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First impressions...

First impressions...

Left field, surprising, ecumenical, catholic, global . . . the announcement of the 2015 Man Booker longlist has spurred a wide range of descriptive terms in newspapers, magazines and online (and, no doubt whereever books are discussed) but, so far, no one mot juste. As usual the list has been picked over for signs, like the Romans reading entrails.


The Guardian, for example, led its report with the fact that Bill Clegg (Did You Ever Have a Family) is a literary agent “known for his ruthless negotiating and memoirs recounting his struggles with crack-cocaine and alcohol”. It then went on to discuss each longlistee before playing the annual who-missed-out game. “There are several big names absent from the list,” it noted, “including Kazuo Ishiguro and forthcoming novels from Salman Rushdie, Jonathan Franzen, John Banville, William Boyd and Margaret Atwood”. Other commentators playing the same game added Harper Lee to that list.


The opening line of Time magazine's report focused on the gender ratio: “The 2015 Man Booker Prize longlist is in, and this year’s selection is roughly half men (six) and half women (seven).” No more was added, perhaps in tacit recognition that the books were selected on the quality of the writing not the gender of the author. The BBC was equally straightforward and used the former winner Anne Enright as its opening gambit.


The Telegraph's tack was to try and reignite last year's nationality battle, choosing to see the five American authors on the longlist as “confirming widely expressed fears that Britons would be side-lined following a controversial rule change”. No doubt the paper, having got that off its chest, will get round to discussing the merits of the writers on the longlist before too long. The Daily Mail also went for the nationality aspect, as did its sister paper, the Evening Standard in milder tones. While pointing out the American dominance, the Financial Times took the trouble of asking some well-placed observers for their impression, which was pretty favourable (Professor John Sutherland: “there doesn’t seem to be a potential winner [on the list] who would be lamented”).


The Independent rather liked the David v Goliath aspect of the list: “Three debut novelists have been named on the longlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize and will go head-to-head with former winner Anne Enright, as well as heavyweight authors Marilynne Robinson and Anne Tyler.”


Elsewhere around the globe there was justifiable pride from region to region. New Zealand sites were chuffed for their gal Anna Smaill, Indian ones highlighted the inclusion of Anuradha Roy, the Irish talked up Anne Enright, and Baltimore was thrilled for its celebrity author Ann Tyler, and so on.


All this, especially with a list like this year's, is to be expected. Few people, bar the judges themselves, will have yet read all 13 books on the longlist and so the news angle takes precedence over a more reasoned measuring of the pros and cons, the merits or otherwise, the discoveries and disappointments of the chosen books. That will only happen when there has been time for the books actually to have been opened. While the brief of the Man Booker is to bring to wider attention the best novels of the year the longlist announcement always makes the wider literary world sit up and pay attention. With this year's list aficionados are sitting very straight indeed.