A 'Between The Covers' Special
Your guide to what's really going on inside the world of the Man booker longlist
Sunday 31 July 2011
*There were several notable omissions from this year's Man Booker longlist, and rest assured the authors are bitter. One of those who could reasonably have expected to be chosen has been telling friends how unhappy he is about the decision. Good advice has been forthcoming, particularly from one writer who was herself shortlisted for just about every prize but the Booker last year. "I felt the same," she apparently responded. "Play Cee Lo Green 'Fuck You!' very loudly."
*One of those who might have expected to see his name on the longlist is our talented colleague Philip Hensher, whose last novel, The Northern Clemency, was shortlisted in 2008, but whose latest, King of the Badgers, has been overlooked by this year's judges. The latter was reviewed in this paper by our fine columnist DJ Taylor, who coincidentally does have a book (Derby Day) on this year's longlist, and who wrote of Hensher's book: "As ever, one is struck, and seduced, by a coruscating intelligence ..." If the Man Booker judges do not like Hensher's book, then at least he can content himself with the knowledge that the feeling is mutual. In 2004, Hensher wrote a review of At Risk, by Stella Rimington, who is the chair of this year's judges. He called it "quite a reasonable book of a fairly standard variety", but did mention yawning and eventually giving up. Ouch.
*The atmosphere in the judging chamber can be heated, but surely the judges are more in agreement than are the bookies, who cannot agree on whether Alan Hollinghurst is the favourite to win at 5/1, or DJ Taylor is the top pick at 4/1. Not to worry, though – only one favourite has won in the past 10 years.
*The mathematician Rob Eastaway should follow up his popular How Long Is a Piece of String? with a book called How Many Pages Are There in a Novel? – because that is the question of the week. At 150 pages, the longlisted The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (below) is promoted as a novel by its publisher, but has been called a novella in early reviews. This is important, because the rules make clear that only "full-length novels" are eligible. This last caused problems in 2007, when Ian McEwan's 163-page On Chesil Beach was shortlisted. However, this was by no means the shortest Booker contender. Peter Straus, the prize's honorary archivist, was keen to clarify this point at the time. He pointed out that McEwan's The Comfort of Strangers (shortlisted in 1981) contained 125 pages of actual text, and Amsterdam (which won in 1998) had 175 pages. These were both longer than Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald (which won in 1979 and had 132 pages of text), JL Carr's A Month in the Country (shortlisted in 1980, 111 pages) and John Fuller's Flying to Nowhere (shortlisted 1983, 82 pages).
*If Barnes doesn't win, he won't be offended, if we can judge by his 1987 diary in the London Review of Books which called the prize a "painful experience", and likened the judging process to bingo. He also scoffed at the bookies, whose odds "have got a great deal meaner since the days when some of us cleaned up on Salman Rushdie at 14-1". In the spirit of which, we'd recommend taking a punt on the outsider, Jane Rogers's wonderful The Testament of Jessie Lamb at 16-1, which was reviewed and praised by only one national newspaper – this one.
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