Predicting the Booker Longlist

Welcome to the most self-indulgent thing I do all year long! Yes, it’s my annual list of Booker longlist predictions. I should warn you ahead of time that my track record is dreadful and I will most likely get two or three of my picks correct. But if nothing else, my yearly sifting through dozens of books published in the UK always turns up many interesting novels I might never have found otherwise. So there’s that.

After last year, which seems to be generally acknowledged as a debacle, I do expect to see more established literary names and fewer off-the-wall picks that “zip along.” (At least that is what I was promised.) For that reason my list this year tends to favor writers who’ve made the longlist or shortlist multiple times; I have books by three former winners on my list. I will say that it does seem to be an unusually strong year for fiction; I’ve added about two-dozen books to my to-be-read list in the process of compiling my predictions.

So, the list, in descending order of certainty.

  •  Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel – I really will be shocked if Mantel’s follow-up to Wolf Hall is ignored tomorrow. I thought that Bring Up the Bodies was even better than Wolf Hall, and Wolf Hall (very deservedly) won the Booker in 2009.
  • The Chemistry of Tears, Peter Carey – This novel by a former Booker winner is beautifully written, but possibly a little slight. On the other hand, Julian Barnes won for The Sense of an Ending last year, and I believe I reviewed it exactly the same way.

Those are the books I’ve read. Yes, of the thirteen books I’m predicting, I’ve only actually read two of them. Alas, there are only so many times a year I can ship books from the UK to Michigan before my husband’s head explodes.

  • The Yips, Nicola Barker – I’ve heard nothing but good things about this book, I liked the sample chapter in the Guardian, and I thought that Darkmans was awfully nifty. Barker made the shortlist with Darkmans, so I think it’s a good bet that she could at least make the longlist with this one.
  • Sweet Tooth, Ian McEwan – Booker loves McEwan, who’s made the longlist six times and won for Amsterdam. In Sweet Tooth McEwan appears to be playing with ideas about fiction and real life and how they intersect, as he did to great acclaim in Atonement.
  • Capital, John Lanchester – A great big fat book about money and class in 2008 London by a former Whitbread winner (for The Debt to Pleasure, in 1996). I’ve seen a lot of buzz about this book and I’m eager to read it, despite its length (592 pages! Good thing my kids are in camp for the next month).

Those five books I think are decent bets to make the longlist. I’m probably wrong about at least one of them, but at least I have good solid reasons for listing them. The other eight on my list are based more on wishful thinking, word-of-mouth, and sheer random chance than anything else.

  • The Coward’s Tale, Vanessa Gebbie – This one actually is available in the US already; I just haven’t picked it up yet. It’s about a Welsh coal mining town and a long-ago mining collapse and I just find it very intriguing. This is by far the longest shot on my list, but I included it if only to remind myself to read it soon.
  • The Deadman’s Pedal, Alan Warner – I am a big fan of Alan Warner’s work. Morvern Callar is one of the really indelible books I’ve read in the past few years, and I also loved The Stars in the Bright Sky when it was longlisted a couple of years ago. So this is another book that I am just very eager to read.
  • Hawthorn and Child, Keith Ridgway – This seems to be blowing people away. It’s a crime novel, which I suppose might work against it after last year, but everyone who reads it loves it.
  • Scenes from an Early Life, Philip Hensher – I’m a little skeptical of this one because I wasn’t crazy about The Northern Clemency. But it has an unusual premise – it is a fictionalized account of Hensher’s husband’s childhood in Pakistan and Bangladesh – and after reading The Good Muslim I can’t help but be curious about this one.
  • The Liars’ Gospel, Naomi Alderman – I adored Alderman’s novel Disobedience, about the renegade daughter of a very Orthodox rabbi, and I was deeply disappointed when it didn’t make the longlist that year. In her new book, she has decided to tackle the story of Jesus. I can’t help but wonder why a nice Jewish girl is writing about Jesus, and I really can’t wait to see what she has to say. This really is another long shot, but what an interesting addition to the list it would be.
  • The Fever Tree, Jennifer McVeigh – Another book about a mining town; this one about diamond mines in South Africa. (Something about mines fascinates me; it must be my claustrophobia.) At any rate, the intersection of mines, Africa, and the nineteenth century seems irresistible to me. And it’s apparently a love story, and we don’t seem to have many of those this year.
  • John Saturnall’s Feast, Lawrence Norfolk – By the time I get to pick number twelve, it really is coming down to “What a cool title.”
  • The Colour of Milk, Nell Leyshon – I just heard about this book for the first time last week, and it sounds just marvelous: the story of a girl learning to read and write, written by her as she learns. I’m a little concerned about Mary-Sue-ism, but other than that small caveat I really really really want to read it.

So we’ll see tomorrow how well I did. (I am happy, by the way, that I achieved gender balance without even trying.) If you, like me, cannot get enough of the Booker Prize, you can check out other people’s predictions here and here and here and here and here. The only book on all these lists as well as mine? Bring Up the Bodies.

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6 Comments to Predicting the Booker Longlist

  1. July 24, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Hi Gayla, and thank you for all these books I didn’t know I need to read! My comment is just an aside to your wondering what a nice Jewish girl might have to say about Jesus. Apart from my eagerness to read Alderman’s book, I am reminded of that nice Jewish boy, Leonard Cohen, who has had much to say about Jesus, directly and indirectly. I always find those lyrics of his unexpected and poignant. I hope Alderman succeeds in a similar fashion.

    I have bookmarked this page.

  2. Kat Warren's Gravatar Kat Warren
    July 24, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    I’d add Audrey Schulman’s “Three Weeks in December” and Alyson Hagy’s “Boleto.”

  3. Kat Warren's Gravatar Kat Warren
    July 24, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Oh, eep, of course you’re right. What was I thinking?!

  4. July 25, 2012 at 4:33 am | Permalink

    I think you’re probably going to be right with this list, but I hope that there aren’t that many of the usual suspects on the longlist. I’m really hoping that this year has more new blood and that we’ll be introduced to a few different authors. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for The Colour of Milk and The Street Sweeper.

  5. July 25, 2012 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    we’ll now soon enough, looking forward to seeing what you think?

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