Booker Shortlist Predictions

Thoughts on the Man Booker shortlist to be announced on 6 September.

When we did our TV3 book club stint in The Company of Books recently, we were each asked what chance we thought Sebastian Barry had of winning the Man Booker this year. At the time, none of us had read the other books, and it’s difficult to make a judgement about the winner of a race when you don’t know the form of all the runners. In an attempt to remedy this, I’ve been trying to concentrate on the Booker longlist for my reading matter since that question was asked.  To begin with, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that Barry, Barnes and Hollinghurst will definitely be shortlisted, possibly just because they are Barry, Barnes and Hollinghurst. I had thought Jamrach’s Menagerie showed promise based on the précis inside the dust jacket, but I’ve now read 170 pages and am still waiting for something other than pure narrative (and, to me, not hugely gripping narrative) to manifest itself. If it’s the sights, sounds and smells of 1857 you’re after there are more authentic-feeling novels out there. So I’ve abandoned Jamrach. Yes, I know it’s unfair to leave a book unfinished, but life is short for a busy reader, and if you’re an author hoping for £50,000, you don’t start working only half way through the shift.

I moved swiftly on to The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness, mainly because I know someone who knew him once upon a time. I’m only 70 pages in this time, and am jumping ship. The writing is limpid and assured, but it reads more like a very-well-written travel narrative/memoir than a novel, and is thus far marred by a somewhat hackneyed ‘my father was a bullying alcoholic and I’m glad he’s dead’ trope. A predictable narrator on the sideline of a tale runs the risk of not being much cared about. I’m off back to Herta Müller.

So what next? While I decide, let’s just take a pot shot at the shortlist without reading any of the books. As I said, Barry, Barnes and Hollinghurst are surely in. Next we have two books set in Europe during the war – Alison Pick’s Far to Go, and Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues. One might suppose that only one will make it. Having read it, I hope it’s Edugyan. On the same premise, there are two ‘Victorian’ novels – Jamrach’s Menagerie, and D. J. Taylor’s Derby Day. If either, I suspect Jamrach will get in (A. S. Byatt, the front cover tells us, thought it was fab). Similarly, there is Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman, about an 11-year-old boy who arrives from Ghana to live in a tower block in London, “learning the tricks of urban survival”, and Yvette Edwards’ A Cupboard Full of Coats, wherein Jinx is forced to revisit the events that led up to the murder of her mother fourteen years previously in their East London home. Kelman born in Luton, Edwards in Barnet; one must surely go. Patrick McGuinness’ portrait of Bucharest in The Last Hundred Days is balanced by A. D. Miller’s Moscow in Snowdrops. Neither might get through here. Last but not least, or possibly least, I can’t yet say, we have The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers, and The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt, two offbeat tales, the first set a few months in the future following an act of biological terrorism, and the second about a pair of psychopathic cowboys. I have a feeling about that one . . .

So my prediction for the final six: Sense of an Ending, On Canaan’s Side and The Stranger’s Child; then The Sisters Brothers, Half Blood Blues, A Cupboard Full of Coats. I haven’t yet seen the betting odds – not that they matter, look at last year’s winner – but you can be sure that whomever I put my money on won’t be spending any £50,000 on a handbag.


19 thoughts on “Booker Shortlist Predictions”

  1. If only I had had the courage of my convictions on 24th August and actually put money on the winner. Especially since it was 6/1 in Irish betting at that time . . .

  2. I tried a few pages of ‘Pigeon English’ and had to put it away. Shades of the dreaded ‘Room’ in the annoying voice. Very topical, however, tower blocks, gang violence. Surely not enough to gain it an award?

  3. Got a new children’s book in today in COB and was flicking through it when I came upon this: Emma, who plans to be a novelist, says, ‘I’m not going to write chick lit. I’m going to write a novel that wins the Booker prize’.

    Wait a couple of years, Emma. If the main criterion, as per the chair of judges this year, is that the book is “enjoyable”, you’ll be able to do both at the same time, as all traces of anything challenging or demanding are washed out of the requirement list.

  4. I think I was onto something with that longlist. Two Victorian, two gritty London, two ‘Eastern bloc’, two offbeat, two wartime – and one of each has got through. The only thing was that I didn’t trust the judges enough to imagine that they were also running three ‘literary fiction’ contenders as another category. I assumed that Barry and Hollinghurst would gain automatic admission to the shortlist, whether deserving or not. (Not.) As it turns out, they picked the best of the ‘literary fiction’ category also. There is much debate elsewhere about the quality of the books on the original longlist, the glaring omissions, etc. It’s not clear exactly what the plan is with this very studied arrangement, but let’s hope that when it comes to final decision, the best book wins, and it’s not a case of trying to ‘popularise’ the competition for the sake of it. God knows where that might end.

