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2012 Shortlist: What the papers say

2012 Shortlist: What the papers say

So the Man Booker shortlist is out and the annual game of commenting, speculating, agreeing and disagreeing has begun in earnest. The initial reports in newspapers and online have concentrated on two themes that sound rather like an abandoned J.K. Rowling title: Hilary Mantel and the small publishers.

The BBC News website was one of several places that led with Mantel's inclusion; it also quoted Ladbrokes's odds on her (9/4 for those who fancy a flutter) and The Independent took the same line: “Ms Mantel, 60, former social worker from Derbyshire, was immediately installed as favourite by Ladbrokes. She will compete against Will Self, who is nominated for his book Umbrella.” The LA Times refused to be surprised, describing her inclusion as: “Hardly a shocker.”

The small presses angle –  Deborah Levy with And Other Stories, Tan Twan Eng with Myrmidon Books, and Alison Moore with Salt – intrigued many, including The Financial Times. It quoted some of the happy publishers: “'It’s completely transformative for us as a press,' said Chris Hamilton-Emery, a director of Cromer-based Salt, which started 12 years ago as a husband-and-wife-led team. 'It gives us economic security.' He described the world of publishing as 'changing beneath our feet' and pointed to the role of social media in helping independents to reach new readers. In a statement, And Other Stories, a not-for-profit publisher founded in 2010, said it was 'almost lost for words' about making the shortlist.” Online, Periscope Post pointed out that “Deborah Levy struggled to find a publisher for her novel, but found a home with And Other Stories. Tan Twan Eng’s book about the Japanese occupation of Malaya was also turned down by almost all the publishers in England: 'They said it was difficult to market and they didn’t know what to do with it and it was Myrmidon who were brave enough to take a chance on me.'”

Local pride was also to the fore with a cluster of Indian newspapers highlighting the inclusion of Jeet Thayil: The Hindu pointed out that “If Mr. Thayil goes on to win, he will join a select band of Indian or India-born Booker winners such as Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai and Aravind Adiga.” The LA Times also aired its interesting opinion that Narcopolis is “racier than some other British literary prize fare”.

Other comments focus on the contrast between this year's shortlist and last year's with the brouhaha about “readability”. The New Statesman suggested that “The inclusion of Will Self’s Umbrella … may be a nod to correcting the controversy that seemed to follow last year’s prize. When the 2011 selections were made public, the judging panel were criticised for pandering to populism … Umbrella, with its modernist echoes of Joyce and Eliot, may be the perfect way of signalling that the prize is ready to take itself seriously again, and is no longer afraid to include more conceptually challenging books.” The Daily Telegraph also recalled the furore set in motion by Stella Rimington's panel: “Perhaps that is why this year’s judges have chosen a shortlist that stays well clear of the mainstream” and added that  “plenty of readers find Mantel’s historical novels to be a challenging read”.

Commenters on newspaper websites have also been having their often vociferous say. Among those on the Guardian: 'ndastewart' was “Surprised that Nicola Barker was left off – but delighted that the sly, sinister The Lighthouse is on there.” 'Nellekegeel' thinks it is “Great that Mantel is included again, brave precisely because she won a few years ago. Excellent novel!” while 'Simon92' is  “Currently half way through Umbrella and the power of the imagination and attention to detail are really astonishing – it remains to be seen if the book ends up having a point. Boringly enough, I'd say Self or Mantel to win.”

Now that the business end of this year's Man Booker is on us the noise will only increase. The Guardian, for example, had garnered 51 comments in the first 24 hours after the shortlist announcement, while the news was all over Twitter and Facebook too. Naturally not all agreed with the judges' choices but the fact that they had commented at all is proof of just how much books and the Man Booker matter.


Image of 2012 Man Booker Prize Shortlist