Let’s just get the opinion thing out right away: personally – and I say this as an American reader, really – I think opening up the Booker Prize to American authors cheapens and diminishes the award significantly. But let me back up.
Until this current year, these were the requirements for eligibility for the Man Booker Prize, established in 1969:
Any full-length novel written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland and published in the United Kingdom for the first time in the year of the prize. The novel must be an original work in English (not a translation) and must not be self-published.
Then, just before the announcement of the 2013 Booker, they switched things up (this is from a press release from the Booker Foundation chair, Jonathan Taylor):
…the Man Booker Prize is to expand eligibility for future prizes to include novels originally written in English and published in the UK, regardless of the nationality of the author.
Okay, I can sort of see the value in this – they’re trying to globalize this award that seemingly no one pays attention to outside of the UK and this website that you are currently browsing. But the United States has the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for American authors – was it really necessary to water down the soup from which the Booker committee ladles their winner? I happen to believe that there are more than enough broad-reaching novels written by writers falling under the Commonwealth umbrella to still make the Booker a viable UK-only award. But for the sake of acquiescence, I suppose, let’s see what the first expanded longlist looks like – announced on July 23:
Joshua Ferris – To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (American)
Richard Flanagan – The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Australian)
Karen Joy Fowler – We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (American)
Siri Hustvedt – The Blazing World (American)
Howard Jacobson – J (British)
Paul Kingsnorth – The Wake (British)
David Mitchell – The Bone Clocks (British)
Neel Mukherjee – The Lives of Others (British)
David Nicholls – Us (British)
Joseph O’Neill – The Dog (Irish/American)
Richard Powers – Orfeo (American)
Ali Smith – How to be Both (British)
Niall Williams – History of the Rain (Irish)
Now… ahem… we all know who I’m rooting for – and let’s be honest, this really has got to be Mitchell’s year. Which is what worries me. Five of his six books have now been nominated to the Booker longlist – and Number9Dream and Cloud Atlas made it to the shortlist. And, as you all know, The Bone Clocks truly is a masterpiece and should win easily. Easily! Looking at the rest of this list, none of the American authors feel like they’ll make the cut to the short, so was the change really necessary? Joshua Ferris? Really? In all fairness, I haven’t read this new book, but I did read Then We Came to the End (which was a sort-of funny, unusually narrated debut) and only half of The Unnamed, a story about a guy who literally can’t stop walking that felt to be wandering completely aimlessly. (Neither of which I thought were worthy of award consideration, to be honest.) Karen Joy Fowler’s book definitely sounds interesting, but c’mon, she also wrote The Jane Austen Book Club. Siri Hustvedt and Richard Powers seem like serious contenders, but I’m only basing that on assumptions. I’ve never read anything by Hustvedt, although I’ve often thought that a dinner party at her house with her husband, Paul Auster, would be the most terrifying, intimidating party possible. And I’ve been told to read Powers on many occasions (mainly by a friend who only reads novels with head injuries in them) but just haven’t managed it. But actually the biggest news for this longlist is actually an omission – and I’m not talking about the lack of Canadians: American Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, Catapult Notable novel, The Goldfinch is nowhere to be seen. Say what you want about Tartt’s work being less-than literary (see this Vanity Fair piece for a summary of the snooty bullshit) but all signs point to her inclusion on this first-ever “global” Booker Prize list. (Actually, if you are one of those obnoxious idiots claiming that Tartt is not literary, shut your stupid mouth – she should’ve been on this list.)
Honestly, the rest it is pretty solid, as far as I can tell. Flanagan, Jacobson, O’Neill, and Smith are all known as legit, literary writers with some backbone. Did the field need to be expanded to America? (I say “America” becuase that’s the only country represented outside the Commonwealth in this “global” list.) At first glance, definitely, absolutely not.
But this is one of those snobby, pretentious things to debate when your life isn’t threatened by Russian missiles, Ebola, or dudes tunneling under your walls or shooting rockets into your living room. Yes, I am complaining – publicly – about the rules and regulations for an arbitrary award (worth over $80k, by the by) given to someone who has written a book. Please punch me in the face.
The Booker shortlist will be announced on September 9 and the winner (aka: Mr. David Mitchell) on October 14. If you have any questions for a five-time Booker nominee, head on over to warwicks.com and get your ticket.