  5. Excellent! No dreary dreary Hollinghurst, no contrived and overwritten Barry – well done those judges! I’m not sure what ‘Jamrach’ is doing on the shortlist, but I’m delighted to see ‘Half Blood Blues’ make it that one step further. Barnes should win, but watch out for those psychopathic cowboys . . .

  6. well …cat among the pigeons big time …I like it ..have not read books on short list but delighted On Canaan’s Side & Stranger’s Child have been overlooked. Here’s hoping for Julian Barnes!

  7. I’m making a slight adjustment to my original shortlist prediction, and substituting ‘Derby Day’ for ‘A Cupboard Full of Coats’. I haven’t read ‘Derby Day’ yet, but have a feeling that it might be a more Bookerish type of book. (Whatever that is – memories of ‘Finkler Question’ . . .) I also feel that ‘Far to Go’ is likely to get on ahead of ‘Half Blood Blues’, but I’m going to stick with HBB as being a more unusual take on the war novel. So, the list is: ‘Sense of an Ending’ (the winner); ‘Stranger’s Child’ (shouldn’t even make the shortlist, but will); ‘On Canaan’s Side’ (because it’s Sebastian Barry, not because it’s a great book); ‘Derby Day’, and ‘Sisters Brothers’ (gut feeling about both); and ‘Half Blood Blues’ (I hope).

  8. Now the bad news is that according to an Irish bookmaker, the Jane Rogers book is second favourite to win the thing. (The favourite here is Hollinghurst, not Barnes.) I really don’t want to have to read about pregnant women saving the human race in a future time, so could someone please read it for me and let me know how it goes. Ta.

  9. Marie, I admire your fortitude, but when you get to the pearly gates, as I’m sure you will, how are you going to account to St P for the hours that you wasted dredging through that self-indulgent twaddle? Ordinarily I would be more inclined to stick with books in the hope of improvement. The reason why I’m being less tolerant of this lot is that they have all been judged worthy of a shot at a prestigious prize and 50K. Pootling about on another forum, I noted an interesting observation. There have been relatively few bad reviews of this book because people are abandoning it part way through. I can see the cover blurb on the next print run: ‘Fabulously moving’ -Colm T, ‘Wondrous, sparkling prose’ -Joseph O’C, ‘It gets marginally better after 200 pages” Ms Constance Endeavour, ‘Sooooooooo boring’ -Marie.

  10. Ms. Constance Endeavour

    Am not particularly liking The Stranger’s Child but after 200 pages, it is getting marginally better – at least beyond page 200 there is less about Cecil… I get the impression Alan took a year or so off to write the book, though could have done it in 6 months and thought “what will I do with the rest of my time… ah yes, make the book longer!” For once I find myself agreeing with Anne (stranger than the stranger’s child itself). Life is short and whilst it is deeply against my nature not to finish a book, there are so many books out there more worthy of my attention and perseverance.

  11. OK got to end of Part 1 – and can say that maybe a tiny bit of light… going to limp on into Part 2 – still not sure!

  12. Could not finish “The Stranger’s Child”..loved the Julian Barnes and have just started Cupboard Full of Coats.. so far am quite enjoying it…

  13. “The Stranger’s Child”: Am feeling much better having read your thoughts – seriously struggling with this book and can’t understand why it is even long listed for the Booker – am I missing something? – it is soooooooo boring – agree with the LTS rule – but hate giving up – am going to stick with it to end of part 1 – 24.5 pages more! Will be back then!

  14. ‘The Stranger’s Child’: dreary, dreary, thrice dreary. On the basis of my LTS rule, I have abandoned it after 80 pages. If you want long descriptive passages that actually contribute to the work, try Proust; if you want ‘aesthetic’ young men going up and down to Oxbridge, try Waugh. If you want a decent doorstop, try this.

  15. Have started in on ‘The Stranger’s Child’, and am already finding it frightfully Cecil, Daphne and Hubertish. Any book where someone goes upstairs after dinner to fetch a shawl has to be treated with suspicion in my view.

  16. Have just read ‘A Cupboard Full of Coats’ and am at a loss to know how a book of this quality got onto a longlist for a £50,000 prize. Don’t get me wrong, it’s perfectly well written, competently executed, but there is nothing distinctive about it, nothing to set it apart in the memory. I would question the naivety of its 16-year-old narrator, but beyond that wouldn’t waste more valuable thinking time on it. Having said that, I’m still inclined to leave it on my predicted shortlist for the moment.

  17. That would be ‘The Sense of an Ending’, now that I’ve finished it. However, I take no responsibility for any financial losses incurred .

  18. Yes, I just checked William Hill – I’ve managed to back a few outsiders there. Typical . . .

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