David Mitchell out; Ali Smith, Howard Jacobson, and Karen Joy Fowler in on the 2014 Man Booker Prize shortlist

September 9, 2014 by · Leave a Comment 

Man_Booker_Prize_logoAnyone who had money on David Mitchell going all the way with this year’s Man Booker Prize will need to pony up this morning. The author’s latest novel, The Bone Clocks, which has been roundly hailed as a masterpiece on both sides of the Atlantic, was shut out of the shortlist for the prize, which culled a list of thirteen books down to six.

Two Americans made the cut: Joshua Ferris for his sophomore novel To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, and Karen Joy Fowler for her novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Fowler represents a populist note in a list that otherwise tilts toward more literary fare.

This was the first year the prize was open to writers outside the Commonwealth, Ireland, and Zimbabwe; many critics felt that allowing U.S. authors to compete would result in another avenue for American cultural hegemony, though that worry proved chimerical, at least for the current calendar year: the other three books on the shortlist are all by authors who would have been eligible prior to the controversial rule change. (No Canadians made the 2014 longlist.)

Howard Jacobson, whose novel The Finkler Question won the 2010 prize (and who is currently working on a “reboot” of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice), got the nod for his dystopian novel J. Ali Smith, a previous nominee for The Accidental (in 2001) and Hotel World (in 2005), is nominated for her new novel How to Be Both. Australian Richard Flanagan is shortlisted for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Neel Mukherjee rounds out the list with his novel The Lives of Others.

A.C. Grayling, chair of the 2014 judging panel, is quoted on the Man Booker website as saying, “We had a lengthy and intensive debate to whittle the list down to these six. It is a strong, thought-provoking shortlist which we believe demonstrates the wonderful depth and range of contemporary fiction in English.”

The other jurors are Jonathan Bate, author and provost of Worcester College; Sarah Churchwell, author and academic; Daniel Glaser, neuroscientist (described as “the first pure scientist to be a Man Booker judge”); Alastair Niven, fellow of Harris Manchester College at the University of Oxford; and Erica Wagner, author and journalist.

This year’s prize has already caused consternation for a “lack of big names” and a number of titles that were unpublished at the time of the longlist announcement. In the same article, John Dugdale writes about what he sees as the relative provincialism of this year’s longlist of titles:

With notable exceptions, American novelists tend to write about the U.S., and none of the four – Joshua Ferris, Karen Joy Fowler, Siri Hustvedt, Richard Powers – set their selected books abroad. So although non-western countries are depicted in works by Flanagan, Neel Mukherjee, and Joseph O’Neill, there’s a marked sense of restricted horizons when set against a 2013 longlist full of travellers and immigrants, and in which [Eleanor] Catton, NoViolet Bulawayo, Richard House, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Ruth Ozeki all pulled off ambitious intercontinental narratives.

The winner of the £50,000 purse will be announced on October 14. Last year’s prize went to Catton for her second novel, The Luminaries.

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