Everything you need to know about the 2013 Man Booker Shortlist

Meeting the prospective in-laws?  Stuck at the bar with your other half’s overly-cultured BFF?  Out to dinner with clients?  Don’t panic here’s what you need to know in order to appear suitably knowledge on the subject.
In case you missed the announcement last week, these are the six titles on this year’s Man Booker Prize shortlist:

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (Chatto & Windus):  Leaning left of the mainstream, we have Zimbabwean author NoViolet, whose debut novel manages to mix humour and optimism in with the grim daily reminders of violence and suffering in a small shanty town ironically named Paradise. Her narrator Darling, hops from tale to tale, giving us a pretty comprehensive and eye-opening insight into life as an emigrant who manges to leave her village for a life abroad.  It’s much funnier than I am making it sound.  NoViolet’s stories won 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing, and we’ll be hearing more and more from her I suspect.  And yes, her name really is NoViolet.

The Harvest by Jim Crace (Picador): First of all, it’s Crace, not Grace.  Secondly, it’s the bookies’ favourite this year.  It’s Crace’s second time on the shortlist and by all accounts (I haven’t read this one) it’s a horrible bleak story of farmers being forced off their land.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (Canongate): I cannot for the life of me figure out what this book is about.  Bamboozle yourself here: http://www.canongate.tv/time-being.  My advice would be to avoid entering a discussion on this one unless you are a) a Buddist nun yourself, or b) have recently completed a thesis on the novel.  Once I do read it, I will attempt a review.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (Granta): What she lacks in years —a youthful 28-years-old — she makes up for in page numbers, 832!  This is just her second novel.  She caused a stir with her first, The Rehearsal, writing about a sex scandal at a New Zealand high school.  The Luminaries is set in the country’s South Island during the 19th century gold rush. It’s part mystery, part crime, part old school story telling.  I loved it, and I’d love to see her win the Booker.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (Bloomsbury): Indian brothers Udayan and Subhash struggle to maintain their childhood bond when Udayan joins the Naxalite movement in Calcutta of the 1960s, and sensible Subhash emigrates for a career in the US.  As Udayan is drawn deeper and deeper into dangerous activities and the inevitable occurs, Subhash ends up more involved in his brother’s personal life than seems healthy.  Political divide and social unrest contribute to this fascinating and tragic story.  Brilliantly written, I’m not sure why it’s not the favourite…

The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín (Penguin): The only Irish author to make the cut, and the smallest volume on the list with a mere 104 pages.  Although I won’t complain about it as 104 pages of Mary’s reaction to the crucifixion of Jesus is enough.  For the record, I’m a fan of Tóibín, but not this book.

These contemporary novels have beaten 145 of their peers to land a coveted spot on the shortlist. It’s a big deal for book people, the publishing Olympics if you will!

What’s the fuss about? In short, £50k.

In detail:

  • The winning author will receive £50,000stg, and a designer bound copy of their book.
  • The shortlisted nominees each receive £2,500stg, and a designer bound copy of their book.
  • The winner will be announced October 2013.
  • Any full-length novel written by a citizen of the Commonwealth or the Republic of Ireland and published in the United Kingdom for the first time in the year of the prize is eligible for entry.
  • The novel must be an original work in English (not a translation) and must not be self-published.
  • The prize is in its 43rd year, there has always been just one criterion: “the best novel in the opinion of the judges”.
  • It’s a big deal for the author and the affiliated publishing house. Winning a Man Booker guarantees a huge print run, re-prints and worldwide publicity, and a hike in sales. It can make a career.
  • Its name changed from the Booker Prize to the Man Booker Prize, when Man Group Plc partnered up with the Booker Prize Foundation.

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