In Belgrave Square old Mr Gresham is baffled by his tigerish daughter Rebecca, whose intentions he cannot fathom.
In the clubs of St James’ rakish Mr Happerton plays billiards with his crony Captain Raff, while in darkest Lincolnshire sad Mr Davenant broods over his financial embarrassments and waits for his daughter’s new governess. Across the channel the veteran burglar Mr Pardew is packing his bags to return, to the consternation of the stalwart detective Captain McTurk. Everywhere money jingles and plans are laid.
Uniting them all is the champion horse Tiberius, on whose performance half a dozen destinies depend. In this rich and exuberant novel, rife with the idioms of Victorian England, the mysteries pile high, propelling us towards the day of the great race, and we wait with bated breath as the story gallops to a finish that no one expects.
D.J. Taylor was born in Norwich in 1960. He is a novelist, critic and an acclaimed biographer. His Orwell: The Life won the Whitbread Biography Prize for 2003. His most recent books are Kept: A Victorian Mystery (a Publishers Weekly Book of the Year), On the Corinthian Spirit: The Decline of Amateurism in Sport, Bright Young People: The Rise and Fall of a Generation 1918-1940 and Ask Alice. He is married to the novelist Rachel Hore, has three children and lives in Norwich.
The reaction to the announcement in the press:
From the Man Booker Website: The longlist for the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction – the ‘Man Booker Dozen’ – is announced today, Tuesday 26 July. The 13 books on the list include: one former Man Booker Prize winner; two previously shortlisted writers and one longlisted author; four first time novelists and three Canadian writers. The list also includes three new publishers to the prize – Oneworld, Sandstone Press and Seren Books. Read More…
From Matt Brown in The Guardian: The one book predicted by almost everyone is Alan Hollinghurst’s sweeping tale of poetry, class and ambiguous sexual identities, The Stranger’s Child. The author, who won seven years ago with his last novel, The Line of Beauty, was straight away installed as 5-1 favourite by William Hill.
His 584-page book is in stark contrast to second favourite Julian Barnes. A Man Booker bridesmaid, Barnes – shortlisted three times – makes the list with his 150-page offering, The Sense of an Ending. Read the full article…
From Justine Jordan in The Guardian: Hollinghurst will, of course, be the bookies’ favourite. But with their taste for the unexpected, I wouldn’t be surprised if the judges looked further afield: perhaps to Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon English – a daring debut about a young Ghanaian boy caught up in London knife crime, which somehow achieves a Dog in the Night-time-style charm – or Birch’s Jamrach’s Menagerie, which would be a convincing winner in any year. Read the full post…
From in The Independent: According to an awards spokesman, all but four of the 13-strong longlist are from a “non-conglomerate” publisher, the highest number ever represented on the longlist. The judging chair, Dame Stella Rimington, denied that there was any agenda to represent smaller publishers. “It was a competitive shortlist but we didn’t have any specific agenda in mind,” she said. Read the full article…
From the Sydney Morning Herald: Three-time loser Julian Barnes has been given another chance to win the Man Booker Prize after he was named on a long list of 13 contenders – known as the Man Booker Dozen – for the prestigious literary award. The novelist, who lost out in 1984, 1998 and 2005, is nominated for his book The Sense Of An Ending. He is joined by a previous winner, Alan Hollinghurst, and Irish writer Sebastian Barry, who has been shortlisted twice but never won. Read the full article…
From Australian novelist and future Booker winner James Bradley: As always the other question is what’s not been included. The books the media have noticed are missing are Graham Swift’s Wish You Were Here and Anne Enright’s The Forgotten Waltz. Of the two I’m unsurprised by the omission of the Swift, which I’ve reviewed for The Age, and while again I don’t want to preempt the review I will say is really quite bad. I’m more surprised about the Enright: while it’s not as striking or as urgent as either her short fiction or her 2007 Booker-winner, The Gathering, it’s a quite dazzling book at a textual and technical level, demonstrating not just great psychological and social acuity, but the marvellous combination of steeliness and orality that so distinguishes Enright’s prose. I’m also slightly surprised by the omission of Malcolm Knox’s The Life, which I assume was eligible for the prize, and should, all things being equal, have been in contention.
The other big omission is China Miéville’s Embassytown, which had been widely tipped to bring Miéville the mainstream recognition he so plainly deserves. I don’t want to revisit the genre vs literary argument here, but to my mind the failure to even longlist a novel as rich and prismatic as Embassytown says something about the narrowness of our literary culture. Read the full article here…
The Canadian perspective: Three little-known Canadian writers are standing on the brink of international fame after their novels were named to the long list of finalists for the 2011 Man Booker Prize in London Tuesday.
The list of 13 nominees includes Alison Pick of Toronto, author of Far to Go; Vancouver-born Patrick deWitt, now living in Portland, Oregon, nominated for The Sisters Brothers; and Esi Edugyan of Victoria, author of Half Blood Blues.
More related to this story
The list represents a timely triumph for the independent Canadian publishers that published all three books. Both Pick and deWitt are published by House of Anansi, while Edugyan’s second novel was rescued from the bankruptcy of Key Porter Books by Thomas Allen and Sons, which plans to publish it in September. Read the full article…
And from the NEW YORK TIMES: … hello? Anyone home?
‘We are delighted by the quality and breadth of our longlist, which emerged from an impassioned discussion. The list ranges from the Wild West to multi-ethnic London via post-Cold War Moscow and Bucharest, and includes four first novels.’
The four first time novelists on the list are Stephen Kelman, A.D. Miller, Yvvette Edwards and Patrick McGuinness. Canadian author Alison Pick, like McGuinness, is a published poet and is joined by fellow Canadians, Patrick deWitt and Esi Edugyan, on the longlist.
The list includes one former winner, Alan Hollinghurst, who won the prize in 2004 for The Line of Beauty. He was also shortlisted in 1994 for The Folding Star. Two previously shortlisted authors also make the list: Irish writer Sebastian Barry (The Secret Scripture, 2008 and A Long Long Way, 2005) and Julian Barnes (Arthur and George, 2005, England, England, 1998 and Flaubert’s Parrot, 1984). Carol Birch was longlisted in 2003 for Turn Again Home.
The shortlist of six authors will be announced on Tuesday 6 September at a press conference at Man Group’s London headquarters. The winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction will be announced on Tuesday 18 October at a dinner at London’s Guildhall and will be broadcast on the BBC.
The winner will receive £50,000 and each of the six shortlisted authors, including the winner, will receive £2,500 and a designer bound edition of their book.
The judges for the 2011 Prize are writer and journalist, Matthew d’Ancona; author, Susan Hill; author and politician, Chris Mullin and Head of Books at the Daily Telegraph, Gaby Wood. Dame Stella Rimington is the Chair.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection.