Lost dogs and enchantresses make for a strong Booker list, but where is Kelman?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Let's get the annual squall of outrage over first. Kieron Smith, Boy by James Kelman deserved at least a shortlist place in this year's Man Booker contest. Indeed, the beautifully observed, deeply affecting first-person portrait of a Glasgow childhood outshines Roddy Doyle's Dublin equivalent, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha – which won the prize in 1993.

No novelist in Britain – apart, that is, from Salman Rushdie – suffers more from snide and stupid caricatures of who he is and what he does than Kelman. Sadly, this oversight suggests that slanderous mud can stick even in strong minds. But maybe the spikily radical Scot was never going to make headway against a panel chaired by a Thatcher-era minister, Michael Portillo.

The "Booker dozen" of 13 titles delivers some good news as well. The judges have saluted the awesomely smart and agile writing of the Sri Lankan-born Australian, Michelle de Kretser, in The Lost Dog. They have registered how cleverly Amitav Ghosh merges colour, humour and adventure on the 19th-century high seas into the big historical picture in Sea of Poppies.

Later in the judging, though, its status as the first salvo in a trilogy might prove a problem. They have spotted the strength and subtlety behind Aravind Adiga's dissection of India's economic boom in The White Tiger. In the author's 82nd year, and 36 years after he won the Booker for G., they have have fallen under the hypnotic spell of John Berger's fable of war, plunder and resistance, From A to X.

Some of the choices almost made themselves. No fair-minded reader could deny the radiant panache, ingenuity and exuberance of Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence. In my Booker-judging experience, however, the quarrels over Rushdie only get going at this stage. Off-the-scale rave reviews may have helped Joseph O'Neill's Netherland book itself a place but perhaps the Irish-born writer's sumptuously elegiac novel of cricket in New York and the aftermath of 11 September peaked too soon. I sense that a backlash may be gathering force.

Some less predictable contenders merit a cheer. Modest in appearance, Linda Grant's The Clothes on their Backs quietly contains tumultuous stories of persecution, migration, social upheaval and moral compromise – much like its secretive characters. With his Stalin-era investigator in Child 44, Tom Rob Smith achieves what has so far eluded the Rankins and Jameses: a penultimate-round Booker run for an upscale detective novel. And, with Gaynor Arnold's Girl in a Blue Dress, her as-yet-unpublished novel rooted in Charles Dickens's miserable marriage, the Birmingham indie house Tindal Street Press confirms its magic touch - seen most recently in the multiple triumphs of Catherine O'Flynn's What Was Lost.

I will miss several other notable absentees from the later Booker heats. David Park's wise and moving novel of the search for reconciliation in post-Troubles Belfast, The Truth Commissioner, should have caught the judges' eye. As should, arguably, a formidable trio of Australian fictions: Helen Garner's The Spare Room; Alexis Wright's Carpentaria; Tim Winton's Breath. No matter: the critical dogs bark, and the Booker caravan moves on. Here is my selection for a plausible shortlist composed from the hand the judges have now dealt: personal preferences, not a tip sheet, so don't demand your money back.

The literary editor's choice

Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger (Atlantic)

Balram, the deeply unreliablenarrator of this blistering debut, recounts his ascent from the "darkness" of rural village lifeto the Delhi entrepreneurial class in letters that reveal his character, his fractured and feverish society, and the underside of India's shiny new elite.

John Berger, From A to X (Verso)

The veteran writer and critic's "story in letters" between two lovers in a time of war and conquest sets the small pleasures and enduring affections of a woman in a poor, besieged town against the might and money of the First World forces that threaten her community.

Linda Grant, The Clothes On Their Backs (Virago)

In late-1970s London, the style-hopping daughter of self-effacing Jewish immigrants from Hungary finally gets to know her larger-than-life uncle: a monster of sorts, a dauntless survivor, and a man whom savage history has driven into a change of soul rather than clothes.

Michelle de Kretser, The Lost Dog (Chatto & Windus)

In trendy downtown Melbourne and the bush beyond, a lonely Indian-born academic searches for his beloved dog, for his childhood in Asia and Australia, and for the secrets of a mysterious artist whose vision of mixed-up urban life matches his own fragile sense of self.

Joseph O'Neill, Netherland (Fourth Estate)

The death of a friend pitches a London-based Dutch banker back to a New York shaken to its core in the aftermath of 9/11, when cricket forged an improbable bond between outsiders who carry through their uprooted lives the quest for a home in a world of ever-shifting borders.



Salman Rushdie, The Enchantress of Florence (Cape)

An enigmatic stranger arrives in the 16th-century Mughal capital bringing tall tales of a family saga that unites Italy and India – stories that spiral back across Asia and Europe to the Florence of Machiavelli's time, and a princess whose lives, and loves, span continents.

The full list of contenders

Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger (Atlantic)

Gaynor Arnold, Girl in a Blue Dress (Tindal Street Press)

Sebastian Barry, The Secret Scripture (Faber and Faber)

John Berger, From A to X (Verso)

Michelle de Kretser, The Lost Dog (Chatto & Windus)

Amitav Ghosh, Sea of Poppies (John Murray)

Linda Grant, The Clothes on Their Backs (Virago)

Mohammed Hanif, A Case of Exploding Mangoes (Jonathan Cape)

Philip Hensher, The Northern Clemency (Fourth Estate)

Joseph O'Neill, Netherland (Fourth Estate)

Salman Rushdie, The Enchantress of Florence (Jonathan Cape)

Tom Rob Smith, Child 44 (Simon & Schuster)

Steve Toltz, A Fraction of the Whole (Hamish Hamilton)

Arts and Entertainment
'I do think a woman's place is eventually in the home, but I see no harm in her having some fun before she gets there.'

Is this the end of the Dowager Countess?tv
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith from The Office ten years on

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams prepares to enter the House of Black and White as Arya Stark in Game of Thrones season five

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Albert Hammond Junior of The Strokes performs at the Natural History Museum on July 6, 2006 in London, England.

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

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.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn