Big guns and bridesmaids: the Booker longlist

25/07/2011 by Simon Savidge

With only one previous winner, Alan Hollinghurst, on this year's Man Booker longlist there is an element of surprise, especially in a year where so many of the big guns (Anne Enright, Michael Ondaatje, Aravind Adiga, Amitav Ghosh) have missed out.

There are some Booker "bridesmaids" in the mix too, with previously shortlisted Sebastian Barry and Julian Barnes as well as Carol Birch, who was longlisted in 2003. Could one of these be the blushing Booker winner this year?

It's also a promising year for the "authors people didn't expect": Patrick deWitt, Yvvette Edwards, Alison Pick and Esi Edugyan weren't four names that were really bandied about in the lead-up to the announcement. All of these novels look rather exciting and are interestingly the ones that I now want to get my hands on first – they feel like uncharted waters, which nicely leads me to the fact that it's a very eclectic list in terms of the tales being told. A.D. Miller's Snowdrops is a gripping Russian-set thriller, Carol Birch's Jamrach's Menagerie is a wonderful Victorian adventure, Alan Hollinghurst's novel is a multi-generational epic of British history and Stephen Kelman's a modern tale of child gangs and gun crime in London. There is a huge amount of scope in just those four books. 

The only slight thing lacking seems to be the mixture of Commonwealth countries shown in the list with a high percentage of authors coming from the UK. But then there is always something to talk about – maybe it's time to gloss over the male vs. female author statistics too (five female, eight male). Back to the positives though, and the biggest one of all…

What is most exciting is not only the fact that almost a quarter of the titles are debut novels with Stephen Kelman, A.D. Miller, Yvvette Edwards and Patrick McGuinness all being longlisted for their first novels - this is a continuation of a trend which was previously shown in the level of debuts in the Orange Prize lists earlier this year.

The prize also shows an almost landslide victory for independent publishers with nine out of the 13 titles not coming from the big publishing houses. This seems to be giving a very positive message about the state of fiction today and one that seems to fly in the face of the doubters who believe that the publishing industry is dying - so much new talent, along with independent publishers, seems to be flourishing – at least as far as the awards are concerned.

 

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