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The narrow road to prizes

The narrow road to prizes

Whatever happens in a little over a week's time, Richard Flanagan, one of this year's Man Booker shortlistees, is on a roll. He has just scooped two Western Australian Premier's Book Awards – for the fiction and overall prizes – worth $40,000. The Narrow Road to the Deep North was 'an absolutely standout winner and will become a very significant part of the Australian literary culture', said the chair of judges Delys Bird. Another winner was Tim Winton, Booker shortlisted in 1995 with The Riders.

Man Booker writers are also heavily represented on the just-announced Goldsmiths Prize shortlist. The award, in association with the New Statesman, looks to reward “fiction that breaks the mould” and it recognises that spirit in the Man Booker shortlisted Howard Jacobson's J, Ali Smith's How to Be Both and Paul Kingsnorth's longlisted The Wake. It is curious to note that while other prizes have specific criteria the Man Booker simply looks to recognise the best in English-language fiction and that many of the same books crop up on various shortlists. Proof perhaps that the Man Booker is as ecumenical as literature itself.

Siri Hustvedt may have missed out on Man Booker shortlisting but her The Blazing World is included on the inaugural Kirkus Prize. The 18 finallists are drawn from fiction, non-fiction and young readers' literature and the winner of each category is announced on October 23rd. Also in the running for the $50,000 cheque is the three-times Man Booker shortlisted Sarah Waters for The Paying Guests.

Neel Mukherjee, author of the shortlisted The Lives of Others, recently offered a novel take on being caught up in the Man Booker experience. It is, he said, 'like I have been hit at the back of my head and have stars in front of my eyes”. Once his head had cleared a bit he also confessed to the worry that Western readers would respond to the novel with cries of:  "Oh my god! So melodramatic, so hysteric” . . . But this is what Indian families are like . . . we live life on a much larger scale . . . we don't have a stiff upper lip.'

Hilary Mantel may not be involved in the Man Booker this year (her book of short stories, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher, being ineligible and the final part of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy not due out until next year) but the stage adaptations of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies have been keeping her mind occupied. After their Stratford and London triumphs they are now transferring to Broadway (20th March 2015). No word yet on casting...

When asked if she thinks she is a challenging writer, Ali Smith found an elegant way out, reponding that 'I just don't think anything I've written is that challenging, stylewise. Fictionally I feel very challenge-lite. What is it someone said in Marie Claire or Elle: "An experimental novelist even your mother could love"?' And, she might have added, that Man Booker judges can love too.