Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Booker Prize Shortlist 2009

In any Anglophone country around the world, from Ireland to New Zealand, every year, at about this time, people rush to the local bookshop or library in order to put their hands on the books shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

But I am in Italy and people are scarcely aware that a few days ago Margaret Mazzantini won the Campiello Prize with her Venuto al Mondo (why don’t people read in a country with so many art lovers and defenders of Italian culture and history?).

So here’s the Booker Prize shortlist (with a short synopsis taken from The Guardian website):

A.S. Byatt – The Children’s Book
It deals with intertwined lives of four families at the turn of the 20th century as they experiment with bohemian living, each with their own secrets.

J.M. Coetzee – Summertime
This book completes his trilogy of fictionalised memoir begun with Boyhood and Youth, detailing the story of a young English biographer who is writing a book about the late author John Coetzee. Coetzee has already won the Booker Prize twice (for Life and Times of Michael K and Disgrace) and he would be the first author to win for the third time.

Adam Foulds – The Quickening Maze
A historical reconstruction of the meeting of the poets John Clare and Alfred Tennyson at a lunatic asylum in Epping Forest.

Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall
A piece of historical fiction centring on Thomas Cromwell, who was the successor to Cardinal Wolsey as Henry VIII’s most trusted adviser as the king tries to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. She’s the favourite, according to the critic, the bloggers and the odds (English people love betting on everything, didn’t you know?).

Simon Mawer – The Glass Room
An historical novel set in Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s. As war looms, newlyweds Viktor and Liesel Landauer, a Jew married to a gentile, move to a house on a hill with a unique glass room.

Sarah Waters – The Little Strangers
A ghost story set in post-war, rural Warwickshire. She’s the favourite at the tills!

  • Jonathan Ruppin of Independent book chain Foyles says: “It's noticeable that this year the majority of writers in contention all have a few books to their names already, which perhaps underlines the fact that most outstanding authors are like vintage wines, developing a fuller, richer appeal as their careers progress”. No flash in the pan, then! Arifa Akbar of The Independent also notes that “The shortlist was very different from last year’s selection which included two debut novelists, one of whom, Aravind Adiga, won with The White Tiger”.

  • Another commentator, in an audio interview , notes that all the titles, with the exception of Coetzee’s novel, are historical fiction, what the Germans would call “faction” (!). Erica Wagner of The Times tries to explain why in this article.

  • The surprise is maybe that Tolm Cóibín’s Brooklyn didn’t make it to the shortlist (it’s the only book I saw in translation in Italian bookshops so far and I was tempted to buy it) and William Trevor neither. Also, I take note that those have been shortlisted but never won are called “bridesmaids” (at least in some articles of The Guardian), because they always attend the wedding but they are never the spouse. Isn’t it a slightly cruel nickname?

  • Jim Naughtie (what a surname!), a BBC broadcaster and this year chair of the judges, said that there were quite a few bad books among the big names that entered the prize. "Just because you are an accomplished writer with a great reputation it does not mean you can't write a bad book”. People exluded from the Booker race this year: John Banville, Thomas Keneally, Anita Brookner, Penelope Lively, Kazuo Ishiguro and Margaret Atwood (according to the article). So at least one of these has written a bad book this year!

  • More to come on the Not the Booker prize, remember what a journalist said about the books on the Booker shortlist? They're always about postcolonial guilt (not this year, babe), Irish famine (nope) or English middle-class Islingtonians having Terribly Important Thoughts about their boring love lives (are they?).


  1. have given me more than just the list as other bloggers have also provided this list. I have never read any of these and don't know when I would read any. I love the hardcover picture you provided. It's enticing but I don't buy (or get to buy) hardcovers. Perhaps, they would be too heavy to carry around as I do most of my readings in public transport and whilst lying on the bed.

  2. Yes, I liked the idea of giving some information on the plots. Even if you don't get to read them you know what everybody's taking about.

    I hardly buy hard-covers myself, they are so expensive! Rushdie's "Enchantress of Florence" (in the Italian translation) costs 20€, that's crazy! Not to mention that recently I've been reading books that have more than 500 pages and I carry them with me as well, so they would be too heavy. What I do is writing down the names of books that have just been published and then wait for the paperback (if I find it)!