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Who saw that coming?

Who saw that coming?


Even by the standards of Man Booker longlists, which have taught followers of literature to expect the unexpected, this year's Man Booker Dozen is, well, unexpected. The 13 titles chosen by Michael Wood and his fellow judges from 156 submissions provide talking points aplenty, and that's even before eager readers get round to opening them.

It is, for example, a longlist in which women outnumber men by seven to six, in which indeed the three best known authors are all women – Anne Tyler, Marilynne Robinson and Anne Enright. It is a roster light on those who have previously appeared on Man Booker lists, with only Anne Enright (winner in 2007), Andrew O'Hagan (longlistee in 2006 and shortlistee in 1999) and Tom McCarthy (shortlistee in 2010) having any previous form. There are three debut novelists too: Bill Clegg, Chigozie Obioma and Anna Smaill.

Geographically there are seven different countries represented, from the UK and the US via India, Ireland, New Zealand, Nigeria and Jamaica and with some pretty mixed heritages in there too (US-Hawaiian in the case of Hanya Yanagihara and US-Moroccan in that of Laila Lalami). The US with five longlistees tops Britain with three in the national stakes.

Meanwhile there are ten different imprints represented. And the sense of breadth is reflected in the list's genres of writing too, from the historical (Laila Lalami's The Moor's Account) to the contemporary (Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life) and the timeless (Anna Smaill's The Chimes), and from the small scale (Anne Tyler's A Spool of Blue Thread) to the wide-ranging (Tom McCarthy's Satin Island), and everything in-between. It is a list that will reveal its merits slowly.

Above all, perhaps, the longlist offers the prospect of a host of unfamiliar names to be discovered and, in doing so, discovering too why the judges chose them ahead of more fancied candidates.