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Booker surprise

The Man Booker Prize 2018 shortlist is bit of a damp squib

Past winner Michael Ondaatje’s ‘Warlight’ didn’t make it to the shortlist for the 2018 prize. Photo: AFP
Past winner Michael Ondaatje’s ‘Warlight’ didn’t make it to the shortlist for the 2018 prize. Photo: AFP

After revealing a striking longlist in July, featuring a thriller and a graphic novel (for the first time in its 50 years of existence), the Man Booker Prize 2018 pricked the ballooning excitement of readers somewhat with the shortlist announced this week. All six writers who made it to the finals are from the UK, the US, and Canada. The only standout name, in terms of genre, is Scottish poet Robin Robertson’s The Long Take, a novel in verse.

The gender balance—four women versus two men—is heartening, though the shortlist doesn’t feature the year’s biggest draw, 27-year-old Irish writer Sally Rooney. Praised as the finest chronicler of the millennial generation in English, Rooney is making waves with her second novel, Normal People (don’t miss the review on page 13), though the jury didn’t deem her fit to graduate to the shortlist. Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight, another favourite with the bookies this year, didn’t make the cut either. In July, he won the “Golden Booker" prize though, with his 1992 novel, The English Patient, picked as the best among all the books that have won the Booker in the last 50 years.

Those who got a step closer to the £50,000 (about 47.5 lakh) prize were lauded for being exceptional stylists. As the 2018 Chair of judges, Kwame Anthony Appiah, said, each of the novels “is a miracle of stylistic invention in which the language takes centre stage". Canadian writer Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black tells the fantastical story of an 11-year-old slave’s journey to freedom. American Rachel Kushner makes it to final round courtesy The Mars Room, a harrowing tale of women at a correctional facility in California.

Anna Burns and Daisy Johnson, both from the UK, have earned their place in the last six with novels that have so far generated lukewarm praise. Burns writes about the violent 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland in Milkman, while Johnson pitches Everything Under, a family drama, in the mould of a Sophoclean tragedy. Richard Powers, National Book Award winner from the US, gets in because of The Overstory, a novel of epic ambition that weaves the theme of migration into lambent reflection on the life of trees.

Founded in 1969, the Man Booker Prize has a habit of throwing surprises. In the past, the jury have fallen out over the winning titles and even called each other names. Americans entered the game when the prize was opened out in 2014 to writers of any nationality published in the UK and Ireland. As the pros and cons of that decision continue to be debated, one thing is abundantly clear: whoever gets the prize next month won’t be the favourite of the bookies.

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