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Et voila, the shortlist

Et voila, the shortlist

The announcement of the Man Booker 2018 shortlist was celebrated on Thursday, 20 September with a party at the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion. This year's building, by the Mexican architect Frida Escobedo, has slatted sides which, on a blustery evening, gave added drama to the proceedings. The occasional table blowing over in the wind was perhaps the work of the spirits of those longlisted authors who didn't make the cut. It was though a joyous occasion and a chance for the hard-working judges to pause and reflect of what they have been through (and what they still have to do).


All of the judges were in attendance except for Val McDermid, who had a prior engagement. When not writing crime novels or judging the Man Booker Prize, she is the lead singer with a band formed entirely of crime novelists, the Fun Lovin' Crime Writers (sample playlist – Watching the Detectives, I Fought the Law (and the Law Won)), and unsurprisingly they couldn't gig without her on Thursday. Perhaps though she could corral her fellow judges into a band and belt out such classics as Paperback Writer and Wuthering Heights.


Whether the members of this supergroup would be as “easy” to work with (the chair of the judges Kwame Anthony Appiah's word) as they are in their capacity as judges is impossible to say. Val McDermid, Leo Robson, Leanne Shapton and Jacqueline Rose were, he said, a “collegiate and collaborative” bunch to pick over books with. Indeed they comprise what he described as “the best book club in the world”. As part of it he learned not just about the long- and shortlisted books but about “reading in general”. Since he confessed to finding the task of picking the shortlisted six “enormously challenging” he had better brace himself for the even more challenging task of selecting the best of that half dozen.


It is still too soon to judge properly how the names on the shortlist have gone down. As happens every year, early comments focus on one or two aspects of the list. This year it is Daisy Johnson's age (at 27 she is the youngest ever Man Booker shortlistee) and the omission of Sally Rooney's Normal People, which was widely believed to be a shoo-in, and Michael Ondaatje's Warlight (ditto).


Other nuggets that have proved newsworthy include Appiah's comments about the length of too many novels and the need for the “chastening pencil” of an editor: “We occasionally felt that inside the book we read was a better one – sometimes a thinner one – wildly signalling to be let out. There were times when we felt the editorial role could have been, shall we say, more energetically performed.” The Telegraph chose to highlight the low profile of the selected authors with the headline “The 2018 Man Booker shortlist is less Who’s Who and more Who’s That?” while the Financial Times lighted on the fact that there are four women on the shortlist and just two men: “Women writers dominate 2018 Man Booker Prize shortlist”. The New York Times picked up on Appiah's observation that “We live in dark times. Or, at least our novelists think we live in dark times” (“Man Booker Prize Shortlist Reflects Dark Times”). AFP meanwhile was struck by the inclusion of Robin Robertson's The Long Take: “A novel in verse makes shortlist for 2018 Man Booker Prize”. As more people read the books – journalists included – these headlines will become rather more nuanced.


However, before a consensus has had time to form there was nevertheless plenty of agreement with an opinion pithily expressed in the Guardian: whatever the omissions and inclusions, the shortlist is “hugely energising”.