(Wo)Man Booker Shadow Panel: my personal short list

The official Man Booker short list will be announced soon (Tuesday, September 13th), and the Shadow Panel reading is wrapping up. We’ll publish our short list on Monday. But today I’ll give my personal list, with the one caveat that I wasn’t able to read J.M. Coetzee’s The Schooldays of Jesus because my copy didn’t arrive on time (it still isn’t here). This is very frustrating, as Coetzee is an important writer who seems likely (to me) to make the short list, and I wanted to have the chance to consider it for inclusion myself. The problem is that the rules allow the judges to consider any book published in the U.K. by September 30th, 2016, which means it’s possible for them to choose a book no one (except those with ARCs) is able to read right away. Coetzee’s publishers decided to move up the U.K. publication date once the long list was announced, but this still didn’t allow quite enough time for me to get the book. I might have had it on time, but either the Book Depository messed up, or the postal service messed up, and, yes, I’m still annoyed about it. Grrrr.

Not getting to read the Coetzee is also frustrating because the long list wasn’t terribly strong, and I would have loved to have another book to consider for my short list. There were definitely some books I loved and some I liked, but by the time I got to the end of my list of six books, I was losing enthusiasm for my available choices. Basically, the sensibility of the judges doesn’t overlap with my own all that much, and I think it’s safe to say that this is true for the other members of the shadow panel as well. Surely there are better books published in the last year?? I haven’t read widely in fiction of the last year, but … surely?? I wish we could see the entire list of contenders, the 155 books submitted by publishers for consideration, to help figure out why they chose these 13 books.

At any rate! Below is my list, roughly in order of preference:

  1. The Sellout, by Paul Beatty
  2. Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh
  3. My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout
  4. All That Man Is, by David Szalay
  5. The Many, by Wyl Menmuir
  6. Hot Milk, by Deborah Levy

I almost put The North Water, by Ian McGuire in the last spot, but Hot Milk wins out, mainly because it feels new and strange (a good kind of strange) in a way that The North Water doesn’t. Of the books on this list, I loved the first three, very much admired the 4th and 5th, and liked the 6th. Of the books not on this list, I liked The North Water and His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet but felt they didn’t do enough that was new or interesting — they were fine, not exciting. I found Virginia Reeves’s Work Like Any Other implausible and dull. Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing, A.L. Kennedy’s Serious Sweet, and David Means’s Hystopia were all too long and messy, although with interesting premises. They were all admirable attempts at something worth doing, but they didn’t follow through.

I’m dying to know what the official short list will be. I have a feeling their list will diverge greatly from mine, but we shall see.

3 Comments

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3 responses to “(Wo)Man Booker Shadow Panel: my personal short list

  1. As you already know, you and I had a lot of the same thoughts about the books this year with the possible exception of The North Water which I think you like more than I do. It was entertaining enough but those elements of Melville and Conrad homage only made me wish I was reading them instead.🙂

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  2. This was such a frustrating list for me, as we’ve discussed already. Even the books I thought were really great weren’t ones I’d necessarily expect to see on a shortlist in a more typical year. Last year only offered two that I considered masterpieces, but 5 or 6 of the others were solid and enjoyable. I feel like these judges just weren’t interested in storytelling, unless the story was shocking. I really do believe it’s possible to have great storytelling, great writing, and do something new and interesting, but this list doesn’t offer it.

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  3. Like you, I wish I had read the Coatzee which didn’t arrive in time for me, either. I hate coming to the list with unfinished business, but I did my very best this year what with shook beginning two weeks after the long list was announced.

    I’m looking forward to determine the winner with you and others, and I admire your ability (along with Frances’) to not become overly offended with some of the books as I did. You both are able to stay rational and objective, skills which sometimes escape me though I try to be mature.🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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