19th September 2013

Taking on the Man Booker Prize

Esmé Clifford Astbury considers this year’s Booker Prize shortlist and invites readers to take a stab at predicting the winner

It is Man Booker Prize time again! The longlist has been read and culled, and now we are down to the last six. You really have to be a fan to come back to this prize year after year. But it is a lot of fun, and this year the shortlist is less contentious than in previous years. Last year we had the debate about double winners: Hilary Mantel won for the second time with Bring Up the Bodies, the second part of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, having had her first success in 2009 with Wolf Hall. Previous debates have included whether the shortlist was ‘literary’ enough or ‘diverse’ enough.

The 2013 shortlist seems to have scored all round. It is without a doubt the most diverse that we have seen in years. Robert Macfarlane, the chair of the judges this year, said that the shortlist “is most instantly striking for its global range” and that it “shows the English language novel to be a form of world literature.”

The shortlist includes only one English writer, Jim Crace, for Harvest. He is joined by a Zimbabwean, NoViolet Bulawayo, for We Need New Names, an Anglo-Indian American, Jhumpa Lahiri, for The Lowland, a New Zealander, Eleanor Catton, for The Luminaries, a Canadian-Japanese American, Ruth Ozeki, for A Tale for the Time Being, and an Irishman, Colm Tóibín, for The Testament of Mary.

The Booker Prize is a Commonwealth prize and all the novels on the shortlist are in English. As Fintan O’Toole pointed out in a recent piece in The Observer, we used to believe that “subject peoples could never throw off the yoke of empire unless they abandoned the language of the imperial oppressor”.  But here we have the English language used in so many different and rich ways.

The diversity of the authors goes beyond their nationalities. While Crace, the oldest author on the list, is 67, Catton is only 28, making her the youngest ever shortlistee. While Tóibín is a prolific author with more than 15 titles to his name, The Luminaries is Catton’s second novel.

Macfarlane said: “These six superb works of fiction take us from gold-rush New Zealand to revolutionary Calcutta, from modern-day Japan to the Holy Land of the Gospels, and from Zimbabwe to the deep English countryside. World-spanning in their concerns, and ambitious in their techniques, they remind us of the possibilities and power of the novel as a form.”

Despite its diversity, there is a certain cohesiveness to the shortlist. “What connects them is connection,” said Macfarlane, “they are all about ways of connecting: technological, familial, emotional and in one case elemental.” “They are also inevitably about connections in reverse: loss, grief, separation, exile and dispossession,” he added.

We want to approach the Booker Prize in a new way this year at The Mancunion. We are looking for six intrepid book reviewers who will each take one of the shortlisted books and tell our readers why it should win the Man Booker Prize 2013. We will feature the reviews, run a poll to allow you to vote for your favourite and see how close Manchester students’ views are to the Booker judges’.  The winner will be announced on October 15 so we need to get these reviews in fast.

If you are interested in reviewing a book from the shortlist, please email us at [email protected]

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