The Man Booker Prize for Fiction is one of the most prestigious literary prizes, awarded to a full-length novel in English. Initially, only writers belonging to the Commonwealth, Ireland and Zimbabwe were eligible for the prize but since 2013, the eligibility of this highly coveted award has been extended to all English language novels written worldwide.
The nominations of the Booker are highly anticipated and treated with great fanfare. It is considered a matter of great prestige and honour to make it even to its longlist. Like every year, there were numerous speculations about who would make the cut but the literary world was pleasantly surprised after the release of the contenders yesterday. This year, the Man Booker Dozen (which actually consists of 13 titles) include four debut novels: Hystopia by David Means, Eileen by Ottessa Moshfeg, The Many by Wyl Menmuir and Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves. The most prolific writer in the list is undoubtedly J.M. Coetzee, a two-time prize winner, who is nominated for The Schooldays of Jesus, which will be published by Harvill Secker, a Penguin Random House imprint, in September.
Another heartening move was the inclusion of five books published under the banner of independent presses including Oneworld, publisher of the last year’s winner A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James. Others include Faber & Faber (Hystopia), Granta (Do Not Say We Have Nothing), Contraband (His Bloody Project) and Salt (The Many).
Chair of the 2016 judges, Amanda Foreman, had this to say regarding the nominations:
“This is a very exciting year. The range of books is broad and the quality extremely high. Each novel provoked intense discussion and, at times, passionate debate, challenging our expectations of what a novel is and can be…From the historical to the contemporary, the satirical to the polemical, the novels in this list come from both established writers and new voices. The writing is uniformly fresh, energetic and important. It is a longlist to be relished.”
The shortlist, consisting of six books, will be announced on 13th September and the final prize will be awarded on 25th October.
Without further ado, here’s the breakdown of this year’s Booker Dozen:
1) The Sellout – Paul Beatty (Oneworld)It’s already named one of the best books of 2015 by The New York Times Book Review and the Wall Street Journal, and is also the winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction. The Guardian called it “a galvanizing satire of post-racial America”. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant.
2) The Schooldays of Jesus – J.M. Coetzee (Harvill Secker)This latest novel by the veteran writer is a sequel to Coetzee’s 2013 novel The Childhood of Jesus, and follows the same characters, Simón and Inés, as they resettle in Estrella, after being forced to flee the city of Novilla following a dispute with the education authorities. In this mesmerising allegorical tale, Coetzee deftly grapples with the big questions of growing up, of what it means to be a parent, the constant battle between intellect and emotion, and how we choose to live our lives.
3) Serious Sweet – A.L. Kennedy (Jonathan Cape)A. L. Kennedy has twice been selected as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists and has won a host of other awards – including the Costa Book of the Year for her novel Day. Set in 2014, this is a novel of our times. Poignant, deeply funny, and beautifully written, Serious Sweet is about two decent, damaged people trying to make moral choices in an immoral world: ready to sacrifice what’s left of themselves for honesty, and for a chance at tenderness. As Jon and Meg navigate the sweet and serious heart of London – passing through 24 hours that will change them both forever – they tell a very unusual, unbearably moving love story.
4) Hot Milk – Deborah Levy (Hamish Hamilton)Levy, who was shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize for Swimming Home, is nominated yet again, this time for her newest novel dealing with the intricacies of the mother-daughter relationship which was hailed by Independent as a “perfectly crafted portrait of a relationship in crisis”. Hot Milk explores the strange and monstrous nature of motherhood, testing the bonds of parent and child to breaking point. It is a labyrinth of violent desires, primal impulses, and surreally persuasive internal logic.
5) His Bloody Project – Graeme Macrae Burnet (Contraband)The second novel by Burnet – set in 1869 in the remote Wester Ross village of Culduie – concerns a brutal triple murder, which leads to the arrest of a seventeen-year-old crofter, Roderick Macrae. There is no question of Macrae’s guilt, but it falls to the country’s most eminent legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to his bloody deeds. Ultimately, the young man’s fate hinges on one key question: is he insane? The story ingeniously unfolds through a series of found documents, including police statements, the accused’s prison memoir, the account of renowned psychiatrist, and a report of the trial, compiled from contemporary newspapers.
