Monday 25 June 2018

'Booker Dozen' is a strong, eclectic mix

After the prestigious longlist was revealed this week, Books Editor Edel Coffey on who's in with a chance

Anne Enright
Anne Enright
The Green Road
The Fisherman
The Illuminations
Sleeping on Jupiter
A Little Life
The Moor's Account
Satin Island
A Brief History of Seven Killings
A Spool of Blue Thread
The Year of the Runaways
Did You Ever Have A Family
The Chimes

The Booker longlist was published on Wednesday and brought with it all of the usual speculation. Each year's list brings its own unique controversies - but this year seems to have pleased most people. The only major shock so far is that Jonathan Franzen's first novel in five years, Purity, is absent from the list. And we must be grateful for the absence of Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman. These omissions don't feel like huge slights when the places have been filled with three debut novelists, seven women and a huge mix of international authors.

Anne Enright's latest novel The Green Road, richly deserves its place. Enright's best novel yet, this is a perfectly realised story of an Irish family abroad and at home with great characterisation. Enright won the Booker Prize in 2007 for her novel The Gathering.

The competition is tougher since the rules changed to admit American writers. Previously, only books from 'The Commonwealth' were eligible. Five American authors made the long list this year, including the mighty Anne Tyler. A Spool of Blue Thread is not Tyler's best work but sees her repeat her trick of subverting the American dream through ordinary American families. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author Marilynne Robinson is here too with her novel Lila, the third in her Gilead trilogy, which continues her story from the perspective of the minister's wife who we first met in Gilead. Also among the American nominations is Bill Clegg, a famous literary agent, with his tragic and moving tale Did You Ever Have a Family.

There is a good showing of British authors on the list, too, amongst whom are Andrew O'Hagan with his complex novel The Illuminations, which tells the dual stories of a British soldier and his challenging grandmother. Tom McCarthy and Sunjeev Sahota also made the list and McCarthy has to be a favourite to win with his Satin Island, a masterful description of humanity in 2015. He is no stranger to the prize as his book C was shortlisted in 2013. Meanwhile, Sahota's novel The Year of the Runaways examines Indian migrants.

Marlon James's A Brief History of Seven Killings is the Jamaican author's account of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley but explores so much more, including poverty, race and American politics.

Laila Lalami's The Moor's Account is a gripping historical novel about slavery that can't be ruled out of the running.

Nigerian Chigozie Obioma's debut, The Fishermen, tells the story of four brothers who are told one of them will be killed by another.

The Chimes, by New Zealand poet Anna Smaill, is the closest thing to sci-fi on the list, a dystopian tale about memory and its role in our society. Sleeping on Jupiter by Indian author Anuradha Roy hits a contemporary nerve taking on sexual abuse in India.

I'll be cheering for Enright but you'd be a fool to rule out Robinson, Tyler, O'Hagan or indeed A Little Life by Hawaiian author Hanya Yanagihara. This 800-page book about four gay friends has been talked about in literary circles for months and is the bookie's favourite to win.

This list is one of the strongest Booker lists in years and the judges will have a hard time culling it for the shortlist of six books, to be announced on September 15. The winner will be announced on October 13.

For now, this list is a wonderful and eclectic list for readers to immerse themselves in as the evenings draw in.

The longlist

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy (UK; Jonathan Cape)

The Illuminations by Andrew O'Hagan(UK; Faber & Faber)

The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota (UK; Picador)

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg (US; Jonathan Cape)

The Moor's Account by Laila Lalami (US; Periscope, Garnet Publishing)

Lila by Marilynne Robinson (US; Virago)

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (US; Chatto & Windus)

The Green Road by Anne Enright (Ireland; Jonathan Cape)

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (US; Picador)

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (Jamaica; Oneworld Publications)

The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria; One, Pushkin Press)

Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy (India; MacLehose Press, Quercus)

The Chimes by Anna Smaill (New Zealand; Sceptre)

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