Sunday, 14 September 2008

2008 Booker Short-list

The 2008 Booker short-list was announced on 9th September. It is a short-list of six, and consists of:

Aravind Adiga (The White Tiger)

Sebastian Barry (The Secret Scripture)

Amitav Ghosh (Sea of Poppies)

Linda Grant (The Clothes on Their Backs)

Philip Hensher (The Northern Clemency)

Steve Toltz (A Fraction of the Whole)

Two first-time novelists—Arvind Adiga and Steve Toltz—have made it to the short-list, as did Sebastian Barry (for the second time), while the two previous winners—John Berger and Salman Rushdie—have not survived the cull.

My prediction was as follows:

Linda Grant (The Clothes On their Back)

Amitav Ghosh (The Sea of Poppies)

Salman Rushdie (The Enchantress of Florence)

Sebastian Barry (The Secret Scripture)

Steve Toltz (A Fraction of the Whole)

So, four out of the five books I predicted would make it to the short-list, did, which is remarkable, even if I say so myself, seeing as I haven’t read any of the long-listed novels. Had I decided to predict six instead of five, I should have selected Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher. I wouldn’t have chosen Arvind Adiga; if I had to select another first-time novelist, I should have plumped for Joseph O’Neill’s ‘This Year’s Great American Novel’. Come to think of it, I’ll probably read The Netherland: it is a cricket novel, apparently; and many moons ago I used to be interested—to the extent I am capable of being interested in any sport—in this game. As Bill Bryson once remarked, cricket is a delicious game, full of microseconds of excitement scattered over five days. If you are unfortunate enough to develop a chronic illness, and the doctor prescribes rest and prohibits any kind of excitement, you should take to cricket immediately.

I am disappointed that Enchantress of Florence is not short-listed. It will, of course, make no difference to the sell of the novel, and legion of Rushdie's fans will lap it up.

Who will win the award? I should very much like Linda Grant to win, but Amitav Ghosh or Sebastian Barry may just pip her to the post. The winners in the last three years were Irish (Banville and Enright) and Indian (Desai), and one would expect that this year the winner would be from (for want of better phrase) a different background. Philp Hensher is the only English novelist amongst the short-listed authors. (There is Linda Grant, of course; but she is Jewish, and the usual stew of English class and race prejudice means most wouldn't consider her English, and describe her as British). I can’t immediately think of any Jewish novelists except Berice Rubens (who won decades ago) who have been awarded the prize.

I am rooting for Linda Grant.