Man Booker 2014 Musings

Unless you were like me, in which case you were far too busy moving furniture, walls and the like, then you all probably saw the longlist for the Man Booker Prize 2014. With its rule changes last year, becoming open to any book written in English anywhere in the world published for the first time between October 2013 and September 2014, the long list was one which many felt would now be an American full house. It doesn’t seem to be the case, yet weirdly it doesn’t seem to be a longlist that is doing very much for me.

Here it is in full in case you too were otherwise engaged and have been since…

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour – Joshua Ferris (Viking)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan (Chatto & Windus)
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves – Karen Joy Fowler (Serpent’s Tail)
The Blazing World – Siri Hustvedt (Sceptre)
J –  Howard Jacobson (Jonathan Cape)
The Wake – Paul Kingsnorth (Unbound)
The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell (Sceptre)
The Lives of Others – Neel Mukherjee (Chatto & Windus)
Us – David Nicholls (Hodder & Stoughton)
The Dog – Joseph O’Neill (Fourth Estate)
Orfeo – Richard Powers (Atlantic Books)
How to be Both –  Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)
History of the Rain – Niall Williams (Bloomsbury)

Man Booker Five

I have only actually got five of them, I would have had six but I found the Niall Williams gratingly pretentious when I tried to read it a while back, and have read not a one so I can’t judge them on what’s inside yet very little really excites me here. Actually that is not 100% true or fair. I am excited by the Karen Joy Fowler because that is a book I have been wanting to read ever since I saw it on the sadly (and criminally) now defunct Review Show. I have also heard amazing things about the Flanagan in all the right places, from Marieke Hardy to  Kim of Reading Matters. I have also read Mukherjee, Nicholls and Smith before and really, really liked their work. I am also intrigued by the Kingsmith, which would be a marvellous winner as it is a debut and Unbound, who publish it, are a crowd sourced publishers, exciting. Yet I am still not really that excited and really with a prize like the Man Booker I should be.

The Williams-effect might be part of it, I may be judging the books on that. I may also be feeling indifferent to it because a) I am knackered post festival b) Ferris and Mitchell are two authors many people love yet I just simply do not get. It could be that it just all feels terribly white middle classed male (with the exceptions of the women and Mukherjee) and not the exciting, vibrant, diverse list I always hope it is going to be. I also think it is really strange that at present so many (5) of the books aren’t even out, Jacobson not coming out until the 25th of September, it doesn’t seem a list that can yet excite the public does it? And does it mean if the dates don’t change then the publishers are breaking this rule – Each publisher of a title appearing on the longlist will be required to have no fewer than 1,000 copies of that title available in stock within 10 days of the announcement of the longlist. Will they be withdrawn/disqualified? Today it seems about the only exciting thing that might happen from this list.

It makes me wonder if the Man Booker is really the prize for me anymore. Maybe I should just stick to the Women’s Prize (which I find very difficult to call the Bailey’s, and I love that tipple) and Fiction Uncovered as it seems that is where the well written AND diverse voices most seem to be found with very similar prize remits. Maybe I should read a few and reserve judgement? What do you all think?

17 Comments

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17 responses to “Man Booker 2014 Musings

  1. I don’t think it does it for me either. I’m much excited and satisfied as a reader (and a blogger) when reading almost anything on the Women’s Prize.

  2. Kateg

    First, as an American I am annoyed there are US authors on the list ( I know everyone got upset when the change was announced and I am late to the party). I liked that they were books and authors that were new to me. Second, the books should be published already. Why can’t they be put up for the prize next year? I don’t understand. I have not read any of the selections and I am going to wait to see who wins and then maybe read their book.

  3. kaggsysbookishramblings

    I have to confess it’s been ages since I really took an interest in the Booker. I really regret the introduction of American authors and the only thing that attracts me at all is The Blazing World.

  4. Completely agree with Savidge Reads. The list lacks vibrancy. Ferris is good but on this showing, not so much. Now that the US can be included, where on earth is Sergio de la Pava? And I knew about the Jacobson not being out till end Sept but didn’t realise that FOUR others are still awaiting publication. This is just so unfair to readers. Disgraceful.