6) The North Water – Ian McGuire (Scribner UK)McGuire’s second book was described by Hilary Mantel as “a tour de force of narrative tension and a masterful reconstruction of a lost world”. A nineteenth-century whaling ship sets sail for the Arctic with a killer aboard in this dark, sharp, and highly original tale that grips like a thriller.
7) Hystopia – David Means (Faber & Faber)The debut novel by a celebrated short story writer is getting rapturous reviews with the esteemed critic James Wood writing that Means’s language “offers an exquisitely precise and sensuous register of an often crazy American reality.” This destabilized, alternate version of American history is the vision of the twenty-two-year-old veteran Eugene Allen, who has returned from Vietnam to write the book at the centre of Hystopia. Means brings his full talent to bear on the crazy reality of trauma, both national and personal. Outlandish and tender, funny and violent, timely and historical, Hystopia invites us to consider whether our traumas can ever be truly overcome. The answers it offers are wildly inventive, deeply rooted in its characters, and wrung from the author’s own heart.
8) The Many – Wyl Menmuir (Salt)This debut novel by Menmuir is a surprise addition to this year’s longlist. It’s about Timothy who buys an abandoned house on the edge of an isolated village on the coast. On the surface, his move to the village makes perfect sense. But the experience is an increasingly unsettling one for Timothy Bucchanan. A dead man no one will discuss. Wasted fish hauled from a contaminated sea. The dream of faceless men. Questions that lead to further questions. What truth are the villagers withholding? What fuels their interest and animosity towards him? And what pushes Timothy to dig deeper? The Many is an unsettling tale that explores the impact of loss and the devastation that hits when the foundations on which we rely are swept away.
9) Eileen – Ottessa Moshfegh (Jonathan Cape)A lonely young woman working in a boys’ prison outside Boston in the early 60s is pulled into a very strange crime, in a mordant, harrowing story of obsession and suspense. Played out against the snowy landscape of coastal New England in the days leading up to Christmas, young Eileen’s story is told from the gimlet-eyed perspective of the now much older narrator. Creepy, mesmerizing and sublimely funny, this powerful debut novel enthrals and shocks, introducing one of the most original new voices in contemporary literature.
10) Work Like Any Other – Virginia Reeves (Scribner UK)In this debut novel, described by the Daily Mail as “a slow-burning pleasure… Wonderful… Brutal, beautiful, and, to some significant extent, redemptive”, a prideful electrician in 1920s rural Alabama struggles to overcome past sins and find peace after being sent to prison for manslaughter. It tackles issues of racism, violence and intricacies of family dynamics.
11) My Name Is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout (Viking)This latest book by the Pulitzer prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge has already been longlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction 2016. Described by The Guardian as “an exploration of the love between mother and daughter which is both affecting and wise”, it shows how a simple hospital visit illuminates the most tender relationship of all – the one between mother and daughter.
12) All That Man Is – David Szalay (Jonathan Cape)This novel reads like a collection of short stories about nine men. Each of them at a different stage of life, each of them away from home, and each of them striving – in the suburbs of Prague, beside a Belgian motorway, in a cheap Cypriot hotel – to understand just what it means to be alive, here and now. Tracing an arc from the spring of youth to the winter of old age, All That Man Is brings these separate lives together to show us men as they are – ludicrous and inarticulate, shocking and despicable; vital, pitiable, hilarious, and full of heartfelt longing. And as the years chase them down, the stakes become bewilderingly high in this piercing portrayal of 21st-century manhood.
13) Do Not Say We Have Nothing – Madeleine Thien (Granta Books)The Gazette described it as “revolving around two families of musicians living through the often horrifying ructions of twentieth-century China, from the Cultural Revolution to the iconic events of 1989 in Tiananmen Square, the book is both a salutary reminder of Thien’s many strengths and a stunning next-level statement.” This extraordinary novel is set in China before, during and after the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. It is at once beautifully intimate and grandly political, rooted in the details of daily life inside China, yet transcendent in its universality.