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The Shortlist, a good list?

The Shortlist, a good list?

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.


Eileen Battersby in the Irish Times lamented the omission of her countrywoman Anne Enright, and thought ‘The omission of Robinson and Enright may leave the way open for [Tom McCarthy's] Satin Island, of which I have already applauded for being original, splendid, a bit bonkers and indicative of fiction’s limitless powers.’ In her piece Battersby engaged properly with the list and noted that ‘Politics, murder, illegal immigrants and child abuse – the themes are the stuff of the daily news pages.’


Such themes, as Chairman of the judges Michael Wood pointed out (‘They are pretty grim, there is a tremendous amount of violence’), meant that the list was not seemingly a cheery one. Many concurred: Grim and gloom make the cut’, said the International Business Times; ‘Six grim tales on shortlist’, reckoned The Week. Wood's succeeding words, ‘What’s quite interesting is trying to work out how one can have such pleasure in books with such terrible stuff’, were not taken up with such glee, nor the fact, pointed out by fellow judge Sam Leith, that the six novels contain a lot of humour.


The Daily Telegraph's initial response to such matters was to keep things light and offer a brief synopsis of each book and a pretty gallery of the dustjackets as well as a short item on legendary Man Booker controversies. The Independent was equally idiosyncratic and included a photograph of a pile of books many of which weren't even on the longlist let alone the shortlist.


The New Zealand Herald was sorry that ‘this year the prestigious award does not have a New Zealander among the top picks’ – its heart went out to Anna Smaill. Elsewhere national pride was also in evidence with Sunjeev Sahota achieving the curious feat of being claimed by bothIndia (‘Indian origin author among six shortlisted for Man Booker Prize’ – Sahota is English but his grandparents came from India – Dispatch Times) and by Derbyshire (‘Derby-born author shortlisted for Man Booker Prize’ – Derby Telegraph).


The Atlantic has been waiting for the announcement before committing itself to a review of each of the shortlisted novels. It started with Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life, a novel ‘so intense’, said the reviewer, ‘that I found I could read it only in 50-page snippets – and preferably not while sitting by myself’.


Finally, hats off to the brave folk on the Guardian Books desk, who the day before the announcement pitted themselves against the judges and committed themselves in print as to who they thought would make the shortlist. Alex Clark, a Man Booker judge in 2008, scored an impressive four out of six; Justine Jordan, the paper's fiction editor, scored three and a half (she had ‘a feeling’ about Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen); and the Books editor Claire Armistead, got three.