Submitted by Leah on Tue, 2015-09-15 14:24
You could be forgiven for thinking that the Man Booker Prize shortlist had been mixed up with that for the Man Booker International Prize. The global flavour of the longlist of 13 has been condensed but far from lost. The list just revealed by the judges includes two British writers (one with Indian ancestry), two Americans (one with Hawaiian forebears), one Jamaican and one Nigerian. The list is as much a mixture of nationalities as it is of voices on the page.
The list also shows an extraordinary breadth of writing experience. Anne Tyler (A Spool of Blue Thread) has written 20 books, Chigozie Obioma (The Fishermen) only one. In between are Tom McCarthy (Satin Island) with five, Marlon James (A Brief History of Seven Killings) with three, and Sunjeev Sahota (The Year of the Runaways) and Hanya Yanagihara (A Little Life) with two. The oldest writer on the list is Tyler at 73, the youngest is Obioma, a stripling of 29. In terms of length, Yanagihara's novel comes in at 720 pages while Tom McCarthy's is a trim 173. While a longer novel doesn't necessarily mean a better one it is always interesting to see how different stories require different lengths.
The list is one of great freshness for the prize too. Anne Enright, the sole former Man Booker winner on the longlist, has not made the cut this time, and nor has Andrew O'Hagan, a previous shortlistee. Only Tom McCarthy has appeared on a shortlist previously. Marlon James meanwhile is Jamaica's first representative. Not that these six novelists are strangers to prizes and attention – Anne Tyler, for example, is a Pulitzer Prize winner while James's book appeared in no fewer than 23 best books of the year lists. The MB selecting from the whole writing-in-English world is of entirely different order though.
As for subjects, they range from an attempt to assassinate Bob Marley (James), a group of immigrants trying to build a new life in Sheffield (Sahota), an unnamed figure struggling to negotiate data overload (McCarthy), four Nigerian brothers undermined by an unsettling prophesy (Obioma), an elderly couple replaying their past (Tyler), and four college friends confronting the bleakness of life (Yanagihara). There's nothing to link the six stories except perhaps for the way that life offers a series of ordeals that must be negotiated and that these novelists have found some inventively fresh trials for their characters as well as breathing new life into old ones.
Unusually for the prize, the longlist drew almost universal approbation. It will be interesting to see whether the shortlist meets with the same approval. Meanwhile, as the literary world comments on the six writers who have made the list and the seven who didn't the judges must start their reading and re-reading again. Their job is rapidly going from hard to fiendish.