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Oddly enough, the Man Booker Prize will not go to Jonathan Franzen.

September 10, 2010

The odds-on favorite to win the Man Booker this year.

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.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Tommy Smart permalink
    September 11, 2010 12:45 pm

    I have to disagree about Mitchell’s work. I found “Thousand Autumns…” boring when I gave it a shot. You like it though, so I will give it another shot. (Even if we will always disagree about ” Super Sad True Love Story”) My money is on “Room” which was able to pull me away from”Mr Norell and Johnathan Strange”, thank you for that recommendation.

    You sir are right on the money about the title to Franzen’s book, “Freedom”. Freedom?, Freedom from what?, Freedom from who?, Freedom from where?, Freedom from why?!?

    The idea of betting on book prizes is just geeky and greasy enough to warm my heart.

    Finally, can you ask the webmaster to bring back the search function?

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      September 12, 2010 10:17 am

      Search function?

      I cannot attest to Mitchell’s earlier novels, although they were highly thought of by most of the reviewers who did read them, but I’m fully bewowed by Thousand Autumns. And I’m puzzled by your reaction to SSTLS. I would have thought right down your alley…

      • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
        September 13, 2010 9:24 am

        Webmaster? Is that like, Spiderman? Or is it more like Beastmaster? For what it’s worth, I think Marc Singer has retired, and I hear they are already dumping Toby Maqguire to reboot the Webslinger franchise, even though I thought it was pretty well booted, seeing as how barely three years have elapsed since Spidey 3…

  2. Tommy Smart permalink
    September 13, 2010 12:02 pm

    I guess Tubemaster would be more accurate a title since evary1 no’s the internet is made up of tubes. Superhero films (with the exception of Watchmen) are just crummy. it’s hard for me to believe I am anticipating the Hobbit films more than the new X-Men film, but I am. At least I have my heroes from the Fringe Department to look forward to and there is Artemis Fowls exploits to read up on.

    In other film news, have you read that Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” saga has been greenlit for a three film and television series adaptation? (with your favorite director at the helm)

    Oh… and the search function was a little box on the page where I (and I imagine others) could type in a search query and would scan your Open Page archives for results. A very much nifty tool that I used to look up books and topics for personal and educational reasons. I needed it recently to hotlink the specific address for the “Ten Arab novels every Western should read” blog for a Inter-cultural Communication discussion, and it was no longer available, so I had to search myself (ugh!) through the pages. I could have summoned a fairy to help but that’s tricksy business.

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