So, with only a matter of days until the unveiling of the Man Booker Prize winner of 2015 on 13 October, who, according to the bookies at least, is the front runner? As things stand Hanya Yanagihara is favourite, with the best odds being offered on A Little Life being 6/4, then come Sunjeev Sahota (9/2), Marlon James (6/1), Chigozie Obioma (10/1), Anne Tyler (12/1), Tom McCarthy (20/1). By my reckoning, a tenner on Obioma's The Fisherman (if it wins) would give the lucky punter just enough money to buy all six shortlisted books with change left to buy a drink and toast the winner.
A memorial service was held this week at St Martin-in-the-Fields for Ion Trewin, the much loved editor, biographer and Literary Director of the Booker Prize Foundation, who died earlier this year. It was a joyous affair, despite the sadness, with a remarkable array of speakers remembering Ion as they knew him. Thomas Keneally, the Booker Prize (as it then was) winner in 1982 for Schindler's Ark described Ion (who edited the novel) as ‘a good Pom’ – praise indeed from ‘a good Ozzie’; Julian Fellowes, Ann Widdecombe and Michael Palin also added a wealth of warm and droll anecdotes. Sue Perkins, a Man Booker judge in 2009, gave things a different twist. When Ion, or Father Christmas as she called him, on account of his white beard and avuncular manner, asked her to become a judge she quailed at the prospect, intimidated by the thought of joining a panel of ‘literary specialists’. ‘Do you like books?’ Ion asked her. ‘Yes’. ‘Then you'll do fine.’ As a result of the experience she found two things: one, a renewed joy in reading fiction that had been ground out of her by her undergraduate studies at Cambridge, and the other, an awareness that her opinion as a reader carried just as much weight as those of her fellow judges. These two things would, one suspects, have delighted Ion – a book man to his very fingernails – every bit as much as the gathering of friends who came to remember and celebrate him.
Man Booker aficionados might remember that last year's winner, Richard Flanagan, was predicted ahead of time by a ‘Mr Smith’, a mystery punter from the north east who claimed not to have read any of the shortlisted books but made his choice on the basis of scouring reviews and examining the judges' Wikipedia pages. ‘Mr Smith’ said ‘I never read any of the books because, quite frankly, fiction is not my thing. I had, therefore, to spend much more time reviewing the judges than the actual books themselves. I did a case study of each judge, using Wikipedia and YouTube, and read as much as I could about the books they had written, their interests, their politics and religious beliefs and then, through a process of Sherlock Holmes deductive reasoning, tried to intuit which book they would go for.’ His system worked, he placed 13 bets and cleaned up. ‘Mr Smith’, described as ‘middle-aged, well-spoken and fair-haired’ (not that that narrows it down too much) has been at it again. And the Sherlock Holmes of Darlington's decision this year? Sunjeev Sahota's The Year of the Runaways.
The shortlist is out and the first reactions are in. So what – based on a sample of initial reactions – does the world make of the Man Booker judges' six pick? Overall, pretty good. The name that really caught commentators' eyes, however, was one not even included, Marilynne Robinson, winner, as the Guardian pointed out, of the Pulitzer, the Orange prize and a National Humanities Medal presented by Barack Obama. A pretty good haul but she'll have to wait for the Man Booker. The shortlist, said the paper, saw ‘new writers surge ahead’. Marlon James, Sunjeev Sahota and Chigozie Obioma in particular, take a bow.
Marlon James, Tom McCarthy, Chigozie Obioma, Sunjeev Sahota, Anne Tyler and Hanya Yanagihara are today, Tuesday 15 September, announced as the shortlisted authors for the 2015 Man Booker Prize for Fiction.