The longlist for the 2013 Man Booker Prize seems a diverse one. There are works that range from 100 pages to 1,000. They are a set of works that cross continents and set in different historical periods, from the dark ages to present day. They are works that deal with the Iraq conflict, the fallout from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, the enclosure of British land, a pioneering flight and the effects of the 2008 economic crash on two very different countries.
Yet despite such differences, there are common links between some of the works. Two novels deal with the economic crash (The Spinning Heart, Five Star Billionaire). Two novels mention Virginia Woolf (Unexploded, in which Woolf appears). A number of the novels deal with foreigners adrift in the United States (We Need New Names, The Lowland, TransAtlantic). There are novels that deal with motherhood (The Testament of Mary and The Lowland) and novels that deal with children growing up (We Need New Names, The Marrying of Chani Kaufman, Almost English, A Tale for the Time Being). Yet more deal with how the past is more relevant than we might think and remain thrilling for their historic setting (The Luminaries, Harvest, The Testament of Mary). All of them remain uniformly excellent.
I’ve read all 13 longlisted novels and spent some time considering what might make the shortlist. There were some novels that leapt out immediately as potential shortlist candidates, others accrued their place slowly in my mind but now seem impossible not to shortlist. If I’m honest, there are 8 novels battling it out for those coveted six spots in my mind. But I have to choose six.
So here is my final six:
Donal Ryan - The Spinning Heart / Colm Toibin - The Testament of Mary / Jim Crace - Harvest
Colum McCann - Transatlantic / Tash Aw - Five Star Billionaire / Eleanor Catton - The Luminaries
Even when I scan my final choice, I think: perhaps there is too much history in there, and they’ll choose We Need New Names over The Luminaries say, or The Lowland over The Testament of Mary. It’s what makes the Man Booker so interesting, and so difficult to call. Those are my six up there, though, and I’m sticking with them.
It is worth stating that I have felt that this year’s longlist has been great examples of the novel, with no novel making me doubt its place. Chair Robert Macfarlane, and Judges Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Stuart Kelly, Natalie Haynes and Martha Kearney have chosen a fascinating range of novels, and I suspect their selection process for the final six has been heated and hotly contested.
The shortlist is announced tomorrow (10 September) and the winner announced on the 15 October.