Every year when the longlist of Booker nominees is announced, someone in the public eye will reiterate the familiar cry, which I’ll summarise, with the confidence that year by year, it will never change: ‘The Booker Prize represents a particularly unpleasant form of institutional elitism, and has no real place in modern life.’ This year was the turn of Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh, who has this to say:
“The Booker prize‘s contention to be an inclusive, non-discriminatory award could be demolished by anybody with even a rudimentary grasp of sixth-form sociology.”
And you need a rudimentary grasp of Wikipedia to come to realise that Irvine Welsh is very possibly wrong. It’s true: there have been some head-scratching moments in the history of the Booker Prize, and they differ from person to person. For me, I can’t grasp that anyone saw anything of merit in Vernon God Little. But whatever qualms you have about the Booker, you can’t deny the positive effect that the awards have for authors who have been overlooked or undersold.
A place on the Booker longlist, whatever people might claim, will bump up sales. A crowd-pleasing win, such as for Hillary Mantel’s astonishingly popular Wolf Hall gives everyone a nice boost. Whether Welsh likes it or not, the Booker effect is undeniable. And let’s not forget, Welsh may still have a chip on his shoulder about the not-so-receptive judging panel of 1993, who nudged him off the shortlist, such was the divisive effect of Trainspotting. I’ll leave that question hovering.
So – for anyone who’s missed the coverage, or needs reminding, here’s the 2012 longlist:
Nicola Barker, The Yips (Fourth Estate)
Ned Beauman, The Teleportation Accident (Sceptre)
André Brink, Philida (Harvill Secker)
Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists (Myrmidon Books)
Michael Frayn, Skios (Faber & Faber)
Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Doubleday)
Deborah Levy, Swimming Home (And Other Stories)
Hilary Mantel, Bring up the Bodies (Fourth Estate)
Alison Moore, The Lighthouse (Salt)
Will Self, Umbrella (Bloomsbury)
Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis (Faber & Faber)
Sam Thompson, Communion Town (Fourth Estate)
Four of these writers are long listed for their debut novels: Joyce, More, Thayil and Thompson. Nicola Barker and Tan Twan Eng were both shortlisted in 2007 for Darkmans and The Gift of Rain respectively. There are some starry names too: famous South African writer Andre Brink, British veteran writer Michael Frayn, and Hilary Mantel; Bring up the Bodies is the sequel to the aforementioned Wolf Hall, winner in 2009. The shortlist, in which these twelve novels will be whittled down to six, will be announced on 11th September.
And for those interested: the odds at the bookies are looking good for Mantel, Self and Joyce, not so great for Beauman and Thompson. But who knows?