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The Man Booker and world travel

The Man Booker and world travel

Reaction to the Man Booker longlist continues to flood in. An infographic would draw a skein of lines from around the world all centring on London where the announcement was made. The reach of the prize has always been global but it never ceases to surprise just how many ripples it causes. The news outlets that have run stories sound, to many British readers, wonderfully exotic – Jamaica Gleaner (revelling in local boy Marlon James's nomination), the New Zealand Herald and the Waterloo Record (Anna Smaill), the Daily O and the Deccan Herald (Anuradha Roy) and, best of the lot, the Rafu Shimpo (Hanya Yanagihara). A future Man Booker writer should weave them into a novel.

Michael Wood, chairman of the Man Booker judges, has also made reference to the global nature of the longlist. It was, he says, accidental: ‘These stories are so different from each other, but they are linked by their amazing formal precision and the high quality of their writing. The judges are very happy with the diversity of the material – and of the places of origin, ages and experiences of the writers – but we were not looking to commend diversity. We were looking for the best books.’ He also highlighted a strange anthropological fact thrown up by the judging process. The discussions were ‘animated but – thankfully – nonviolent. It’s surely unusual for any group of humans to be argumentative without being quarrelsome.’ Perhaps the Man Booker offers a new means of conflict resolution for Israel-Palestine, North Korea-rest of the world and other global flashpoints.

The second in the Man Booker series of podcasts is now available and it offers further insights into the judging process with contributions from Michael Wood and Sam Leith. Among the more rewarding mental images thrown up by their discussion was their revelation that before the serious, articulate, discussion of each book began you might only get a ‘grunt or a groan or an angelic smile’ from the five judges by way of preface. The longlist took about four hours of wrangling, they say, and ‘We were all surprised about how good a time we had.’ This seems to tempt fate somewhat; the shortlist discussion is just around the corner and there's plenty of time for the amicable judges to turn nasty . . .

Some of the nominated writers are only now beginning to digest the news that they have made the list. Anuradha Roy, for example, had no inkling of what was to come: “then there was this email from my publisher in which they were talking about champagne”. The news nevertheless had to take second place to the writer's dogs who needed walking: ‘The dogs, of course, scoff at the idea that there is anything that needs more attention than they do.’ Anna Smaill's reaction was somewhat pithier, she simply tweeted ‘Bloody hell’. Her aphorism ‘was immediately quoted on news items in New Zealand and was seen as a quintessentially Kiwi reaction . . . Before the nomination, the Man Booker seemed an unassailable idea. It does register as this iconic and increasingly international literary prize.’ Bloody hell indeed.