The 2013 Booker Prize shortlist is out and, whatever its overall quality may be, the news is generally good for the KfC blog: two of the six have already been reviewed here, a third is due to be reviewed in two days, a fourth was already next in line for reading, a fifth is in the mail and the sixth is a novel that drew positive comments from visitors here when the longlist was announced. Here’s the list, starting with those I have reviewed.Harvest, by Jim Crace. My favorite of the six longlisted titles that I have read, this is an allegorical tale of a rural English village under threat (Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart has that same theme only it is set in a contemporary Irish village, but I digress). It has an almost European style to it, reminding me of several authors (such as Gerbrand Bakker) whom I have read in translation. The novel has a haunting feel throughout and the way that it deals with the theme of how a community and individuals cope with change coming from the outside has much current relevance. The Testament of Mary, by Colm Toibin. Definitely the surprise pick of the shortlist and that comment comes from someone who is a major Toibin fan. A number of readers question whether the novella-length book (104 pages) meets the Booker “full novel” requirement; others (check the comment discussion following my review) wonder about the worth of the work itself. The Testament of Mary started life as a monologue play — I’m inclined to think that was better than the book, but this year’s jury obviously disagrees. For me, the novella had curiosity value that made it worth reading but I expect more from a Booker shortlisted volume.
The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton. A Victorian-style crime story set in New Zealand in the 1860s, this is the 2013 Booker doorstopper — Catton extends her tale to almost 850 pages (and in the hardcover version I read, those pages are lush and thick, not onion skin — it is a brick). It starts with a suspicious death and an apparent suicide attempt, quickly draws in a dozen semi-conspirators and then explores (at length) the cat’s cradle of links involving this cast. (My review will be posted in a few days.) Canadians take note: Catton was born in Canada (but raised and currently resident in New Zealand) so this novel is Giller eligible — we’ll see if it makes that longlist next week.
We Need New Names, by Noviolet Bulawayo. Another shortlist surprise, this debut novel starts with a 10-year-old in troubled Zimbabwe and then moves on to her “escape” to the hope of America, which she finds a bigger challenge than she thought. As the publisher describes it, a novel of “displacement and arrival”.
The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri. I’ve been looking forward to this one for months — it was just released today in the UK (two more weeks before its North American release), although apparently booksellers there have been “cheating” and putting copies on shelves ahead of time. Like many of Lahiri’s stories, it is set in both India and America and centres on two brothers, one rebellious, the other conventional, both of whom find themselves players in the conflict of politics and values in their homeland (and chosen escape). Lahiri is a writer of considerable talent and that outline promises she is on turf that she knows well.
A Tale For The Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki. Kudos to Dina and Brett — when the longlist was announced and I said this was one I would not be reading, they both commented that it deserved attention and I will be reading it after all. This one, also, has Canadian connections (Ozeki spends half the year on Vancouver Island) — a novelist named Ruth on a Canadian island discovers a lunch box (from the 2011 tsunami?) that contains the diary of a 16-year-old Japanese girl.
As I’ve noted, the shortlist does have a couple of surprise inclusions. And exclusions — when Tash Aw’s Five Star Billionaire and Colum McCann’s TransAtlanctic made the longlist it seemed the jury had a taste for populist conventional stories but neither has advanced. I liked both but can understand why they were left off. I am disappointed that Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart did not advance — it is the kind of book that deserves Booker attention.
2013 SHADOW GILLER JURY PLANS
It has become a KfC blog tradition, that the Booker shortlist announcement also supplies the occasion to announce that year’s Shadow Giller Jury. It is year number 20 for the Real Giller, and year 19 for the Shadow Jury — for a bit of history on how we came into being, check out the 2011 announcement of Shadow Giller plans here.
This year’s Shadow Jury is the same as last year’s. Trevor from The Mookse and the Gripes in Utah and Kimbofo from Reading Matters in London will bring an international perspective; Alison Gzowski, an editor at the Globe and Mail in Toronto, will celebrate her 11th year as a Shadow Giller juror.
The Giller longlist is to be announced Sept. 16 and will be featured in a post here (let’s hope I have managed to read a couple). The shortlist is due October 8 which means we certainly cannot all read the entire longlist — as usual, we will try to make sure at least one of us has read each book.
Trevor, Kim and I all intend to review each of the five-book shortlist and Alison will check in with guest reviews or comments on the three blogs involved. We promise a full report on our deliberations — and the Shadow Jury choice — a few days in advance of the Real Giller announcement which takes place on Nov. 5.
Please join with us. Comments and opinions are certainly welcome on all three blogs.