The Booker shortlist 1995

The 27th Booker Prize for Fiction announced its shortlist on Thursday, slap in the middle of a nation-wide Babel of complaint about the disbanding of the Net Book Agreement. But no price war could begin with more of a gift from the Booker judges to the bookselling community than the 1995 shortlist.

It is militantly uncontroversial. There's none of the fusillade of Celtic effing and blinding that characterised the winners in the last two years (James Kelman, Roddy Doyle), no exquisite bursts of prose-poetry from Sri Lanka, no epics of chronically shape-changing natural phenomena from emergent African nations, to baffle the British reader. Instead, here's a quintet of four-square, honest-to-goodness, rather old-fashioned fictions, well-sculpted, solid and with claims on your heart: an historical whodunit, a Great War drama, a transcontinental quest, a confessional peripateia around modern London - and Salman Rushdie's own unique firestorm of serio- comic exuberance in which the fortunes of a Bombay family mirror India's modern history, while the narrator's own predicament (he's in prison awaiting, like the reader, The End) lends an added autobiographical fatwa-frisson to the rain of puns and portmanteau language.

On Radio Four's Kaleidescope, George Walden, the chairman of the Booker judges was at pains to point out that "We argued passionately for a long time... We argued over literary merit and no other consideration" - this presumably to scotch any idea that Rushdie's includion was a sympathy vote or Pat Barker was some kind of token Little Lady. The disappointing selection of five, rather than six, titles was explained by the fact that "there was great enthusiasm among the judges for these five titles. There was no other book that had the same degree of overall support, and we did not want to compromise for the sake of numbers". "The arguments were very fierce at the end," said Kate Kellaway, another of the judges, "Then suddenly we began to see a shortlist appear. We saw a road ahead...". This Damascan epiphany presumably means that the final five achieved some sublime (if undefined) plateau of excellence that reduced the remaining books to also-rans. Since we know that the penultimate selection of 13 titles - the so-called "long shortlist" - included such fine and enjoyable titles as Martin Amis's The Information, Gordon Burn's Fullalove, Paul Watkins's Archangel and John Banville's Athena, this is quite a claim. If the judges genuinely ascribe to the final round-up some homogeneous characteristics denied to the rest, they should let the literary-critical world know as soon as possible.

No-one would suggest that the judges set out with any preconceptions as to subject matter. But it is still a surprise to note how grimly masculine and macho-centric the Booker has become: war, trek, rugby, Hindu gangsters, mid-life-crisis businessmen, men on the edge, at the airport, at the front, up the creek. Even the long shortlist was similarly bulging with testosterone. Wasn't there a time in living memory when more than one woman turned up on the shortlist? When Anita Brookner or the Penelopes Lively and Fitzgerald were in with a chance? When the literary press complained that the final six were just too effetely bookish to be true? What kind of fin-de-siecle is it which produces such bruised-knuckle stuff?

A good list, however, which anyone interested in modern fiction will have a marvellous (if perspiration-drenched) time reading. The current odds from William Hill put Salman Rushdie streets-ahead favourite at 4- 5, with Unsworth second (7/2), Cartwright third (5/1) and Barker and Winton joint fourth (7/1). The judges make their final decision on 7 November.

John Walsh

PAT BARKER

The Ghost Road

Viking, pounds 15

This is the third of the Teeside-born Barker's trilogy about the Great War, featuring WHR Rivers, the army psychologist who, in previous volumes, tended to the war traumas of Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves. It is set in 1918, when bodies - and nightmare memories - are piled up mountainously. Rivers goes down with flu and dreams of his days studying the natives of a Melanesian island before the war - a race of people with a whole, ameliorative culture of ghosts and a sophistication about sex and death denied to the western culture that war has torn apart. Images of imprisonment, hallucination and memento mori stud the book, as Ms Barker gazes at the folly of war through satirical eyes. Harrowing, original, delicate and unforgettable.

JUSTIN CARTWRIGHT

In Every Face I Meet

Sceptre, pounds 15.99

Justin Cartwright, 52, has been shortlisted for so many prizes (for "Masai Dreaming", "Interior", "Look At It This Way") he once confessed that his health was suffering from constant tantalisation. His new novel (title from Blake's poem "London": "I ... mark in every face I meet/ Marks of weakness, marks of woe") takes a single day in February 1990 and listens to the thought processes of two men on a collision course - one a drunken investment banker obsessed with Nelson Mandela and his (and Cartwright's) South African boyhood, the other a crack-dealing pimp called Jason. This is a novel stuffed with lovingly detailed observations of Nineties London street life and crappy corporate-speak, both pitilessly nailed by a master satirist.

SALMAN RUSHDIE

The Moor's Last Sigh

Cape, pounds 15.99

Everyone - well, almost everyone - seems to agree that in "The Moor's Last Sigh", Rushdie has returned to the form that won him the Booker in 1981 for "Midnight's Children". Going back to Bombay, he takes his readers on a magical realist mystery tour which delights in its own fictive energy, weaving together the comic, the fantastic and the historical. Rushdie's narrator-hero, Moraes, is a Jewish Catholic afflicted with a surreal malady: his body ages at twice the normal rate, leaving him wizened and bowed at the age of 36. He recounts the story of three generations of his family - which he claims to have traced back to Vasco da Gama. This novel reveals Rushdie at the peak of his inventiveness. It is this year's clear favourite.

BARRY UNSWORTH Morality Play

Hamish Hamilton, pounds 14.99 Durham-born Barry Unsworth, 65, was joint winner of the Booker in 1992 with "Sacred Hunger", his epic tale of slave ships and 18th- century values. His rare talent for evoking the authentic reek of the past (15th-century Venice in "Stone Virgin", the last days of the Ottoman Empire in "Pascali's Island") is undercut by his fascination with moral cruxes. In "Morality Play", a troupe of strolling players fetch up in a village where a murder has been committed - and, instead of their ordinary fare of Christian triumphalism, they decide to enact a real-life murder mystery drawn from the local events. On one level you're reading a medieval whodunit; on another, you're caught up in a brilliant reflection on the transformative power of Art.

TIM WINTON The Riders

Picador, pounds 14.99 Bizarrely precocious and prolific, Perth-born Tim Winton trains an appalled Antipodean eye on Europe in "The Riders", his 13th novel. It concerns a quest across the continent by an Australian rough diamond called Scully who is about to set up home in an Irish cottage when his wife fails to turn up at the airport; she has disappeared into the gross and bewildering heart of Europe, abandoning their little girl, Billie. The book tracks his journey, accompanied by his daughter, through Greece, France, Holland and (finally and most horribly) London ... Reeking physical descriptions animate a modern trek through the Old World in a moving story about exorcising the ghosts of the past which is intensely compassionate and humane.

Arts and Entertainment
The crowd enjoy Latitude Festival 2014

music
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
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