Tuesday is Booker shortlist day, so here are two lists of predictions to contemplate and comment on over the weekend — my personal top six and a look at what I think will be the judges’ shortlist. My list is in order of preference (click on the title for an expanded review); the predicted list is in order of what I think is the likelihood of the book making the official list.
It has been some months since I read this book, but it remains my favorite. An interesting premise — a house is the central character in the novel — with equally interesting human characters who pass through the house in a 50-year period. Mawer does have to push coincidence to make the plot work, but I am willing to grant him that licence. I will be rereading it whether or not it makes the real shortlist. Also, it has the best cover on the longlist.
Another selection from early in my Booker reading that I look forward to rereading. This one has got better with memory, as well as some perceptive reviews that I have read since. Toibin’s central character, Eilie, is interesting because she is so passive and let’s others make her choices for her — the result of these choices was impressive the first time around and has grown in memory.
In contrast to the first two, this was the last of the 13 longlist books that I read and it was worth the wait. It will not be to everyone’s taste since it is an exploration of the author’s history and what influenced him — and the impact that he had on others. A book that can be read on many different levels and certainly a contender to produce the first three-time winning Booker author. The least imaginative, but perhaps most significant cover, on the longlist — the echoes of the pick-up truck here with the dog on the road in Disgrace are haunting.
Trevor’s economy of writing (a contrast to both Hilary Mantel and A. S. Byatt) and his subtlety make him a master of the short story but translate well to this challenging novel, a study in tragedy in an isolated Irsh community. It took two readings to appreciate what he accomplished and the book has its contradictions, but it definitely rates shortlist consideration.
Waters’ book moved up my list as I read more of the longlist. The publisher has marketed it as a ghost story, which is fair on one level but was misleading to this reader. A structure, the declining Hundreds Hall, is also at the centre of this book but the novel focuses on the decline of everyone involved with that estate — most particularly, the narrator, Dr. Faraday, who doesn’t even live there. Waters keeps her story moving and leaves the reader pondering just what exactly happened — and the reader has a number of choices.
This one is well behind the first five and in a near tie with James Scudamore’s Helioplis. I like art and two of Hall’s four narrative streams in particular explore the stories of fictional artists with international reputations. Like Summmertime it explores the link between the creative person and the price they extract from those who are close to them. I certainly recommend it but it won’t be my top choice.
Also, given the potential of the subject matter, this is the worst cover in the longlist.
That was the easy part. Now for some thoughts on the Real Booker shortlist. I thought this year’s jury did a very good job of producing a list of readable titles that covered a number of genres, writing styles and approaches — had they included Patrick Lane’s Red Dog, Red Dog and Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows instead of Not Untrue & Not Unkind and Me Cheeta I would have had nothing to criticize on the list. I am going to assume they will take the same ranging approach to the shortlist.
Since there are six “name” authors on the longlist, that means a couple will have to drop off to put some lesser-known authors on it, if my theory is correct. I’ve built that into my predictions.
Mantel’s Tudor doorstopper did not appeal to me, but even I can recognize that I am out of step on this one, particularly since the jury’s longlist does display a certain UK tilt. I would be very surprised if this book is not on the shortlist and not very surprised if it wins. I would not even complain that much because I know that sometimes my tastes are not really representative.
2. Summertime, J.M. Coetzee. Simply too good a book to keep off the shortlist, but I suspect its limited appeal will keep it from winning.
3. Brooklyn, Colm Toibin. In some ways, this book is already in competition with Love and Summer because they have some similar themes and only one can win so the jury may take that decision at this stage. I think the broader scope of this one moves it ahead — on the other hand, Booker juries don’t seem to like books set in America unless they mock it (see Vernon God Little) so the judges may well opt for the Trevor.
4. The Glass Room, Simon Mawer. Too good a book to be overlooked.
5. The Children’s Book, A. S. Byatt. Another doorstopper that I did not like (but can see how it appeals to others). If my jury shortlist theory is correct, it is competing with The Little Stranger for a shortlist spot. I’d love to see Waters move forward, I don’t think she will.
6. How to Paint a Dead Man, Sarah Hall. Even if my theory is correct, this spot is a roll of the dice — either The Wilderness , The Quickening Maze or Heliopolis could take this spot. Which suggests that the two contests I thought about earlier (Toibin/Trevor, Byatt/Waters) could fill this final spot. I certainly hope the judges promote one of these four lesser known novelists to the shortlist.
Comments on where I am grossly wrong are certainly welcome. I am sure on Tuesday I will be making a post explaining the errors in the above, but do hope you enjoyed the read.