The Booker Longlist: Not Safe, Not Conservative

So the longlist is out and not at all what I expected. So much for judges playing it safe and going with established names! I got two of my thirteen predictions, which is about par for the course. What does surprise me, though, is that several of these books weren’t even on my radar; usually I’ve heard of almost all the books even if I’m not especially expecting to see them on the list. But a lot of these are totally new to me.

The two I got right:

  • Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel. Of course – I believe the entire world predicted that one)
  • The Yips, Nicola Barker. Very encouraging, as I think Barker has an interesting and unique voice.

And the rest of them:

  • The Teleportation Accident, Ned Beauman. Beauman is best known for Boxer, Beetle, which I haven’t read but I know many people love. This book sounds… a little manic, actually – a crazy combo of science fiction and history and comedy and half a dozen other things. It might be awesome. It might be a disaster.
  • Philida, Andre Brink. This is one that was not on my radar screen at all. Brink is an established author, though; he’s been shortlisted for the Booker twice, which I did not realize. This book sounds like a pretty standard historical.
  • The Garden of Evening Mists, Tan Twan Eng. So this one I’m excited about; it narrowly missed my list yesterday, and I really liked Eng’s earlier book, The Gift of Rain (which also made the Booker longlist). And it’s set in Japan, so bonus points for that.
  • Skios, Michael Frayn. This one appears to be a comedy. Frayn has a great track record, so we’ll see. I’m a little skeptical.
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce. I’m looking forward to this one. The book has a very unusual premise – the title character begins a six-hundred mile walk because he believes it will keep a woman from his past alive – and it sounds charming.
  • Swimming Home, Deborah Levy. The book description calls this a page-turner about depression. I’ve never heard of Deborah Levy, but Jeannette Winterson seems to like her, which is good enough for me.
  • The Lighthouse, Alison Moore. Oddly enough, it seems to be another book about a long walk? It could be interesting. At this point I don’t know enough about it to say more.
  • Umbrella, Will Self. I’m looking forward to this one. I really thought it would be too much this year – as I said yesterday, I was expecting a more conservative list. But it sounds fabulous, and I like what I’ve read in the past by Self.
  • Narcopolis, Jeet Thayil. Another one I’ve not heard of before. On the one hand, I love books about India; on the other hand, I saw the phrase “the work of William S. Burroughs” in the book description and immediately thought “Ugh.” So I guess we’ll finally find out whether my India fetish is stronger than my dislike of Burroughs.
  • Communion Town, Sam Thompson. So I’ve read the book description three times and I still can’t tell you what it is about. Other than that it is about a city. But China Mieville liked it, and I think China Mieville is the bomb, so there’s that.

Overall, this is a much more eclectic list than I expected, and the books seem at first glance to be pretty ambitious, so I’m encouraged, even if a couple of them don’t ring my personal bell. It should be a very interesting few weeks of reading.

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