The OF Blog: Brief thoughts on the 2014 Man Booker Prize shortlist

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Brief thoughts on the 2014 Man Booker Prize shortlist

The 2014 Man Booker Prize shortlist was announced earlier today.  Out of the six finalists, I have already read five and reviewed four (with the fifth to be reviewed later this week).  Although as is usually the case with such awards, if I were choosing six favorites, not all six would have reflected the ones on this list.  However, taking into account some of the seeming guidelines of the awards (finalists tend to reflect types of books as much as quality of works) and the chosen longlist (I've currently read 10/13 from the longlist, with another awaiting on my iPad and a second in the mail; the third hasn't yet been released in the US), there were no works that I felt were strongly out of place on the award.  Perhaps I could see a case for substituting Richard Powers' Orfeo for Richard Flanagan's The Narrow Road to the Deep North or Siri Hustvedt's The Blazing World for Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves or Paul Kingsnorth's The Wake for any of the others, but those alternates would not be necessarily better in quality but instead truly just alternate choices.  The six chosen works (or rather, the five I've read and the sixth soon-to-arrive) seem to me to be a decent selection from a uniformly good (if not terribly, inventively great) longlist of works. 

Joshua Ferris, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour 

Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North 

Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves 

Howard Jacobson, J

Neel Mukherjee, The Lives of Others

Ali Smith, How to be Both

Now if I were ranking these based on the five I've read, it'd probably go something like this:


This, however, does not mean much, in that there is little discernible difference in prose or narrative quality to me.  There is, how, a difference in story types:  mid-20th century Bengali family/social history; a tale of war and violence (and its effects) in a WWII Japanese PoW camp in Thailand; a story that questions what makes humans and their families so special after all; a comic-serious account of religion and identity; and a tale of prejudice and identity loss.  Each of these has their appeal for certain readers and one's enjoyment of the tales will largely depend on how much the reader tends to like those story types.

As for the longlisted books that failed to make it, as I said above, the Kingsnorth, Powers, and Hustvedt would have been worthy of consideration.  Perhaps Niall Williams' History of the Rain as well.  David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks, which I finished reading Monday night and will review later this week, was just too flawed in its presentation for it to be a true contender.  Have Joseph O'Neill's The Dog to read later this week and it won't be until late October that David Nicholls' Us is released in the US, so it is impossible for me to weigh in now on their quality and if they would have been worthy alternates for the shortlist.

Hopefully in the next couple of weeks (depending on whenever the Smith arrives), I'll have all six of the finalists reviewed.  Now to await word next week on the longlisted titles (in four categories!) for the National Book Awards, which tend to suit my tastes a bit more than the Booker Prize.  I suspect I will have read/own at least some of the titles to be announced there.


Ray Garraty said...

I was saddened that The Dog didn't make the short. For me, it was the best novel.

Larry Nolen said...

I plan on finishing it this weekend and reviewing it soon after. Then I'll weigh in on its merits.

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