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Then there were six...

Then there were six...

They have earned it. The Man Booker International Prizes judges ‒ Nick Barley, Daniel Hahn, Elif Shafak, Chika Unigwe and Helen Mort ‒ can take a short breather from their labours. They have whittled 100-and-plenty translated novels from Uk publishers down to a shortlist of six:

  • Mathias Enard (France), Charlotte Mandell (US), Compass (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
  • David Grossman (Israel), Jessica Cohen (US), A Horse Walks Into a Bar (Jonathan Cape)
  • Roy Jacobsen (Norway), Don Bartlett (UK), Don Shaw (UK), The Unseen (Maclehose)
  • Dorthe Nors (Denmark), Misha Hoekstra (US), Mirror, Shoulder, Signal (Pushkin Press)
  • Amos Oz (Israel), Nicholas de Lange (UK), Judas (Chatto & Windus)
  • Samanta Schweblin (Argentina), Megan McDowell (US)Fever Dream (Oneworld)

Now their list has been launched into the world at a glamorous do at the Orangery at Kensington Palace the judges can refresh themselves with a quick thriller or some other literary equivalent of comforting chicken tikka masala before picking up their shortlisted titles and re-reading them for the even more arduous purpose of picking a winner for 14th June. But that’s for the future.

For now they have left the literature-loving public with a shortlist full of fascination and possibilities. Amos Oz is the only one of the shortlistees to have appeared on a Man Booker International Prize list before, in 2007. He didn’t win but he already has a staggering 58 other prizes, accolades and honorary doctorates under his belt. His fellow Israeli David Grossman (Israel is the only country with two nominations) has racked up a further 15, so the pair are no strangers to decorations.

Nor is Mathias Enard, sporter of 14 gongs including France’s most prestigious literary award, the Prix Goncourt. Samanta Schweblin from Argentina and Roy Jacobsen from Norway are no slouches in this department either. Denmark’s Dorthe Nors is the ingénue of the group but previous form is no guide as to who will win this prize.

Just what a game-changer the prize can be is evidenced by last year’s winner ‒ the first in the prize’s new incarnation ‒ the South Korean Han Kang’s The Vegetarian. The English edition alone has sold 160,000 copies, an unheard of number for a foreign novel outside the likes of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Then there is the £50,000 prize money, to be split equally between author and translator (something that will be appreciated keenly by Nors who was a translator of Swedish crime novels before she became a writer herself). Nicholas de Lange meanwhile has translated 16 previous novels by Oz and Roy Jacobsen’s co-translators Don Bartlett and Don Shaw are a long-established double-act.

The shortlist also recognises three independent publishers, Pushkin, Oneworld and Fitzcarraldo. Five of the publishers might see the name Oneworld and experience a frisson of fear since the publishing house is on a remarkable roll at the moment having won the past two Man Booker prizes by scooping up Marlon James and Paul Beatty when others turned their noses up at them. If Oneworld is backing Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream it’s for a reason.

So what, if anything, do the chosen six have in common? Not a lot, according to Nick Barley, plots, settings, characters, times are distinctive in each. What could link stories involving a musicologist revisiting his past in the Middle East, a comedian suffering a breakdown, family life on an isolated Norwegian island, a woman's struggle to learn how to drive, an examination of the travails of Jerusalem's history, and a dying woman's terrifying final revelations? There is one thing they have in common though, says Barley, each book in its own way deals with ‘compelling individuals struggling to make sense of their place in a complex world’. Given the difficulty of their task to date, the judges are well-placed to recognise complexity when they see it.