Originally published on Cultured Vultures
The longlist for the Man Booker Prize 2018 was announced on Monday. This final cut has revealed a strange juxtaposition of brave new voices along with a narrow viewing of the world’s current issues. In 2014, the prize was opened up to include authors from any country, not just those of the commonwealth. And although this list cannot be accused of American author bias, as has been the case for previous years, many are disappointed that the pool does not stretch further than the British Isles or Northern America.
But, this is not to say that these 13 selected from the record-breaking 171 submissions do not deserve their place. It includes four debut novelists, several award winning writers and a dance across the genres. From drama to historical, with Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black, to an unusual blend of poetry and prose in the form of Robin Robertson’s The Long Take, this year’s titles are certainly ‘fresh, exciting reading’.
The Man Booker prize has often seemed to exist under a cloud of literary snobbery; books that you might buy to look cultured but never bother to read. And although disappointed with the lack of global diversity, critics have been receptive of the mix between popular choices, unusual narrative devices and high literary work.
Previous Man Booker Winner, Michael Ondaatje has been longlisted again with Warlight, a drama set in post-Blitz London. The English Patient originally won the prize for him in 1992, and was also recently awarded the Golden Man Booker as the best title in its fifty-year history.
It is refreshing to welcome the first ever graphic novel to be longlisted in the form of Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina, a chilling tale of distrust in the internet age and a woman’s disappearance. There is an uncommon inclusion in the thriller Snap, penned by the much celebrated Belinda Bauer. This, along with Sophie Mackintosh's dystopian The Water Cure, is also about the aftermath of a disappearance.
Common threads are there to be unpicked throughout the list: surprising entries, new voices, topical themes, shifting and unpredictable settings. Every title stands out in their desire to take us on a journey of self and societal exploration.
Kwame Anthony Appiah, the 2018 judging chair, has said some choices ‘feel urgent and topical’. This is certainly true of the unsettling Sabrina, Guy Gunaratne’s shout of an unquiet London estate with In Our Mad And Furious City, Donal Ryan’s overlapping narratives in From A Low And Quiet Sea and Richard Powers’ ecological masterpiece The Overstory.
A sense of unease is present also in the relationship between mother and daughter depicted in Daisy Johnson’s Everything Under and in the Irish Troubles of Milkman. Rachel Kushner takes us into the heart of a women’s prison in The Mars Room, while Normal People explores our talent for miscommunication in the modern era.
The literary voices calling out seem to echo this ‘world on the brink’ feeling with the themes that matter now; identity, politics, migration, environmental concerns, conflict. We shall eagerly await the winner.