“Love those U.S. books on #ManBooker2015 longlist, but also kinda feels like going to London and shopping at Bloomingdales,” Ron Charles, the editor of The Washington Post’s Book World, tweeted in July as the second year of the expanded version of the prestigious British literary prize competition got under way. For 45 years, eligibility was restricted to fiction written in English by authors from the U.K. and the Commonwealth, along with the Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe. Since 2014, any novel written in English and published in England can be nominated, which has stirred fears of an American takeover.
Today’s announcement of the 2015 shortlist has quelled that anxiety for the second year in a row. Among the six novels chosen from the longlist of 13 announced on July 29, only two are by Americans, the same number as last year. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler join a group that hasn’t busted out of the old Commonwealth boundaries, but has stretched them. Marlon James (who teaches at Macalester College in Minnesota) is the first Jamaican writer ever to make it onto the list, with A Brief History of Seven Killings, and The Fishermen, by Chigozie Obioma, a Nigerian (who teaches at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln), is a first novel. Two novels by British writers round out the finalists, Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island, and Sunjeev Sahota’s second novel, The Year of the Runaways.
Perhaps we can call it a Harrods experience, after the grand London store that has boasted a global, flexible motto for more than a century, Omnia Omnibus Ubique—All Things for All People, Everywhere. After all, at Harrods, upscale cachet meets up-to-date flair and lots of flavors. (That Food Hall!) I’m very sorry not to see Marilynne Robinson’s Lila make the shortlist, but if the impulse behind leaving her out is what I imagine, the reason is institutional not personal. These days, literary awards can seem to blur into one another, as the same contenders crop up on different lists, and those lists play out in similar ways: In 2013, America’s National Book Awards copied the Man Booker longlist and shortlist suspense-building strategy. Robinson has by now made the rounds with Lila. It was shortlisted for the NBA in 2014, and won the National Book Critics Circle fiction prize in 2014. The Man Booker judges were ready to turn the page.
Reviving a feature we tried out two years ago, we’ll bring you a weekly commentary on the finalists the judges will be rereading and debating between now and October 13, when one of the lucky six writers will win £50,000 and yet more renown. Six of my colleagues will offer thoughts on their reading, perhaps sharing any literary gossip they pick up and hazarding some predictions, too. Stephanie Hayes begins today with Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life.
Follow the posts, perhaps even read along, and you too can be (or at least sound) highly informed when the winner is announced at last.
Read the first installment, on Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, here.
Read the second installment, on Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings, here.
Read the third installment, on Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread, here.
Read the fourth installment, on Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island, here.
Read the fifth installment, on Chigozie Obioma’s The Fisherman, here.
Read the sixth installment, on Sunjeev Sahota’s The Year of the Runaways, here.