I wasn’t initially planning on making a reaction post about this, and I still don’t intend to go through the list title by title (if you’re curious about my thoughts on any title in particular though don’t hesitate to ask!)
But the more I think about this year’s list and the more reactions I read/watch, the more I feel like getting my thoughts down all in one place.
So, in case you missed it – The Man Booker 2018 longlist was announced! And I think it caught everyone by surprise. There are a lot of noteworthy elements in play: a graphic novel was longlisted for the first time, there’s also a crime novel (not a first, but still unexpected), there are four debuts, more female writers than male, no countries represented outside the UK/Ireland/US/Canada, and several big name authors who everyone thought were guaranteed a spot were overlooked (Barnes, Hollinghurst, Smith, Ward, et al).
Naturally, reactions have been completely split – a lot of people find the list fresh and exciting, while others find it sophomoric and believe it’s compromising the integrity of the Booker. I’m firmly in the first camp.
I find the complaint that I keep seeing crop up, that the Man Booker is pandering to a non-literary crowd with this year’s longlist, is incredibly ironic since last year’s list in my opinion supports that claim much better. Swing Time, Underground Railroad, Lincoln in the Bardo, etc., all of these titles were incredibly mainstream in a way that none of this year’s nominees are. How many of your non-reader friends do you think are going to pick up From a Low and Quiet Sea or even Warlight? I mean, obviously literary prizes do not exist in a vacuum, obviously judges look at what their selection as a whole says rather than just choosing the 13 ‘best’ titles. Obviously this list shows a deliberate interest in debut authors and lesser known works. But do I believe that this list is less ‘literary,’ less valuable than any that have come before, just because it acknowledges debuts above established white male writers? Absolutely not.
Also, literary prizes are inherently subjective. This isn’t anything new. Judges each have their own strengths and weaknesses as readers, and expecting that subjectivity to be entirely removed from the selection process is utterly pointless. This year’s panel of judges has a certain vision for the Booker, but who’s to say that next year’s panel is going to be similar? I think the 2017 and 2018 longlists are night and day from one another – personally I find the 2018 list much more interesting – but all this talk of the Booker essentially jumping the shark in my opinion is totally premature. It’s difficult to track ‘trends’ with a literary prize that uses a different judging panel every single year.
I don’t know – I just get tired of argument along the lines of ‘is this list really the best fiction published in the past year?’ (usually in reference to the Established White Male Authors who were overlooked) when the answer is always, always, always going to be of course not, of course it’s not the ‘best’ fiction, there is no such thing as the ‘best’ fiction. 171 titles were submitted for consideration this year, and I’m sure that each and every one of them has its merits and shortcomings. A different panel of judges would have probably selected 13 different books altogether, but does the merit of that hypothetical list negate the merit and validity of the list we were given?
I think it’s an interesting list. I like that it’s not what we expected. I don’t think it’s perfect, not by a long shot, but I am looking forward to discovering at least a handful of great new books and authors.
What are your thoughts on the Man Booker longlist? And the Man Booker (or even literary prizes) in general? Comment and let me know!