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Instant commentary on the Man Booker longlist is unavoidably stupid

27 July 2016

2:39 PM

27 July 2016

2:39 PM

So, the 2016 longlist – aka the Man Booker Dozen – is out. It invites a cavalcade of instant commentary, almost all of which – as I wrote when I was helping judge the prize myself last year – is unavoidably incredibly stupid.

Nobody other than the judges will have read all 150-odd of the books submitted, so in deploring this omission or groaning at that inclusion you say nothing much at all. That Graham Swift or Jonathan Safran Foer don’t appear this year doesn’t necessarily mean their books were bad. It means that the judges thought others were better. Have you read the others? No? Well, quite.

We make much of famous writers who have been ‘snubbed’, and we put the list through our diversity algorithms (how many women; how many brown people; how many Americans) in search of… I don’t know – signs of either racist or sexist bias, politically correct blandness or a gooey prostration before transatlantic glamour. Whatever makes a headline.

The first of these positions implies that the business of a book prize is to do with social courtesy to famous people; the second that it’s to do with assembling a vision of the literary (or even more stupidly, the wider) culture.

Duh. It’s not. It’s to do with selecting, by committee, as impartially as possible, the best 13 literary novels on their own merits from more than ten times that number. It’ll take a lot longer than 24 hours for even the best critics to make a sensible judgment about whether this is a good longlist or a bad one.

To get the process started, at least, here’s the list, with links to The Spectator’s reviews of those that have so far been published (I’m afraid we didn’t – pace Pokémon Go – catch them all):

Paul Beatty (US) – The Sellout (Oneworld)


J.M. Coetzee (South African-Australian) – The Schooldays of Jesus (Harvill Secker)

A.L. Kennedy (UK) – Serious Sweet (Jonathan Cape)

Deborah Levy (UK) – Hot Milk (Hamish Hamilton)

Graeme Macrae Burnet (UK) – His Bloody Project (Contraband)

Ian McGuire (UK) – The North Water (Scribner UK)

David Means (US) – Hystopia (Faber & Faber)

Wyl Menmuir (UK) -The Many (Salt)

Ottessa Moshfegh (US) – Eileen (Jonathan Cape)

Virginia Reeves (US) – Work Like Any Other (Scribner UK)

Elizabeth Strout (US) – My Name Is Lucy Barton (Viking)

David Szalay (Canada-UK) – All That Man Is (Jonathan Cape)

Madeleine Thien (Canada) – Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Granta Books)

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