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The Man Booker Prize 2016 longlist

The Man Booker Prize 2016 longlist

Conspiracy theorists like to think that prize long-and shortlists are compiled with an eye to various external factors: are there enough women? What about a decent ethnic spread? How many nationalities? How many genres? Of course, judging panels do no such thing. They judge the books on their merits and then see what they have got – sometimes it leads to balanced lists and sometimes to interestingly shaped ones. The Man Booker dozen, the longlist of 13 for this year’s prize, is one of the latter.

The 13 chosen books are:

Paul Beatty (US) The Sellout (Oneworld)

J.M. Coetzee (South African-Australian) The Schooldays of Jesus (Harvill Secker)

A.L. Kennedy (UK) Serious Sweet (Jonathan Cape)

Deborah Levy (UK) Hot Milk (Hamish Hamilton)

Graeme Macrae Burnet (UK) His Bloody Project (Contraband)

Ian McGuire (UK) The North Water (Scribner UK)

David Means (UK) Hystopia (Faber & Faber)

Wyl Menmuir (UK) The Many (Salt)

Ottessa Moshfegh (US) Eileen (Jonathan Cape)

Virginia Reeves (US) Work Like Any Other (Scribner UK)

Elizabeth Strout (US) My Name Is Lucy Barton (Viking)

David Szalay (Canada-UK) All That Man Is (Jonathan Cape)

Madeleine Thien (Canada) Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Granta Books)

It is a list of which six and a half are from UK writers, four American, one and a half Canadian and one South-African-Australian. Surprisingly there is no room for anything from India, a regular Man Booker stronghold, and nothing from Ireland either. Six women are on the list and four debut novelists (Hystopia by David Means; The Many by Wyl Menmuir; Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh and Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves).

There will be the usual talk about who is not on the list (some might have expected Don DeLillo to be there for instance, or Jonathan Safran Foer, or Ali Smith) but the big name who is there is J.M. Coetzee. Coetzee shares the distinction, with Peter Carey and Hilary Mantel, of being one of only three writers to have won the prize twice. His previous wins were for The Life and Times of Michael K (1983) and Disgrace (1993) and, for good measure, he won the Nobel Prize in 2003: this is his chance to make history and pull clear. Deborah Levy, shortlisted for Swimming Home in 2012, is the only other writer to have previous experience of the list, although A. L. Kennedy was a judge back in 1996.

As Amanda Foreman, chair of the judges, comments, the subject matter of the 13 novels is just as varied: ‘From the historical to the contemporary, the satirical to the polemical, the novels in this list come from both established writers and new voices. The writing is uniformly fresh, energetic and important. It is a longlist to be relished.’

To give some idea of the range on offer, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout deals with race relations in modern America; Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing looks at a Chinese family living through great events, from Mao’s Cultural revolution to Tiananmen Square; Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project centres on a murder in 1869 in a remote Scottish crafting community: while Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton deals with a woman recovering in hospital who is forced to reassess her life. The other nine novels have the same sort of variety and particularity.

This list then, so impossible to predict, does what all Man Booker lists hope to do, that is offer an overview of what is going on in contemporary fiction but one that is focused through a one lens only, the one marked ‘The best’.