What happened to America's invasion of Man Booker? Arifa Akbar, Week in Books

 

So the American’s aren’t coming, despite the column inches of worry that they would descend like a Viking horde and commandeer our prize after Man Booker opened its doors to international writers (beyond its Commonwealth scope). Well, four are coming, I suppose: Siri Hustvedt, Karen Joy Fowler, Joshua Ferris, Richard Powers. Or four and a half  if you count Joseph O’Neill (who is Irish/American).

The fear of a takeover was premature. Perhaps this week’s longlist helps us to recognise that American writers aren’t like a McDonald’s franchise: cheap, tasteless, and ubiquitous. That this is the first year the Americans have been allowed in seems neither here nor there – perhaps deliberately so on the part of the jury. Most of the stateside writers have been writing for decades and have earned their place in any literary firmament.

The surprises here are, well, more surprising. Out of 13, just three are women. At least one author – David Nicholls (for Us) but also Fowler (for We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves) – has mainstream ‘pop’ appeal, something of a rarity for an award that defines itself as unabashedly literary. It casts itself, in JM Coetzee’s words (which are placed on top of the longlist press release): “The ultimate prize to win in the English speaking world”. Some might contest Coetzee’s quote, but few could argue with the fact that it is a bold move to include a bestselling author like Nicholls, whose last book, One Day, was made into a Hollywood romance. Us is also a love story, of sorts, though a middle-aged, married-life one.

For Nicholls to be on a longlist for a prize that has, at least in the past, been self-consciously highbrow is a surprise indeed, especially in the wake of the disastrous year when Stella Rimington’s jury was accused of “dumbing down” by shortlisting lightweights.

Another surprise is that, ironically, in the year that Man Booker has gone global, its longlist is led by a – comparatively –non-global selection. Apart from the  few Americans, there is one Australian (Richard Flanagan) and one more Irish writer (Niall Williams). Is this the jury’s reaction, even an unconscious one, against all our talk of foreign invasion? In previous years, we have seen rich pickings from India, South Africa, the Caribbean, Canada. Prize chair, AC Grayling, would doubtlessly deny any agenda setting. Perhaps it is all a coincidence and commentators contrive to make much of “patterns” that are entirely unpremeditated.

Yet even if its authors are largely white Westerners, their storytelling takes us around the world. Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others is a rich family drama set in West Bengal; O’Neill’s is a tale of alienation in Dubai, Flanagan’s in a PoW camp in Thailand. Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake, also features a foreign land, of a kind. Published by Unbound (an innovative publishing concept in its own right) it offers a parable on resistance to foreign invasion. Set in 11th-century Lincolnshire, it is written in creative period language and brings to life the narrator’s trauma over the Norman invasion. In his lost England lies our own fearful – perhaps too fearful? – glance back at a world and a language that is first accosted, and then transformed, by the ingenga (foreigners).

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory