2017 Man Booker longlist: Our predictions
The 2017 Man Booker longlist will be announced on July 27. Those of you who follow our blog know that we are obsessed with the Man Booker and for the last two years, BW and I have tried to read our way through the entire long list in order to make our predictions. This year our panel comes back together to make predictions on which book will win the prize. Our panel this year is comprised of BW and myself along with three contributors: Nicole, Lisa, and Andrew. Nicole and Andrew were part of the panel last year and Lisa joins us this year. We also have a guest reviewer who will step in to help out when needed. Book Worm and I will be attempting to read all the nominated books and our three contributors will be helping out along the way.
Each panel member made predictions for which books will make the longlist. Panelists were able to nominate up to 13 books for the list but some chose to nominate fewer. Here are our thoughts and predictions: Jen’s predictions: Is it just me or is this year’s list particularly hard to construct? Last year I felt like I had a definite idea for at least two books (I was pretty sure The Sellout would make the list). This year I feel like I’m floundering to come up with a list that I feel confident will include at least a few nominees. I have read many great books but never had the thought, “this has to be on the longlist.” Rather I’ve read I’ve thought “this could possibly be a longlist book” for a fairly wide number of books. Perhaps, I’ve just come to the realization that predicting the Man Booker longlist is a near impossible feat. That said, I’m going to attempt the impossible.
I selected 13 books for my prediction list. I tried to construct a list that was balanced in terms of gender and country of origin with a slightly greater weight to UK authors. I also tried to make sure that my list was somewhat diverse in terms of racial/ethnic author diversity – although let’s be clear that the Man Booker unfortunately isn’t known for its ethnic or racial diversity — just look at last year’s list which was pretty dismal in terms of diversity. So here is my list (in no particular order)…
- 4321 by Paul Auster. Read it, loved it, it’s Paul Auster.
- Autumn by Ali Smith. Not to be redundant but, it’s Ali Smith. Pretty much every book she writes gets shortlisted for the Man Booker and this book is getting lots of buzz.
- Moonglow by Michael Chabon. I am currently reading it and loving it. The blending of autobiographical elements may work against it, but maybe not.
- Exit West by Moshin Hamid. This book was fantastic. Understated and beautifully written book about immigration. Timely topic and great writing make me think it will make the list.
- The Angel of History by Rabih Alameddine. I have not read this yet but it sounds like the sort of book that the Man Booker judges usually like. The Guardian reviewer calls it “unrepentantly political” so who knows if that will work against it.
- The Dark Circle by Linda Grant. Included this on a whim. Haven’t read it but read several reviews of the book and it covers contemporary issues that are highly relevant in the UK. It was shortlisted for the Bailey’s prize.
- State of Freedom by Mukherjee. This has been compared to In a Free State (which one the Booker). I haven’t read it but structurally and content-wise it reminds of several other longlisted Indian literature books from the past 4 years.
- Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor. This book is getting a lot of buzz. McGregor was the youngest author (in 2002) to have a book longlisted for the Man Booker — he was 26. This is a pseudo-thriller. It gets extraordinary reviews and the subject matter is a good fit.
- Days without end by Barry. I think this book is the favorite this year for inclusion, at least among groups I follow. Sebastian Barry is a literary giant. This book won the Costa award (he is the first novelist ever to win this award twice). Two of his prior books have been shortlisted and a third was longlisted.
- Phone by Will Self. This is the third in the series that has been compared to Ulysses. The first one was longlisted for the 2012 Man Booker. Honestly, I don’t want this one to be selected b/c I’m pretty sure I won’t like his style and the idea of trying to read three “Ulysses style” books is enough to make me cry.
- Twelve lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti. I want to read this book so wishful thinking that it will get chosen. I added it on a whim.
- Stephen Florida by Gabe Habash. This is probably completely out of left-field but I just read it and it’s quirky, profound, and interesting. I did not like All that Man is last year in part because I disliked his portrayal of masculinity. In contrast, this book was much more interesting to me in its examination/presentation of contemporary masculinity. It probably doesn’t stand a chance in hell of making the list but I’m still including it.
- Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo. Another Bailey’s shortlist book. I must have added and removed this book from my predictions list at least 5 times. I read it and liked it but didn’t love it. I think it has some significant issues with pacing and seems less “literary” than typical Man Booker nominees but has received rave reviews. I realized that I could add one more book since some years they pick 13 books, so this one went back on the list.
Book that I’ll most likely regret not including: Lincoln in the Bardo by Saunders. I loved it but I’m not convinced it will make it.
Other books I considered: Ministry of Utmost Happiness (I read it and didn’t love it), Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (unpopular opinion: I thought it was over-rated), Solar Bones, Another Brooklyn, The Golden House, & The Power, Swing Time (I personally don’t love her books), House of Names (love Toibin but have heard this isn’t his strongest), Anything is Possible (I’m skeptical that she’ll be nominated twice in a row), White Tears.
Book Worm’s predictions: Jen is right predicting the Man Booker nominees is an almost impossible task, unlike Jen I have taken a non scientific, non diverse (7 of my selections are by men) approach for my 10 predictions. 4 of my predictions are new books from big hitters the rest are books that I think have the right quirkiness to earn them selection but I am not holding my breath.
- How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
- Modern Gods by Nick Laird
- When the English Fall by David Williams
- What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons
- Broken River by J Robert Lennon
- Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
- The Golden House by Salman Rushdie
- The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
- Swing Time by Zadie Smith
- 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
Nicole’s predictions: I was pretty unscientific in my picks. I read some threads about what other people thought, and picked the books I have either read and agree on or want to read. With the exception of Zadie Smith. I have no interest in reading Swing Time, but award people seem to love her.
1. The Nix – Nathan Hill
2. Lincoln and the Bardo – George Saunders
3. Exit West – Moshin Hamid
4. Autumn – Ali Smith
5. Reservoir 13 – Jon McGregor
6. Days Without End – Barry
7. Stay with Me – Ayobami Abedayo
8. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness – Roy
9. 4321 – Paul Auster
10. Swing Time – Zadie Smith
11. The Dark Flood Rises – Margaret Drabble
Andrew’s predictions: As usual, I have read none of these books to completion. I started Underground Railroad (arguably the most “popular” book on my list) but abandoned it about a third of the way through because frankly I didn’t find it that interesting. Call me a philistine. Call me a member of the white, male patriarchy (guilty as charged!). Regardless, I found the book to be fairly brutal and slow. And if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s a slow read (notable exception: Catch 22 – but that’s neither here nor there).
So without further ado, my Man Booker predictions based on a scant 15 minutes of preparation. All totally cribbed from Goodreads and other blogs:
- Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead
Everybody I talked to seemed to have read this book. Or pretended to have read this book, as in: “Have you read Underground Railroad? It’s really thought provoking and interesting!” Well, I have read (part of) it. Let’s be honest: an actual underground railroad in 1860 is a completely ridiculous conceit. And I know slavery was a terrible, horrendous institution that has permanently stained American history and whose tremors continue to reverberate through our country today. I don’t need 400 pages to remind me. Thanks Colston. Frankly, I found Underground Airlines to be a much more enjoyable read, and I enjoyed the conceit more too. But now I’m rambling.
My hunch is that this book was popular enough to gain a spot on the list. But since it deals with similar themes as last year’s winner, The Sellout, it doesn’t have a chance in hell to win the big prize.
- 4321, Paul Auster
The premise of this book sounds amazing: it’s like a “choose your own adventure” for one man’s life. But the adventures are all sort of intertwined. Sign me up! And according to Goodreads Jen liked it too. Good enough for me. Put it on the list!
- Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders
Selected this one because a) Saunders is a big deal and b) Saunders’ approach to this book sounds intriguing. President Lincoln grieves the death of his son in the ‘living world’ while his son simultaneously experiences life in a purgatorial state. History mixed with spirituality? Sounds like award-winning material.
- Stay With Me, Ayobami Abedayo
Set in Africa in the 1980s? Family strife? A culture that seems foreign and quaint to those from the West? There’s no way this isn’t making the list, if only the “snubbing” of Do Not Say We Have Nothing last year.
- The Heart’s Invisible Furies, John Boyne
I picked this one because the title is ridiculously over-wrought. And then I read the description! It checks all the boxes: a coming-of-age tale about an adopted son searching for identity in late-20th century Ireland with the help of a “dangerous” friend. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
- The Nix, Nathan Hill
On the heels of last year’s shortlisted Hot Milk, comes The Nix. While Hot Milk dealt with a daughter’s increasingly strained relationship with her mother, The Nix explores a son’s re-evaluation of his relationship with his mother. And frankly, this storyline sounds a little more interesting: the mother has committed a crime!
1. Moonglow by Michael Chabon. I haven’t read this yet but he is such an awesome writer and this book looks good.
2. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. Again, I haven’t read it yet but George Saunders is amazing. I think about his short story My Flamboyant Grandson frequently as personalized ads pop up for me all over my computer.
3. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. I bought this book for my husband when I saw that Barack Obama was reading it and I just wanted to feel close to him (Barack, not my husband). But, the book has really stuck with me. I liked how each state had a different strategy for managing the “problem” of black people. This book does feel like an obvious choice since it won lots of other prestigious awards.
4. Grace by Natashia Deon. Another book about living – and dying — as a black woman in the South before as well as after the Civil War. At times it is painful to read – and that is what you expect from a book about this painful terrible period.
5. Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo. This book is both hilarious and insightful. Characters are all complex, fully realized, people.
So who do you think has the best (aka most accurate) list? What books have been left out that you think might make the long list? Which books do you think we should have left off our prediction lists?