Saturday, November 7, 2009

Guardian's First Book Award 2009 - shortlist

  • The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey (UK): also shortlisted for the Orange Prize and longlisted for the Booker Prize, it’s the story of an architect whose memories are being lost because of Alzheimer.
  • The Selected Works of TS Spivet by Reif Larsen (USA): About a genius 12-year-old cartographer from Montana. Much of its story is told in the maps and diagrams supposedly drawn in the margins by Spivet.
  • The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton (New Zealand): two linked narrative threads, one set in a girls' school in the aftermath of a pupil-teacher affair and the other in a drama school where details of the affair are used for the end-of-year production.
  • An Elegy for Easterly by Petina Gappah (Zimbabwe): 13 short stories that show different aspects of Zimbabwean life from the shanty towns to the mansions but which also have universal resonances such as betrayal.
  • A Swamp Full of Dollars by Michael Peel: the chaotic story of Nigeria and its oil written by a corrispondent of the Financial Times.

Last year’s winner was a non-fiction book, Alex Ross's The Rest is Noise (read this post). Mark Brown, The Guardian’s art correspondent, claims that in this year’s shortlist, fiction is resurgent.


The Guardian First Book Award is open to all first-time authors writing in English, or translated into English, across all genres.
The fact that, for the sake of diversity, there should be some non-fiction books, at least a collection of short stories or a poetry book is always underlined by the commentators of the shortlist. The fact that every now and then there should be a translated book in the shortlist is never mentioned. I wonder if some translated books enter the competition at all and if the jury (usually very British) even takes them in some consideration.

For the longlist of this year’s Guardian First Book Award, click here.
For posts covering last year’s award, click here and here.

By the way,
this month the Guardian book culb has Kiran Desai's Inheritance of Loss as its choice! Click here to read how much Sam Jordison struggled with this novel and here to read John Mullan talking about divisions in the novel.


  1. thanks Stefania for this. I am following you through and through. Thanks for the translation too. I have the Kite Runner on my list of books to be read. Last week I saw the hardcover version in my regular bookshop. Is it worth buying the hardcover? because it is expensive.

  2. Well, Nana... "The Kite Runner" is a good book, but I think it's overrated. The story is certainly moving and gripping but sometimes predictable. There are some good insights into the life of Afghan people but not much historical background.
    Take into account that it was a bestseller around the world, so you won't find the subtleties of some renowned authors. Nonetheless it's a heartbreaking story that explains quite honestly what could be the result of a childhood lived in a war-ravaged country like Afghanistan. If I were you I would wait for the paperback if you think that it'll become available.

  3. I have not read any book of the shortlist! :(

    I had the same conflicting feelings as Sam Jordison about Inheritance of loss. I did like the book, but I think Kiran Desai is not a mature writer yet.
    In particular, some characters are too less developed and all the Gorkha rebellion is described a movement led by stupid and ignorant people...

  4. Neither have I... but it's nice that books so diverse are into the shortlist.

    About "The Inheritance of Loss": it's true that the part about the Nepalese rebellion wasn't the best thing in the book: too many stereotypes and maybe not so much research. It was a good book, but I'm not sure it was worth the Booker Prize (also considering that her mother, a much more experienced writer, never won it).

  5. Stefania... I am reading "The Monster of Florence." Do you remember this, or have your read it? I immediately thought of you and our talk about the mafia book. So far, about halfway through it, but I should be writing, not reading. ;-)

  6. I remember about Pacciani, of course. The story of the "monster of Florence" is engraved in the recent story of my country like Jack the Ripper in England, but I don't know the details about the murders, as I was not even born when the facts happened. It looks to me as a "gore" read, I'm not sure I'd like to read about it! :-)