I thought I’d be more excited today. Having read every single book on the Man Booker longlist, I thought I’d be hanging on in there for today’s announcement. The day the shortlist was announced, I was checking Twitter every thirty seconds in case I missed it. But today – no. I don’t really care. And this is very, very sad. I like books. There have been times when reading was the reason I bothered to keep going. Even now, when my life has settled in a deeply contented place, the prospect of a little time to read makes my heart beat faster. My husband thinks I encouraged him to do an Art course on Tuesday nights because I’m a lovely person who wants to support the development of his undoubted talent. My children think I like to lie on their beds while they fall asleep because I love being close to them and can’t bear to say goodnight. My entire family think I’m very, very clean because I spend so long in the bathroom. But these considerate actions are nothing more than the corollary benefits of my reading addiction.
So why the lack of excitement about the Man Booker announcement? It’s partly because books I loved from the long list didn’t make it. Stand up, Eve Harris. Stand up, Colum McCann. And while we’re here, stand up Donal Ryan, Alison Macleod, Tash Aw and Charlottle Mendelson too. OK, I didn’t get Richard House, but many, many readers did. ‘Killed the Kills in three days,’ was just one of the tweets I received on the subject. All the praise being bandied about for the shortlisted writers could equally have been applied to you and your novels. And there are tens of novels at least (probably hundreds, but I can’t read that fast) that would have stood equally well on the long list but didn’t get that far. I, for one, don’t feel that the short list represented the best of the long list.
And the opening of the prize to America – well, that’s made me sad too. Is America about to open the Pulitzer to British writers? Why is a move that’s purportedly broadening the field good for a formerly British prize, but not for an American one? I’m a British writer who’s dreamed of winning the Booker ever since I became aware of it. Of course I’d still love to win it – but it’s removed now, put on a high shelf like sweets removed from a presumptuous child. British literature has a character of its own. Where, now, is the internationally renowned prize that celebrates it?
Hurrah for anything – anything – that helps a writer’s career along. Hurrah for Catton and Ozeki and Lahiri and Toíbín and Bulawayo. But I hope Crace wins. I do. His bittersweet novel of a passing era didn’t make a huge impression on me at the time. It was the first of the thirteen long listed novels that I read. The world was going to read my reviews and listen to them. My opinions were going to be Informed and Important. I was reading novels that hadn’t even been published yet. I was all fired up, on the inside of something I loved for the very first time. I had new worlds and bold worlds and fireworks being laid out before me, and the enclosure of the common land in an unidentified part of a long-gone England was tame in comparison. But of the six short listed titles, it’s Crace’s intense, lyrical obituary for time passed that has stayed with me. Oh, bigger, brighter, richer dawns the new world. But its brightness renders everything black and white. We lose our dappled shades, our gentle twilights. A great novel resonates far beyond its subject matter. I didn’t get Harvest as a tale of agriculture. But as the story of what’s happened to the Man Booker, it’s flawless. I hope the judges have the guts to vote for their own story. Crace for the Man Booker! It’s my last hope.