Although I have been following several major literary awards for the past few years, I have never written a blog post specifically outlining my predictions for the Man Booker Prize… until now. Famously dubbed “posh bingo” by 2011 winner Julian Barnes, predicting which 12 or 13 titles will be on the longlist has always been notoriously difficult. Until 2014, the Prize was previously only open to authors from Commonwealth countries but the eligibility criteria have since been extended to allow any work of fiction written in English and published in the United Kingdom to be entered for the Prize. This only makes the annual guessing game even more challenging.
The main reason why I have been reluctant to write prediction blog posts is that even though I read a fair number of newly published novels, it is always going to be a minuscule amount given that tens of thousands of potentially eligible books are published each year in the UK. Instead, I think of predictions more in terms of possibilities and preferences. In other words, there are books I think are likely or unlikely to make the longlist as well as books I think are deserving or less deserving. These concepts often overlap and also depend on whether or not I’ve read the book yet (or even want to) or if I’m already familiar with an established author’s previous novels.
Ahead of the longlist announcement on Wednesday 27th July at 12pm BST, I have been compiling my own list of possibilities and preferences based on eight books I have already read and eight books I haven’t. I think the majority of the eligible books I have read are possibilities although I’m not sure if all of them are necessarily my preferences.
The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes – Barnes won the prize in 2011 for The Sense of an Ending and his latest novella which is a fictionalised account of the life of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich is an atmospheric portrait of an intriguing character.
The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry – Perry’s second novel has been a critical and commercial success since its release in the UK last month. An excellent homage to Victorian sensation novels, it strikes a perfect balance between the modern and the classic.
The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver – the lengthy lectures about economics can be a bit wearing but Shriver’s observations about family dynamics are as sharp as ever in her satire set in near-future America.
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh – probably not to everybody’s taste so more of a preference than a possibility but I thought this gripping account of a young woman’s self-loathing and obsession with her work colleague was very effective and genuinely creepy.
The Girls by Emma Cline – the debut novel everyone is talking about loosely based on the Manson family. ‘The Girls’ hasn’t won everyone over but the judges may conclude that it deserves a place on the longlist based on the strength of Cline’s prose.
The Reflection by Hugo Wilcken – this is one of the most atmospheric novels I’ve read in recent months. It tells the story of a paranoid psychiatrist and deserves a much wider audience.
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout – I read Strout’s novella recently but haven’t written a full review. Longlisted for the Baileys Prize earlier this year, it follows the eponymous character’s relationship with her mother. It didn’t quite pack the emotional punch I had hoped for but it has received strong reviews and could well be a contender.
Beatlebone by Kevin Barry – another short novel I haven’t reviewed, this is a mind-bending, fictionalised account of John Lennon’s attempt to visit a tiny windswept island he owns off the west coast of Ireland in 1978. It could well be popular among fans of surrealist prose which often reads more like poetry although it was a bit too offbeat for my personal taste.
There are many other books which I am looking forward to reading regardless of whether ornot they are longlisted and are among my preferences while there are others I have been putting off for a while and tend to be stronger possibilities.
The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss – I have yet to read Sarah Moss’ latest novel which tackles marriage, academia and the NHS amongst other things. Having enjoyed four of her previous books, I very much hope she is longlisted for some major prizes this year.
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien – another novel recently published by Granta, I picked up a proof copy of ‘Do Not Say We Have Nothing’ in an Oxfam shop earlier this week. Her third novel tells the story of a woman who has fled China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests.
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley – Hawley is the creator, producer and writer of the TV series ‘Fargo’ and has also written five novels, the most recent of which is about the aftermath of a plane crash. I very much hope Hawley’s plotting and characterisation is just as good on the page as it is on the screen.
This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell – I have read and enjoyed O’Farrell’s six previous novels and there could be room on the longlist for her seventh which has received unanimously strong reviews.
Purity by Jonathan Franzen – I have mixed feelings about Franzen’s writing which can be simultaneously extremely clever yet also infuriatingly pretentious. I enjoyed ‘Freedom’ but struggled with ‘The Corrections’ and haven’t been in a rush to read his latest book but might get round to it when it comes out in paperback. ‘Purity’ is the first novel Franzen has published since changes were made to the eligibility criteria and it will be interesting to see if this year’s judges have an appetite for Big Fat American novels which are often popular choices amongst critics. EDIT: I found out after I posted this that ‘Purity’ was eligible for the Man Booker Prize in 2015 not 2016 – apologies!
Novels published between 1st October 2015 and 30th September 2016 will be eligible for this year’s Prize. This means that a number of books which haven’t been released yet could appear on the longlist too. One of the biggest titles to watch out for this summer is Nutshell by Ian McEwan. His latest book has been described as “a classic tale of murder and deceit” and could well be his seventh longlisted novel. McEwan won the Booker Prize in 1998 for ‘Amsterdam’ and was last shortlisted in 2007 for ‘In Chesil Beach’.
Elsewhere, The Lauras by Sara Taylor about Alex and her child going on a pilgrimage across the United States to places where she spent her youth is both a possibility and a preference. I really enjoyed Taylor’s debut novel The Shore last year and I have high hopes for her new book out in August. Finally, Commonwealth by Ann Patchett set in 1960s Los Angeles and 1980s Chicago has also been tipped for big awards.
I have no way of knowing if any of these books have even been submitted or called in for consideration. My choices are also biased towards authors who have attracted widespread attention already and I think the proportion of debut novels and books published by small independents will also be higher. Therefore, my only truly solid prediction is that this year’s judges will once again proclaim the longlist to be “the most eclectic and diverse ever”.
Which books do you think are most likely to appear on the Man Booker Prize longlist and which books are among your preferences?