Oddly enough, the Man Booker Prize will not go to Jonathan Franzen.
Mea culpa. I was so dazzled by the spectacle surrounding Jonathan Franzen, who’s fast becoming the Stieg Larsson of literary fiction, that I almost missed the announcement of the Man Booker Prize short list — which inexplicably omits my favorite U.K. novel of the year.
That would be David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet. Okay, okay, so it’s the only novel among the 13 titles on the long list that I’ve read, but I really, really like it. A two-time finalist, Mitchell deserved another go at the £50,000 prize for this novel of intrigue in Nagasaki at the turn of the 18th century. Beautifully turned, with nary a wasted word, and a narrative strategy elegant as a diamond.
The Man Booker, of course, is the U.K.’s top fiction award, so just kidding about Fanzen. He’s not eligible. And now neither is Mitchell, an early favorite among oddsmakers. Also eliminated, another early favorite: The Slap, the controversial novel of suburban moral rot by Australian novelist Christos Tsiolkas, which is either “unbelievably misogynistic” or “riveting from beginning to end,” according to Alison Flood of the Guardian.
Those who did make the six-title short list include fellow Aussie Peter Carey for Parrot and Olivier in America, a fictional gloss on Alexis de Tocqueville’s famous 1831 visit to the U.S. Carey’s already taken the prize twice (for Oscar and Lucinda, 1988; and The True History of the Kelly Gang, 2001), which means he could become the first three-time winner in the 40-year-history of the Man Booker.
But British odds makers don’t like his chances. Apparently Brits will bet on anything, including literary prizes–does that seem as bizarre to you as it does to me? American gamblers may well do the same, but the place of betting in the two cultures seems vastly different.
I mean, can you imagine a New York Times story on the National Book Award that routinely included betting lines in its reporting? Me, neither. But Flood gives the odds in her Guardian report.
Leading the field: “experimental novelist” Tom McCarthy for C, a historical fantasy set in the early 20th century and described by the Guardian’s Christopher Thayler as “a 1960s-style anti-novel that’s fundamentally hostile to the notion of character and dramatises, or encodes, a set of ideas concerning subjectivity.”
Huh? I think that means if you’re a fan of modernists like Thomas Pynchon or John Barth, then you’ll like McCarthy’s book.
Close behind: In a Stange Room, by South African Damon Galgut, and Room, by Emma Donoghue, an Irish novelist living in Canada, both listed at 3/1. Dalgut’s book describes a man’s search for love and home while traveling to Greece, India and Africa. If that sounds like a masculine fictional version of Eat, Pray, Love to you, well, me, too. But I’m sure that’s purely coincidental.
Donoghue’s Room, by the way, is the most controversial of the finalists. The story of a teen-aged girl kidnapped and held as a sex-slave in a basement room, it is said to be inspired by the several similar recent real-life incidents in Europe.
Cary is next, at 5/1, followed by Andrea Levy’s The Long Song (slaves and masters in 19th century Jamaica) at 7/1 and Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question (a comic look at what it means to be British and Jewish) at 8/1.
Oh, and for those keeping count in the gender sweepstakes, that’s two women vs. four men for the six slots in this year’s Man Booker finals.