Books: Long overdue

The huge IMPAC literary prize is the only major award where librarians get a vote. Vanessa Thorpe examines the shortlist

THE librarian's annual hour of glory is nigh. On Thursday 12 the shortlist for the world's most valuable book award was announced and, following the unusual practice established by the first IMPAC prize in 1996, the finalists have all been plucked from a list drawn up by librarians in 39 different countries - welcome recognition for the least commercial and least feted section of the book industry.

From Chile to Fiji, from Iceland to Namibia, the organisers of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award relied upon chief librarians in 96 cities to produce a wide-ranging long list, including such names as Alan Garner (for Strandloper, published by Harvill), Doris Lessing (Love, Again, Flamingo) Roddy Doyle ( The Woman who Walked into Doors, Cape), Meera Syal (Anita and Me, Flamingo), John Lanchester (The Debt to Pleasure, Picador), and Patricia Duncker (Hallucinating Foucault, Serpent's Tail).

To qualify for the pounds IR100,000 prize, novels had to be available in English- language versions and to have been published between January 1 and December 31, 1996. An international panel of judges, which included the Irish poet Paul Muldoon, under the chairmanship of the American historian Allen Weinstein, selected the 10 authors who now contend for this very big cheque. The announcement will be made on 18 May.

The shortlist for 1998 turns out to be an invigorating mixture of newcomers and established talents. Canadians Margaret Atwood and Guy Vanderhaeghe are in with their novels Alias Grace (Virago pounds 6.99) and The Englishman's Boy (Anchor pounds 6.99). South African Andre Brink got through with his Imaginings of Sand (Vintage pounds 7.99), while Britain is represented by Graham Swift's Last Orders (Picador pounds 5.99) and Lawrence Norfolk's The Pope's Rhinoceros (Vintage pounds 7.99). Guyanan David Dabydeen's novel The Counting House (Vintage pounds 5.99) made the grade, as did The Glade Within the Grove (Fourth Estate pounds 7.99) by the popular Australian writer David Foster. American writer Jamaica Kincaid won a place with her novel Autobiography of my Mother (Vintage pounds 8.99) and the Trinidadian Earl Lovelace is nominated for Salt (Faber pounds 6.99). The least familiar of the judges' choices is probably a book called The Land of Green Plums by Romanian writer Herta Muller.

In spite of the proliferation of literary prizes, and the embarrassing size of some of the purses, the IMPAC prize is still a refreshing influence, according to Gillian Beer, the Cambridge academic who chaired the panel of judges for the last Booker prize. "I do think asking librarians is a good idea, although their choices are likely to be influenced in favour of a writer who already has a substantial body of work behind them. Each prize has a quite different meaning. With the Booker you are not supposed to take anything written previously into account, while the Whitbread looks at a much wider cross-section of work. And then of course the Orange prize for women writers has another turn to it entirely."

Good judges, opines Beer, are "neophytes with no group memory", and she believes narrative energy is the most important factor in a winning book.

But whoever scoops the prize on May 18, the shortlist itself already marks three considerable literary triumphs. First it is a 15 gun salute to Margaret Atwood, or rather a 15 library salute, because Alias Grace was chosen by far more establishments than any other title on the long list. Her story, which is based on the life of the notorious murderess Grace Marks in 1840s Canada, is a sinister tangle of cruelty, sexuality and mystery. It was selected by librarians in Durban, Oslo, Kansas and Hobart among many others, though the number of nominations secured by an individual title was not something taken into consideration by the judges.

This year's shortlist is also an undoubted triumph for Caribbean literature. Salt, by Earl Lovelace, was nominated by Kingston library in Jamaica. Like the other two Caribbean novels on the list, it explores the clashing and mashing of old and new cultures. Jamaica Kincaid now lives in America, but her book Autobiography of my Mother is a melancholy love story set on the island of Dominica and told with a kind of magical realism, through the narrative voice of a 70-year-old woman. David Dabydeen from Guyana now lives in England. His novel The Counting House is set in British Guiana in the 19th century, at the height of the British Empire. On the strength of this novel alone many critics see Dabydeen as the foremost of the new generation of Caribbean novelists.

More surprising, in the light of the prize's Dublin base, the presence of Muldoon as judge, and such contenders as Doyle, Edna O'Brien (Down by the River, Phoenix) and Colm Toibin (The Story of the Night, Picador) on the long list, is the absence of shortlisted Irish writers.

Only one of the finalists' books was originally written in another language and it is the only book which is not yet available in this country. A Romanian story of totalitarian horrors, The Land of Green Plums was written by Herta Muller (Henry Holt & Co) and takes place during Ceausescu's reign of terror. Muller was born in Romania in 1953 and after refusing to cooperate with the Securitate, she lost her job as a teacher and suffered repeated threats before she eventually managed to emigrate 10 years ago. She now lives in Berlin and has already won Germany's most prestigious literary award, the Kleist prize. If Muller's novel wins this most international and lucrative of awards, pounds 75,000 of the prize money will be awarded to the author and pounds 25,000 will go to her translator, Michael Hofmann.

Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue