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Not the bookie’s Booker

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

The panel of judges pose for a photo during the Man Booker Prize 2018 shortlist announcement. Photo: AP
The panel of judges pose for a photo during the Man Booker Prize 2018 shortlist announcement. Photo: AP

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 morning. All six writers in 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 best chronicler of the millennial generation in English, Rooney is making waves with her second novel, Normal People, though the jury didn’t deem her fit to graduate to the shortlist. Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight didn’t make the cut either.

Those who got a step closer to the £50,000 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 Troubles 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 in migration with lambent reflection on the life of trees.

Founded in 1969, the Man Booker Prize has a habit of throwing surprises almost every year. In the past, the jury have fallen out over the winning titles, even called each other names. Opening out the prize in 2013 to writers of any nationality published in the UK and Ireland made it possible for Americans to enter the game. As the pros and cons of that decision continue to be debated, one thing is abundantly clear: whoever takes the prize home next month won’t be the favourite of the bookies.

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