Some might consider it curmudgeonly to reflect on the novels left off the Man Booker prize long list, which was announced yesterday, rather than commend the 13 authors who made the final cut.
But others – arguably much of the literary world – will find it impossible not to mention the glaring omission of Ian McEwan's novel Solaris, considered by many in the industry to be the publishing event of the year. Andrew Motion, the chair of this year's Booker jury, dimissed suggestions that anyone had been noticeably snubbed by the prize, be it McEwan or Martin Amis, another big-name British novelist who published The Pregnant Widow this year, albeit to brutal reviews.
He acknowledged McEwan's absence, but said the judges had simply "liked other books better" and added that each work had been judged on its merit rather than the reputation of its author.
"It's always a pity when people respond by pointing out books that aren't on the list rather than the ones that are... we were not interested in the previous form of the writers. Here are 13 exceptional novels – books we have chosen for their intrinsic quality without reference to the past work of their author," he said.
Those who did make the long list, whittled down from a total of 138 works of fiction, include the Independent columnist Howard Jacobson, whose novel The Finkler Question is yet to hit the bookshelves, and Peter Carey, a recipient of two previous Booker prizes. He was selected for Parrot and Olivier in America, a historical tale of two men from the 18th century who are tied together as master and servant.
Last night the book fast became the bookies' favourite, perhaps unsurprising given the author's impressive track record. Carey won the prize in 1988 for Oscar and Lucinda and again in 2001 for True History of the Kelly Gang. He is one of only two authors, along with JM Coetzee, to have won the Booker twice.
Along with The Finkler Question, Tom McCarthy's C and Emma Donaghue's Room have yet to be published. All three are set to hit bookshelves in early August, suggesting that the late summer slot – formerly viewed as a graveyard for publishers – has now become the perfect season for writers.
The long list strikes a careful balance between historical fiction – which dominated the prize last year – and contemporary fare. Room is perhaps the jury's most controversial choice, telling the story of a young boy who is kidnapped and confined to a locked room. It was inspired by the Joseph Fritzl kidnapping case in Austria two years ago.
Donoghue, better known for historical novels such as Slammerkin, has said in past interviews that this was the first occasion in which she had been inspired by a contemporary story, claiming: "I knew from the start it was not going to be a hideous read, or true crime at all."
Lisa Moore's February is also based on real world events, namely a disaster on an oil rig off the coast of Newfoundland, on Valentine's Day 1982. Three authors on the list have been shortlisted before: Mitchell for number9dream and the bestseller Cloud Atlas, Damon Galgut for The Good Doctor, and Rose Tremain for Restoration. The winner of the £50,000 prize will be announced on 12 October.
The Thousand Autumns of Zacob de Zoet
The Independent said: "Mitchell writes with such invigorating edge and dash that scarcely a sentence stands idle... this sumptuous imbroglio never drags"
The Independent on Sunday: "It is said that Dunmore's writing is sensuous, physical and almost synaesthetic. Here, it is all that, but also sparse and elegant when needs be."
Parrot and Olivier in America
The Independent said: "Wonderfully witty and visual prose, which springs surprise after surprise on the reader... this is a book full of good things"
The Long Song
The Independent said: Levy "has a real gift for comedy... a well-researched book that wears its scholarship lightly"
The Independent said: "Moore's firm grip and fine craft make something special from this novel of disaster and its aftermath... supple, graceful prose"
In a Strange Room
Synopsis: Written in three segments, each concerns separate journeys undertaken in different circumstances by the narrator
The Finkler Question
To be published in August
Synopisis: Julian Treslove, radio producer and bachelor, dines with two old friends who have been widowed recently. They reminisce and on his way home, Julian suffers a brutal attack that comes to transform his world.
The Independent said: "A beautifully structured examination of the complexity of modern living; a compelling journey into the darkness of suburbia"
The Independent said: "Adept at winding science and history into its design... the book strays near some dark territory, but maintains its light, utterly readable, skippy tread throughout"
The Independent said: "Tremain's writing is both vivid and wonderfully compressed... the novel is only 250 pages long, but it packs an enormous punch – the work of a writer at the top of her game"
Published next month.
Synopsis: A story about a child abducted and kept confined in a room; it was inspired by the real-life case of Josef Fritzl in Austria
Published next month.
Synopsis: The story of Serge Carrefax, a young man born at the dawn of the 20th century who becomes steeped in emergent technologies