This year’s Man Booker longlist is so diverse that a Benetton advertising executive would look upon it with envy. Authors come from as far afield as Malaysia, Canada, Ireland and Birmingham. Their books cover subjects from the nineteenth century New Zealand gold rush to the crucifixion of Jesus, and from the Naxalite rebellion in India to the high temple of fakery which is twenty-first century Shanghai. The shortest book chosen is 104 pages, the longest is just over 1000. The list includes historical fiction, contemporary experimentalism, and still finds room for a comic novel in the mix.
Inevitably, there will be good books which people will feel we have missed. Sometimes, it’s because they’re ineligible: when the list represents so much global talent, it’s easy to forget that American novelists aren’t included in this prize, but compete for the Man Booker International prize instead. Sometimes, for a variety of reasons, a publisher doesn’t submit a particular book. But most of the time, it’s because the five judges (which this year include me) simply preferred other books and longlist can’t hold more than thirteen titles. And, of course, there has to be some compromise, which means a book can be lost even if one or two judges love it.
This longlist features only a couple of household names: from a judging perspective, the emergence of some serious new talent is one of the best things about this year’s record-breaking number of submissions (and yes, I promise I read every one, cover to cover. It’s easy, so long as you give up your social life and don’t take a day off for seven months. And why would you agree to judge if you didn’t prefer reading books to having friends?).
We’ve found authors who are relatively new to us, and a few first-time novelists who are new, full-stop. Though it is always a pleasure to read another great book by a long-favoured author, I can’t pretend I’m not delighted to add in some new favourites this year. Even household names were new once.
As the longlist is released, we are are about to begin re-reading for September’s shortlist. I have no idea what will survive the next cull (from thirteen to six) and even less idea what will eventually win. But I do believe that there is a book or two on this longlist for everybody. So get reading, and I hope you have fun.