The Book Catapult

David Mitchell, Snubbed Again

I arrived at work this morning to learn that David Mitchell’s novel The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet has been left off of the 2010 Man Booker Prize shortlist.  I must admit, I never considered this a possibility.  Mitchell seemed to be in line for, at the very least, another shortlist nod, if not that elusive win.  I remain flabbergasted.

After nominating 13 titles for the “longlist” every August, the panel trims things down to a final six in September – here is the 2010 shortlist:

Peter Carey – Parrot and Olivier in America
Emma Donoghue – Room
Damon Galgut – In a Strange Room
Howard Jacobson – The Finkler Question
Andrea Levy – The Long Song
Tom McCarthy – C

Now, I would never want to take anything away from the actual finalists (especially not having read any of them), but it is my firm belief that Mitchell’s novel belongs in their company.  I would not presume to demand that his novel be the winner of the Prize – that would be absurd, but I do think it was well-written enough to merit its inclusion in the final six.  My rational?  It made the longlist – as 4 of Mitchell’s previous 5 novels have – and was – almost universally – considered the favorite to win.  Is this a snub for the sake of popularity?  The other “favorite,” The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, was generating significant buzz (not to mention sales) and was also left off of the shortlist.  I assume that the decision of who makes the shortlist was made long ago, but how can we be sure it wasn’t made last night?

Strangely though, I saw no other articles this morning complaining about the Mitchell snub – am I alone in this?  Am I taking this personally?

Peter Carey is in line to become the first 3-time winner of the Booker – although, if I were him, I wouldn’t hold my breath.  This year’s chair of the Booker committee, Andrew Motion has said, in reference to Carey, that “it’s like being alive at the same time as Dickens.”  God, really?!  That seems like a mouthful.  Could this just be a kindness thrown Carey’s way before yanking that third Booker away from him?  I’m thinking that the smart money is on Emma Donoghue, but what the hell do I know?

One last thing: here’s the info from the Booker site on this year’s panel:

Chaired by Andrew Motion, former Poet Laureate; Rosie Blau, Literary Editor of the Financial Times; Deborah Bull, formerly a dancer, now Creative Director of the Royal Opera House as well as a writer and broadcaster; Tom Sutcliffe, journalist, broadcaster and author and Frances Wilson, biographer and critic.

Are these the most qualified people to decide which novel deserves the highest fiction award in the UK?  I have no idea, but a former dancer?  Really?

I hereby denounce the Booker Prize as a faded star, a former relevant prize now designated for the scrap heaps of literary awards.  By denying the fact that Mitchell’s book deserves placement among the top six novels of 2010 and by not having any novelists or legitimate book critics on the judging panel, they have proven that the Prize no longer has any relevance in the literary world at large.  I dismiss you, Booker, at least until you get it right.

So yes, I am taking it personally.

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2 comments on “David Mitchell, Snubbed Again

  1. Suzanne
    September 9, 2010

    Of the long-listed titles, I have only read The Long Song, and though I love Andrea Levy's other novels, this one didn't do much for me; I was frankly surprised to see it on the shortlist. But really, any selection is subjective; if Peter Carey's book was left off the shortlist there would be an uproar from his admirers.

    I agree with you that there should be more of a literary presence on the judging panel, but if nothing else I think that the Booker prize and others like it offer publicity to worthy books (long- and short-listed) that some readers (especially those of us in the United States) might not be aware of.

  2. Seth Marko
    September 10, 2010

    I hear you, Suzanne – I know the selections are completely subjective, but the general consensus seemed to be that Mitchell would at least end up on the shortlist. That's what's so surprising. True, there may be some diehard Peter Carey readers out there who would be unsatisfied with his mere 2 Booker Prizes, but it is generally agreed that Mitchell is one of the more innovative and talented young authors working in the world today and he deserves to be recognized for that. The fact that he has been on the Booker longlist for 4 of his 5 novels (and shortlisted for 2 of them) tells me that he is doing something to get the attention of the Booker panels…but not quite enough? Maybe if he were creating weird, indecipherable fiction like Tom McCarthy?

    Honestly, if he had won for Cloud Atlas back in 2004 as he should have, we wouldn't even be having this conversation!

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This entry was posted on September 7, 2010 by in Booker Prize, David Mitchell.
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