Man Booker finalists that “zip along”

September 8, 2011

Several days ago, I researched the 13 novels longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize. I made note of the ones I would read if they made it onto the shortlist, with the stipulation they had to be published in the U.S. Among my selections, two made it onto the shortlist, announced this week: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes and Snowdrops by A. D. Miller.

A majority are betting Julian Barnes will win the esteemed prize; however, surprises have already begun, with debut novelists on the short roster (Stephan Kellman and A.D. Miller) and talented author/previous Man Booker winner Alan Hollinghurst ousted. The most interesting surprise, though, is the premise for the judges’ selections for the shortlist. From The Periscope Post of the United Kingdom:

“The judges have caused controversy by claiming that they were prizing readability over any other quality. [Dame Stella] Rimington said, ‘We want people to buy these books and read them, not buy them and admire them,’ on The Guardian, whilst The New Yorker’s Book Bench quoted Chris Mullin: ‘Other people said to me when they heard I was in the judging panel, “I hope you pick something readable this year.” That was such a big factor, it had to zip along.’”

Below are the six finalists the Man Booker judges deem zippy.  Decide for yourself. I might caution you about Pigeon English, which indeed zips along but lacks resonance for U.S. readers. (Here’s why.) I’ve noted U.S. availability and link to the Man Booker synopsis of each novel. The winner will be announced Tuesday, October 18.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Small (less than 200 pages) novel about one man coming to terms with the mutable past. Scheduled for U.S. publication in October.

Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
About a young boy on a sea adventure that involves a fabled dragon. Available now.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt 
A classic western set in 1850s Oregon and California, darkly comic. Available now.

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
Set in 1940s Paris after the German occupation and 50 years later, focusing on the disappearance of an African American musician. Not scheduled (at this point) for publication in the U.S.

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
Told from the viewpoint of eleven-year-old Harrison Opoku, newly arrived from Ghana and living in the London projects. Available now.

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller
A psychological drama that takes place in present day Moscow. Available now.

The longlisted books I selected for my “want to read” selections that didn’t make the shortlist are Far to Go by Alison Pick, A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards and A Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst.

The Man Booker is Britain’s most prestigious book award given annually for new literary fiction. Its goal is to reward the best novel of the year written by a citizen of the British Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland.

Update July 23, 2012: links that broke due to the new design of the Man Booker website have been fixed.

One Response to “Man Booker finalists that “zip along””

  1. Bill Says:

    The Sisters Brothers

    Worthy or zippy? Quick and dirty: It’s like a Coen brothers version of the hit men scenes in Pulp Fiction with a little bit of Dumb and Dumber thrown in.

    I looked at your review of deWitt’s previous book. It sounds like The Sisters Brothers is a similar book in a different setting. The book is well written, but deWitt has an eye for depravity, squalor, and gore. It goes beyond adding weirdly fascinating incidents to the novel. It takes over.

    What is the point? I think deWitt is saying that there is, and always has been, more vileness around than people care to admit. The interesting thing is how people move through it or get past it.

    There is a problem with that when it comes to enjoying a book. People slow down to look at the nasty details of a traffic accident, but that only lasts so long. It’s different when it’s unrelenting. Everyone knows someone they consider to be totally obnoxious. The usual reaction is to avoid them and move back. I guess you could try to study them more closely and seek their inner truth, but who does that?

    It’s not a good feeling being negative toward something an author has poured a huge amount of talent and effort into. As a book critic, I imagine you’ve delt with that same feeling at times.


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