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Drama in the competition for the Man Booker Prize!

September 8, 2009
Hilary Mantel, whose Wolf Hall is the odds-on favorite to win.

Hilary Mantel, whose Wolf Hall is the odds-on favorite to win.

For a top literary award, this year’s Man Booker Prize short list, announced this morning, contains a surprising amount of drama. It pits previous winners A.S. Byatt and J.M. Coetzee (who could become the first to win three times) against best-sellers Hilary Mantel and Sarah Waters, plus deserving newcomers Simon Mawer and Adam Foulds.

Two distinguished authors, often nominated but never winners, were left off the short list: Colm Toibin (Brooklyn) and William Trevor (Love and Summer). Both were expected to make the final cut.

Given for the best novel published in Great Britain or the British Commonwealth, the Man Booker celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. The winner, to be announced Oct. 6, takes home £50,000 and several tons of prestige. Each of the short-listed authors–including the winner– receives £2,500 and a designer-bound edition of his or her book.

British critics are calling this year’s short list “a vintage year.” Mantel is the favorite of bookmakers, and critics agree. The Guardian’s Sarah Crown says Mantel’s Wolf Hall is “streets ahead” of the other contender: “rich, strange, pungent; heavily embroidered, like a gorgeous 16th-century tapestry.”

Mawer’s The Glass Room, the only nominated book Crown hasn’t read, left colleagues “very impressed,”she added.

Here’s the complete short list.

Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel: A novel of historical intrigue, set in the court of Henry VIII as he conspires to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn.

Summertime, by J.M. Coetzee: A young biographer explores the life of the late novelist “John Coetzee.”

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters: A ghost story set in post-war Warwickshire.

The Children’s Book, by A.S. Byatt: Four intertwined families experiment with bohemian living around the turn of the 20th century.

The Glass Room, by Simon Mawer. Newlyweds, a Jew and a gentile, living in Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s.

The Quickening Maze, by Adam Foulds: Poets John Clare and Alfred Tennyson meet at a lunatic asylum in Epping Forest.

I find it fascinating that every book on this list, with the exception of Coetzee’s, could be termed a historical novel, and his is a complex imagining of his own past seen through the eyes of someone in the future. British critics praised all these titles when they first appeared.

Will the handicappers prove right? Mantel’s Wolf Hall certainly has momentum behind it, but I suspect judges may be dazzled by Coetzee’s Nobel Prize (the South African novelist won in 2003). It’s a truism across all forms of art and entertainment that nothing attracts awards like winning previous awards.

One Comment leave one →
  1. rachel permalink
    September 8, 2009 1:26 pm

    I don’t really think it’s fair that someone could win the Man Booker more than once and certainly not 3 times. It just doesn’t seem right.

    I’ve read some great works of historical fiction, but I must admit that it baffles me somewhat. First of all there is so much to be read set in the past and written in the past that it hardly seems worth it to try and improve on what was written before you by contemporary authors, and no matter how much research you’ve done you couldn’t possibly get the details like they got the details. Second of all, there is so much for an author to write about now, I don’t exactly see the point in writing about a time that isn’t here and now, or I guess a little more liberally a time that the author hasn’t lived through.

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