Now that I’ve finished all 13 books for the Man Booker Shortlist, the discussions for the (Wo)Man Booker Shadow Panel have begun. The five of us on the panel have been busy weighing the options, and we’ll post our shortlist tomorrow, a day before the official shortlist on Tuesday.
For now, however, this is my personal shortlist:
Four of these (The Year of the Runaways, The Chimes, A Brief History of Seven Killings, and Lila) are books I found truly accomplished. Although not all of them are perfect, they were ambitious and original and interesting. All four would make fine winners, with Lila and Brief History standing considerably higher than the other two.
I am slightly less enthusiastic about Did You Ever Have a Family and Sleeping on Jupiter. The first is a very good book but not a particularly ambitious one. And the second is rather more ambitious but ends up seeming a little unpolished. It nearly lost its spot on the shortlist to Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread, which is like Did You Ever Have a Family in that it’s competent but not particularly ambitious. (Clegg wins over Tyler because he set himself a more complex task with his large cast of characters and different voices.) In the end, I selected Roy’s Sleeping on Jupiter because in the areas where the book succeeds, it is very strong. And a few extra points for ambition lifted Roy’s book over Tyler’s.
If I had my way, however, Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins would have one of these last two spots. It’s not my favorite of Atkinson’s books, but she has yet to be honored with a Booker nomination, and her writing is certainly Booker-worthy, and A God in Ruins is more accomplished and ambitious than either Did You Ever Have a Family or Sleeping on Jupiter. I’ve not read enough books from 2015 to be able to name another book I’d include instead of these last two. But I’m enjoying Sarah Hall’s The Wolf Border right now and have a copy of Salman Rushdie’s Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty‑Eight Nights. Then there’s Amitav Ghosh’s Flood of Fire to consider. And Frances has mentioned The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. I think the current longlist leans more toward realistic books with a small scope rather than stories of epic grandeur, which might be why some of these books lost out.
So what will our Shadow Panel decide? I can tell you that the list won’t be an exact match with mine. We all have favorites that others didn’t like. In some cases, what’s at the top of one person’s list is at the bottom of another’s. Tune in tomorrow to see what we choose!