10 September 2012

Man Booker 2012 Predictions

Tomorrow the shortlist for the 2012 Man Booker Prize will be announced. The longlist was announced on 25th July and I was slow getting started as we were away on holiday. I have read four of them, will have finished another by tonight and waded through about a quarter of one that I struggled with.

The four I have read are The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman, Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, The Lighthouse by Alison Moore and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. I will finish The Yips by Nicola Barker tonight and I started Umbrella by Will Self. So far my two favourites are Mantel and Beauman, although Moore is close behind. I just reviewed the Mantel on the blog but as I am behind on my reviews, the others haven't been tackled yet. My two favourites are very different; Bring up the Bodies is a complex, historical epic whereas The Teleportation Accident is funny and audacious. However I found both of them to be massively accomplished and very successful in what they set out to do. I was already a big fan of Mantel and Bring up the Bodies more than continues her legacy. Beauman was a new discovery, it was the book on the longlist that most appealed to me initially and I just loved it - it was so enjoyable to read whilst also having enough substance to satisfy. Definitely reminiscent of The Sisters Brothers in tone, which was my favourite from last year's shortlist. I am confident Mantel will be on the shortlist and I wouldn't be surprised to see her win again (she won in 2009 for Wolf Hall). On the other hand I would be pleasantly surprised if Beauman managed to get onto the shortlist, I worry it's too much fun for Booker. But you never know quite what their criteria are each year and they generally like the shortlist to be varied.

I run a Man Booker shadowing group at my school which starts on Wednesday with staff and sixth formers so my opinions are always some mid-point between my own personal tastes and wanting the shadowing to be successful. Which is one of the main reasons I would also like to see Joyce make it onto the shortlist. I really did like this although personally I'm not sure it is unique enough to be really wonderful. However, I think my sixth formers would really respond well to it and as many of them this year don't read much modern fiction at all, if any, I want there to be at least some that are accessible as I'm worried some of them might be a bit much for unconfident readers.

Speaking of being a bit much, I really struggled with Umbrella. It is really hard work. I read roughly a quarter of it before moving on and I very rarely don't finish books, in fact I can't remember the last time I didn't finish a novel. If this is on the shortlist I will end up persevering and in fact even if it isn't I may well continue at some point as I don't really like leaving unfinished books and some of the reviews I read said that it comes together well at the end. I really did feel that it was just trying too hard, whilst there were some wonderful phrases, on the whole it is just so pretentious. I was reading some of the sentences out loud to my husband and we found it entertaining how tortuous and ridiculous they were. I'm all for challenging reads and in fact I love reading things that require some effort but I didn't feel like I was getting anything back for all my effort on this one. Sometimes things can be said far more powerfully if they are simple, something being clever doesn't make it good. It does have a lovely cover though.

Then there's The Lighthouse which I felt was in many ways the opposite of my feelings about Umbrella. The writing is simple but so powerful and effective. It was atmospheric and haunting (atmosphere was something severely lacking in Umbrella, I was concentrating so much on understanding it that it was a very clinical reading experience), The Lighthouse gets under your skin and is clever without bashing you over the head with it. Moore doesn't feel the need to try and impress with really long sentences full of words no-one uses, but instead impresses with carefully chosen words that suggest and probe and unnerve. It's very readable but there's plenty to discuss so it is perfect for our shadowing group, so for a multitude of reasons I really hope to see it on the shortlist.

Finally, The Yips, which I am about two thirds of the way through and hope to finish before the shortlist is announced. So far I am enjoying it, although not loving it, but I feel as though it's hit it's stride a bit more now as I have enjoyed the last 100 pages a great deal more than the beginning so hopefully it will continue on that trajectory and have a triumphant end.

There is a part of me that hopes the shortlist is the six books I have bought and read, just for my own personal satisfaction. I genuinely want to see Mantel, Beauman and Moore on the shortlist and would like Joyce there for my sixth formers. I think Barker will probably be there and I am happy with that. I worry about Beauman though, I will be disappointed if it doesn't get to the next stage and to a wider readership. Of course there are six novels I haven't read and I know next to nothing about them. I think that we will see at least Brink or Twan Eng to cover the foreign, racism is bad angle, probably Brink. Levy and Thompson haven't been getting great reviews so I doubt we will see them. I hope that Beauman pushes ahead of Frayn to get the comedy spot (although I haven't read Skios, but Frayn's interviews on the Man Booker website are intensely irritating so I don't think I share his sense of humour and the cover is awful). That just leaves Thayil's Narcopolis as a bit of a wild card, I haven't seen many reviews, I don't really know what the tone of it is and I don't know much about Thayil as an author so who knows with that one.

I'll post the shortlist tomorrow when it is announced and reviews of the books over the next five weeks before the winner is announced on 16th October as well as some updates about our shadowing group.

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