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The Man Booker Prize longlist

The Man Booker Prize longlist

You Belinda Bauer (UK), Snap (Bantam Press)

Anna Burns (UK), Milkman (Faber & Faber)

Nick Drnaso (USA), Sabrina (Granta Books)

Esi Edugyan (Canada), Washington Black (Serpent’s Tail)

Guy Gunaratne (UK), In Our Mad and Furious City (Tinder Press)

Daisy Johnson (UK), Everything Under (Jonathan Cape)

Rachel Kushner (USA), The Mars Room (Jonathan Cape)

Sophie Mackintosh (Wales, UK), The Water Cure (Hamish Hamilton)

Michael Ondaatje (Canada), Warlight (Jonathan Cape)

Richard Powers (USA), The Overstory (Willian Heinemann)

Robin Robertson (Scotland, UK), The Long Take (Picador)

Sally Rooney (Ireland), Normal People (Faber & Faber)

Donal Ryan (Ireland), From a Low and Quiet Sea (Doubleday Ireland)

 

Who could have seen this coming? The 2018 Man Booker longlist is the most unexpected in ages. In a year stuffed with submissions from former Man Booker winners and shortlistees it contains just one previous winner – Michael Ondaatje, joint winner (with Barry Unsworth) of the 1992 prize with The English Patient (the book that was recently-announced as the winner of the Golden Man Booker Prize), one shortlistee – Esi Edugyan (shortlisted for Half-Blood Blues in 2011), and three longlistees – Donal Ryan (The Spinning Heart in 2013) and Anna Burns (2001 with No Bones) Richard Powers (2014 for Orfeo).

 

There are some recognisable names on the list: Robin Robertson, for example, best-known as a poet; Richard Powers, long one of American fiction's big guns; Sally Rooney and Rachel Kushner. . . but more that come as a surprise. Belinda Bauer, Anna Burns, Nick Drnaso, Guy Gunaratne, Daisy Johnson and Sophie Mackintosh are all newbies who are about to find out what exposure to the prize brings.

 

To get a measure of the achievement of the 13 longlisted writers – the Man Booker Dozen – it is worth looking at just some of the established names who didn't make the cut. Four former winners were eligible with new works – Pat Barker, Peter Carey, Alan Hollinghurst and Julian Barnes – as were multiple shortlistees such as Anne Tyler, Aminatta Forna, Jim Crace, Rachel Cusk and Ali Smith, as well as such lauded figures as Andrew Miller, Kate Atkinson, and Madeline Miller – all serial prize-winners. While these writers may have won the admiration of the judging panel comprising Kwame Anthony Appiah, Val McDermid, Leo Robson, Jacqueline Rose and Leanne Shapton, they weren't thought strong enough to make the list.

 

Among the longlist's many surprises is the inclusion of a crime novel, Belinda Bauer's Snap. Crime is not a common feature on most “literary” awards but Bauer is a former winner of the genre's Man Booker equivalent, the Gold Dagger Award, and innumerable other gongs. Her inclusion shows just how artificial are the boundaries between genres: good writers are good writers regardless. Or good drawers and story-tellers. . .  Nick Drnaso's Sabrina is the book that will raise eyebrows to their highest point since this story which traces the effect on those who knew her of a missing woman, is a graphic novel – another MB first.

 

The short-story writer Sophie Mackintosh meanwhile makes the list with her debut novel, The Water Cure, which mixes sisters and sci-fi and has drawn comparisons with Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.  Guy Gunaratne's In Our Mad and Furious City is another debut from someone who has also worked as a video artist, documentary filmmaker and co-founded two tech companies. Add in the slightly more known qualities of Ondaatje, Powers, Ryan and Kushner and the longlist becomes an extraordinarily varied and unpredictable mix.

 

The geography of a Man Booker longlist always draws attention, so it is worth noting that after two years of strong American representation the UK holds the greatest number of nominations this time with six, then the US with three, and two each for Canada and Ireland. The subcontinent's lean run continues. Again, after several years where small presses have come to prominence, this year sees only three independents (Serpent's Tail, Granta and Tinder Press) with the lion's share going to the bigger publishing houses: Jonathan Cape bags three nominations while Faber & Faber gets a brace.

 

Age is always a factor of influence too: at one end of the scale are Sally Rooney at 27, Daisy Johnson at 28, Nick Drnaso at 29 and Sophie Mackintosh at 30 while Richard Powers is 61, Robin Robertson is 63 and Michael Ondaatje is 74.

 

And of course the themes of the books show just as broad and eclectic a range, from Rachel Kushner's evocation of a Californian women's correctional facility and Esi Edugyan's story of an 11-year-old slave in Barbados and his eccentric new master to Richard Powers's tale of American migration and trees and Belinda Bauer's taut and poignant story of three children whose mother goes missing while they are all out in a car.

 

The sweeping and the focused, the delicate and the brutal, life and death, war and peace. . . there is no such thing as a common theme here just as this startlingly surprising list demonstrates definitively that there's no such thing as a “Man Booker book”.