  5. Definitely frustrating that so many aren’t yet published. Also frustrating that the US additions seem to have reduced the variety of the pack. I must say I’m surprised by the inclusion of Nicholls, who I like but don’t feel is very “Booker”, but perhaps that’s a good sign? And unlike you I love Mitchell so I’m pleased he’s made the list. They’re the only two I’ve read before but several sound like books I would probably like. I’m just not excited by the list as a whole – I don’t feel like a hidden gem has been uncovered.

  6. David

    I’ve read just one of them – the Flanagan – and thought it superb, one of my favourite reads of last year. I started the Mukherjee last month and set it aside: I think I wasn’t in the right mood, but I just couldn’t get into it and it’s a pretty long book if it isn’t engaging you. I’ve got a copy of the Hustvedt because I’ve enjoyed her writing in the past, but I’m in no hurry to get to it. And I’d have bought Ali Smith’s and David Mitchell’s books regardless.

    Normally at this point I’d be ordering several books from the longlist, but I find (and this was a surprise to myself) I’m not actually that interested. I’m not a fan of the new eligibility rules, but I don’t think it’s that. Nor do I think I’m passing judgement on the list without trying it (I imagine they’re mostly very good). More that my reading habits have been gradually changing over the last two or three years – more whim-based reading, more reading of favourite authors’ backlists, and (more importantly) many more older books (nearly all my favourite reads so far this year were published before 1990) – and I find I’m just not as excited by here-today-gone-tomorrow prizes as I used to be.

    • Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others does get increasingly absorbing and worth returning to, I reckon. I do agree wholeheartedly that one has to be ‘in the mood’ for the book one’s reading and also, the order that one reads books in seems to make a real difference too. Timing is everything!

  7. I am not very excited by this list either. I’d like to read the Karen Joy Fowler title, and maybe the Mitchell, but I wouldn’t really know as it isn’t published yet… And I have no intention of reading the Williams as I usually dislike his style and can’t imagine I’d like this one if you found it gratingly pretentious!

  8. Not sure if you’ve read Hustvedt before, but The Blazing World really is fantastic, as are most of her novels. I hoped it would be on the longlist and I’m glad to see it there.

    I agree though that there isn’t a huge amount to get excited by. A few authors I haven’t heard of, but way too many obvious or commercial choices, and not a great deal of ethnic or gender diversity. I’m intrigued by the Howard Jacobson book and I would have wanted to read the David Mitchell anyway, but apart from that I can’t say I feel enormously enthusiastic about the choices.

  9. Blimey, haven’t heard of any of these titles though I do struggle with anything that wins a prize!

  10. sharkell

    I can recommend the Flanagan as well – although I had to persevere a bit with the first half of the book, the second half more than made up for it. I am also surprised to see Nicholls on the list as I also didn’t think he was very Bookerish.

  11. drharrietd

    I think many people will agree with you Simon. I haven’t read any of them, though I hope to get hold of the Bone Clocks soon. But the unpublished bit is really puzzling to me. Also I really expected The Goldfinch to be on there — ah well, what do I know?

  12. lizzysiddal

    Feeling a bit meh myself and am really busy during August. So I’m waiting to see if the shortlist comes with a little more seasoning.

    • lizzysiddal

      Just wondering – given the lethargy of the bloggers I read, I wonder if the Man Booker has won the American audience at the cost of the British?

  13. The two I want to read anyway are Hustvedt and Karen Joy Fowler. Not bothered about the rest really (although intrigued by the Kingsnorth and Nicholls). With 5 not being published officially until September – that makes a mockery of the rule you quote, and totally lessens the interest for the general public – we can’t have an opinion on something that isn’t published yet. A lot has been made of the relative abundance of Americans and dearth of Commonwealth authors on the list, but it depends on what the publishers submit (+what the judges call in) – I hope to see a balancing next year. The booker is now just too wide – hurrah for the more niche prizes.

  14. I’m another one who feels cheated by the lack of cultural diversity. Only one Commonwealth writer out of thirteen is a pretty poor showing. That change in the rules could be a very costly error for the Booker since I’ve now encountered many many people commenting on how unexciting the list is this year. So frustrating too that so many are not even published yet, methinks this is a marketing ploy by the publishers of those books to get more advance sales.

  15. Cynthia

    I’m 50 pages into the Williams book and am so loving the humour of it. Each sentence is to be savoured, so much so that I’m forcing myself to read it slowly in order to get the most out of it. Perhaps the fact that I’m Irish-born helps me appreciate it but i do feel you’re missing a real treat with this one…

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