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.