This afternoon in London, the longlist for the Man Booker Prize — the most prestigious literary award in the British Commonwealth — was announced, with, refreshingly, some new names in the mix. The judges of the prize call it "surely the most diverse" field in the more than four decades of the Booker's existence.
Clearly sensitive to charges that it's insular and elitist, the Booker committee is trying to broaden its reach beyond the London old guard, with writers like Noviolet Bulawayo (Zimbabwe), Jhumpa Lahiri (who was born in London, is of Indian heritage and lives — where else? — in Brooklyn) and Tash Aw (Malaysia) replacing some of the standbys who made, in the past, the Booker seem to some like a hoary enterprise.
Seven different countries have writers on the list, and four of the longlisted nominees are first-time novelists: Bulawayo, Eleanor Catton, Eve Harris and Donal Ryan. The last debut novelist to win the Booker was Aravind Adiga, in 2008, for The White Tiger. The youngest of the nominees is Catton, of New Zealand, who is 28. The oldest is Crace, at 67.
Of the thirteen books on the longlist, only two are by authors who have been shortlisted in the past: Colm Tóibín, whose The Testament of Mary is up for this year's award, and Jim Crace, who said that Harvest — this year's nominee — is the last novel he will ever write. Another familiar name is Column McCann, whose TransAtlantic has not received as ecstatic reviews as 2009's Let The Great World Spin, which won the National Book Award. As the press announcement crows, "This year's judges, yet again, have shown themselves to be independent of fashion. Diverse doesn't quite do the longlist justice."
And there was diversity of theme, too, as the press statement from the Booker committee notes:
As Robert MacFarlane, the chair of judges, points out, the novels on the list “range from the traditional to the experimental, from the first century AD to the present day, from 100 pages to 1,000 and from Shanghai to Hendon.” Good luck with finding common themes there.
Here's the entire longlist: Five Star Billionaire, Tash Aw; We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo; The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton; Harvest, Jim Crace; The Marrying of Chani Kaufman, Eve Harris; The Kills, Richard House; The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri; Unexploded, Alison MacLeod; TransAtlantic, Colum McCann; Almost English, Charlotte Mendelson; A Tale for the Time Being, Ruth Ozeki; The Spinning Heart, Donal Ryan; The Testament of Mary, Colm Tóibín.
The shortlist will be announced on September 10th, with the winner crowned on October 15th. Last year, Hilary Mantel won for Bring Up the Bodies, her universally acclaimed sequel to Wolf Hall.
The Man Booker prize body used Twitter to post an image of the longlist on an easel outside Buckingham Palace, mimicking the official announcement of the birth of the royal baby on Monday. The tweet was later deleted.
Which brings us to reactions to the announcement from the literary twitterverse:
Jim Crace is apparently favourite for the Booker at 9/2. Early days. #manbooker— Telegraph Books (@TelegraphBooks) July 23, 2013
Flummoxed that Kate Atkinson isn't on the Booker longlist http://t.co/OFX6rFIruE— Lev Grossman (@leverus) July 23, 2013
What a diverse and intriguing Booker longlist. http://t.co/C8bOPq7Qwz— Sarah Weinman (@sarahw) July 23, 2013
Hang on -- you mean to tell me that Hilary Mantel didn't write ANY of the novels on this year's #Booker longlist? Slacker....— Ron Charles (@RonCharles) July 23, 2013