Most years, I manage to read enough to have some kind of opinion on the winner of the big book prizes (obviously it’s been easier recently, what with Hilary Mantel winning them all). I don’t always agree with the results, but the value of a prize to readers isn’t so much the winner as the process. Anything that brings new writers to the attention of readers is good. And the Orange prize’s raison d’être – championing women writers – is something I’ve always applauded. But things change. I coped seamlessly with writing Man Booker instead of Booker. But then the Orange went pale taupe, very sweet and creamily bland – which reminded me of Galaxy’s sponsorship of the Richard and Judy book club – and that led to the Costa and the hours I wish I could spend reading in coffee shops that pay their taxes. Is it all becoming about pleasure, about a book as something to do while you enjoy your glass of Bailey’s, your bar of chocolate, your long milky coffee? (well, you couldn’t get much reading done over a short espresso).
But the Man Booker longlist hasn’t borne out that fear (although I am fascinated by Patrick Ness’ observation on Twitter that the longlist contains ‘at least one book so poorly written I could barely get past the first page.’ He wouldn’t be drawn.)
And so I come to my resolution. I am going to read the Man Booker longlist in time to have an opinion on the shortlist. The longlist – which was released a couple of days ago – looks short on usual suspects and long on interest. There are writers I’m familiar with (Jim Crace, Charlotte Mendelson) and writers I’ve never heard of (Jhumpa Lahri, Donal Ryan), big publishers (Penguin, Picador) and small ones (Sandstone Press, Canongate – although alas nothing for Salt), three debuts and an astonishing range of subject matter. It’s going to be fun – but not the safe, secure, sweet creamy kind of fun that comes with snuggling onto the sofa with a safe bet. I’m hoping to be challenged, confronted, shaken up a bit (or a lot). I’m not expecting to like them all. I’m not sure what I am expecting. That’s why I’m doing it.
I’ll post my thoughts here, and would love to hear yours.