You are here

Man Booker sooner rather than later

Man Booker sooner rather than later

Amongst the comment generated by the announcement of the Man Booker longlist was a sense of mild disappointment that five of the books were not yet published. In fact the prize submission rules state that in the case of unreleased titles, publishers are obliged to make 1,000 copies available within 10 days of the longlist being announced. Although this rule is of long standing and designed specifically to minimise readers’ frustration at having to wait to get their hands on a longlisted book not all publishers have taken it into account. Some good news though . . . Ali Smith's How to be Both and Howard Jacobson's J have both had their publication dates brought forward. Joseph O'Neill's The Dog became available at the end of July. So it is only The Bone Clocks and Us by the two Davids, Mitchell and Nicholls, whose publication remains at this time unchanged (2nd and 30th September). The wheels of publishing can grind slow and because all five are big-name novelists the publication of their books and the marketing campaigns around them have been planned for a year or more. The longlisting has meant both a rapid bout of replanning for both books.

Another point of discussion has been the fact that Paul Kingsnorth's The Wake has been published thanks to crowd-sourcing where would-be readers pledge money until the costs of publication have been covered. Unbound, Kingsnorth's publisher, splits any profits 50-50 with the author (a far more generous percentage than more established publishers offer). It also limits the initial print run to 5,000 copies. Word has it that in the light of its longlisting they are already in the process of re-printing The Wake.

Sharp-eyed followers of the prize have noticed that this is the second year in a row that 1960s Calcutta with an admixture of communism and family crisis has featured on the the longlist. Last year it was Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland and this year it is Neel Mukherjee's The Lives of Others. The similarities don't end there: both are their author's second novels and both writers are now expats, Lahiri in America and Mukherjee in England. And they are never seen in the same room together, strange . . .

Another coincidence: Siri Hustvedt's longlisted The Blazing World is a story of misogyny in the New York art world. Hustvedt is almost as much an art critic as a novelist having written both Mysteries of the Rectangle and Living, Thinking, Looking – and numerous articles too – about art. John Berger was another novelist/art writer. He was the art critic of the New Statesman as well, of course, as being the (then) Booker winning author of G (1972). Which takes us to Howard Jacobson, Man Booker winner in 2010 and a maker of television programmes about the eccentric painter Stanley Spencer, among others, whose longlisted book, like Berger's has an initial for a title – J. Anita Brookner, meanwhile, prize winner in 1984, only started writing fiction at the end of a long and distinguished career as an art historian at the Courtauld Institute. 

No doubt this year's longlisted authors were all as good as gold at school. It is not always the case with writers, as some school reports have shown: for example, according to her teacher, Charlotte Brontë, “writes indifferently . . . and knows nothing of grammar, geography, history, or accomplishments”. P.G. Wodehouse was thought to have “the most distorted ideas about wit and humour”. And Beryl Bainbridge – Man Booker bridesmaid, five times Man Booker shortlisted but never a winner – clearly had a teacher who was no mean wit or writer themselves, commenting of the future novelist: “her written work is the product of an obviously lively imagination