David Blackburn

Booker Prize shortlist announced

The 2012 Booker Prize shortlist has been announced. The runners and riders are:

Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists (Myrmidon Books)
Deborah Levy, Swimming Home (And Other Stories/Faber & Faber)
Hilary Mantel, Bring up the Bodies (Fourth Estate)
Alison Moore, The Lighthouse (Salt)
Will Self, Umbrella (Bloomsbury)
Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis (Faber & Faber)

The Booker longlist was ambitious, a challenge to readers that was high-brow and out of touch as the world went mad for E.L. James’s easy mix of spanking and wanking. The judges have continued in this high-minded vein with the shortlist, self-consciously so. Chairman Sir Peter Stothard said:

‘We loved the shock of language shown in so many different ways and were exhilarated by the vigour and vividly defined values in the six books that we chose – and in the visible confidence of the novel’s place in forming our words and ideas.’

The idea that the novel forms ideas made me think of Howard Jacobson’s pessimistic view of ficiton’s future, expressed in a recent interview with the Spectator. He believes that readers have forgotten how to read, which implies that they do not want to think. Stothard and his judges either disagree with Jacobson or believe that readers should be shaken awake. If you think that the novel has a purpose beyond entertaining, then this shortlist should to appeal to you, regardless of the inevitable question: ‘Why the hell isn’t X on it when Y is?’

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