The ‘Should have been a contender for the Man Booker’ Prize 2014

Since the 2014 long list was announced on Wednesday, much has been said about its lack of diversity. Three women (Ali Smith, Siri Hustvedt, Karen Joy Fowler). One non-white writer (Neel Mukherjee). Nine white men. Sarah Churchwell, one of the judges, made the point that the judges are constrained by what publishers choose to submit. But that’s hardly a defence – whether the issue lies with the books that publishers choose to submit, or with the decisions made at judging level, there is an issue. Are these thirteen books really the cream of novels published in English within the twelve months of the eligibility period? I had reservations about last year’s shortlist, but the longlist itself was diverse and interesting. Perhaps I’ll feel the same way about this list when I’ve actually read the novels. But nine white men?

I have nothing against white men. I’m married to one and am raising two. But this list feels like a throwback to an age when women had to write under male pseudonyms. Big publishers dominate, too, although it is good to see the crowd-funded Wake making an appearance.

I’m not as distressed as many seem to have been by the absence of The Goldfinch. It won the Pulitzer, it was shortlisted for the Baileys, it’s selling well, and Tartt is so celebrated that she dominates headlines announcing a prize she hasn’t been shortlisted for. But The Goldfinch is not a flawless novel, and if the Folio, Baileys and Man Booker regularly long list the same novels, the world of literary prizes will become very dull. I’m similarly unperturbed by the absence of Ian McEwan and Martin Amis.

An extremely unscientific survey identified the following titles as ones readers were secretly hoping would make the Man Booker list. Eleven women, four men, some that lean to the commercial, some that are more overtly literary, a wide range of publishers and subject matter. But every one of these novels was nominated by at least two separate readers in response to a Twitter appeal. I’m not claiming it’s been through as thorough a process as the Man Booker long list. Of course it reflects assumptions and experiences of the company I keep. But with nine white men on the long list, can the Man Booker claim to be any different?

Thirst, Kerry Hudson

A God in Every Stone, Kamila Shamsie

After Me Comes the Flood, Sarah Perry

Lost for Words, Edward St Aubyn

The Dead Wife’s Handbook, Hannah Beckerman

Linda Grant, Upstairs at the Party

Jill Dawson, The Tell Tale Heart

Maggie Gee, Virginia Woolf in Manhattan

Jason Hewitt, The Dynamite Room

Jonathan Gibbs, Randall

In the Light of What We Know, Zia Hander Rahman

Her, Harriet Lane

A Song for Issy Bradley, Carys Bray

Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healey

The Shock of the Fall, Nathan Filer


2 thoughts on “The ‘Should have been a contender for the Man Booker’ Prize 2014

  1. I just love that you put it right there that you have nothing against white men. Naomi from Writes of Woman recently wrote about the very same issue and a welcomed, yet unusual visitor had to remind us – women bloggers? feminists? women writers’ supporters? – that we are wrong, wrong, wrong. I leave you the link in case you need to know how wrong you are as well:

  2. And what happened to the brilliant Donna Tartt, Meg Wolitzer, Kamila Shamsie, Yiyun Li, Rachel Kushner, Marisha Pessl, Roxane Gay….

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