Australian Richard Flanagan has won the 2014 Booker Prize with The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a dramatic novel centred on the experiences of the Australian prisoners of war who built the Siam to Burma railway under the cruel supervision of their Japanese captors.
While I think this year’s Booker Jury made some mistakes along the way (mainly with their choices of the first American authors to make the longlist and then leaving some very good books off the shortlist), I’d have to say they got it right in the end. I had some reservations about The Narrow Road to the Deep North, as you can read in my review, but it certainly would have been my choice from the official shortlist. And I would have had a hard time choosing between it and David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks (I promise I will get a review up soon) as my favorite Booker eligible title this year.
A final note: I think there is some irony present in an Australian win. As you can see from comments on my post when the longlist was announced, some of us were concerned that opening up the Booker to American authors was bad news for Commonwealth writers. Usually, the longlist features two or more — Flanagan was the only one represented this year, while there were four Americans in the 13 longlisted titles. I’m sure some of my fellow Commonwealth types will be joining me in cheering at the final outcome.
Despite that positive note, I continue to feel that the Booker is stumbling around, searching for a new identity. I only read seven of the 13 longlisted titles (and three of the six on the shortlist) this year — most of the rest failed to spark my interest, although I may try to get to a couple of them (such as Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others) over the winter. And I can’t help but notice that debate around the Booker, not just here but elsewhere on the web, has declined dramatically in the last few years. As one who has been following the Prize for decades now, I am eager for it to get back on track.