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Texting a contender

Texting a contender

Whether or not she goes on to win the prize, Fiona Mozley certainly scoops the award for the most unusual writing method. At 29 she is the second youngest nominee ever, after Eleanor Catton, and so perhaps it is no surprise that she wrote Elmet on her phone. The setting for the novel came to her on the train back from a visit to her parents in York: “I was looking out at the South Yorkshire landscape, the copses and outbuildings. I already had questions I wanted to explore, and those things came together.” And the phone was simply because she was so busy trying to keep afloat in London: “To get it finished I just had to take it one sentence at a time, whenever I could.” She puts all those commuters playing Candy Crush on their way in to work to shame.

The different ways people approach the Man Booker longlist was nicely illustrated by a recent piece that ran with the headline: “Women Make Up Almost Half of the Man Booker Prize 2017 Longlist. And half of them are women of colour.” The note of surprise is perhaps unwarranted: the last decade has seen the Man Booker won by Kiran Desai, Anne Enright, Hilary Mantel (twice) and Eleanor Catton. As to women of colour, previous winners and shortlistees number Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Arundhati Roy, Kiran Desai, Anita Desai, Ahdaf Soueif, Andrea Levy, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Zadie Smith among others. It is often assumed that longlists and shortlists are tweaked for balance, but it is not the case – at least not with the Man Booker. It was only after judges had settled on their 13 titles that Lola Young, the chair of this year's judges noted that what they had come up with was “a diverse spectrum – not only of voices and literary styles but of protagonists too, in their culture, age and gender”.

The literary magazine Granta is offering a useful service to Man Booker followers. “Let’s be clear,” it announces, “it’s very unlikely that you will find the time to read 13 novels in the next three months . . . there are just too many op-eds, Twitter threads and Game of Thrones series. Who can afford to buy 13 (mostly hardback) books these days anyway?” So, it says, “a reasonable goal might be to read two books on the list”. It offers to help prospective readers choose which two books they should for go for through what it calls “speed dating”. Granta has rounded up interviews, short stories and extracts by the 13 longlistees, helpfully providing links. Once you have sifted these first impressions, the theory goes, you'll be better informed as to which book you'll want to take home for the night.

Perhaps with this in mind, Hertfordshire County Council's library service website has its own Man Booker subsection. It offers a brief synopsis of each of the 'Man Booker Dozen' and then a link that will take residents straight to the reservations page. Congratulations to them on their initiative. Perhaps some local councillor with a vision is determined to make the good folk of St Albans, Watford and Bishop's Stortford the best-read in the country. Conspiracy theorists might have fun with the number of copies of each title held across the county: while there are exactly 100 copies of Arundhati' Roy's The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and 87 copies of Paul Auster's 4 3 2 1 on Hertfordshire's library shelves, there are just four copies of Jon McGregor's Reservoir 13 and a lonely single copy of Emily Fridlund's History of Wolves.