IFFP 2014 – Longlist Predictions

A week on Saturday, the longlist for the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize will be announced, putting my anxious wait to an end (I take literature in translation *very* seriously!).  Once again, I’ll be part of an elite team of ninja reviewers, led by our esteemed leader, Chairman Stu, which will shadow the real judges, forcing them to glance nervously over their shoulders before they make any rash decisions that will bring the wrath of the Shadow Panel down on their unwary heads (note to lawyers – I’m only speaking metaphorically, I promise…).

Before those five excellent individuals announce their longlist choices to the world though, I thought it was time to put my neck on the line and give you all some ideas as to books I’ve already read which I’d like to think will make the cut.  If I’m right, please feel free to praise my perspicacity; if not, blame the judges (the shadowy ninja reviewers are on the case…).

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First up then is Strange Weather in Tokyo (Portobello Books, translated by Alison Markin Powell), Hiromi Kawakami’s delightful novel about a May-to-December romance.  I’d love to see this on the longlist, even if I do loathe the name change (from the American version entitled The Briefcase) and the tacky, cutesy cover.  An equally-good book (with a much nicer cover) is Birgit Vanderbeke’s novella The Mussel Feast (Peirene Press, tr. Jamie Bulloch), a short tale of seafood and domestic rebellion which I tipped for the shortlist a whole year ago 🙂

Continuing the trend of female submissions (or domination, if you prefer) are two excellent books from Europa Editions.  The first, Viola Di Grado’s 70% Acrylic 30% Wool (tr. Michael Reynolds),is a biting, sarcastic novel set in Leeds, where the mood is as dark as the wintry northern skies (if only the American translation didn’t intrude on a very English canvas…).  The second is by a writer whose fame seems to have soared over the past year; Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name (tr. Ann Goldstein), the sequel to My Brilliant Friend, is a book which deserves to be around at the pointy end of the competition.  You never know – if her novel takes out the prize, the mysterious Ms. Ferrante might even be tempted to make an appearance in London…

But, you might ask, are there any books from the boys?  Where are the men?  Well, a couple of likely lads appear courtesy of MacLehose PressAndreï Makine’s Brief Loves that Live Forever (tr. Geoffrey Strachan)is a beautiful little work which looks at love in a cold (and ideologically-depressing) climate, painting a picture of romance and friendship in communist-era Russia.  Still, compared to Jón Kalman Stefánsson’s The Sorrow of Angels (tr. Philip Roughton), Makine’s novella is positively radiant.  In the sequel to Heaven and Hell, the Icelandic writer’s characters battle across a most inhospitable terrain in order to get the mail delivered on time.  Remember that the next time you whinge about your post being late 😉

Finally, there are a couple of familiar names, real IFFP heavyweights.  Karl Ove Knausgaard is back with A Man in Love (Harvill Secker, tr. Don Bartlett), the second in the six-part My Struggle cycle.  Just as detailed as the first, but much more successful, it would be a huge surprise if this didn’t lift Knausi (as I like to call him) onto the longlist.  And the same is true for a certain Javier Marías and his latest book The Infatuations (Hamish Hamilton, tr. Margaret Jull Costa).  A clever tale of love, trust and deception, many have picked it to do well this year.

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So there you are – eight suggestions for what should be on the list next Saturday.  It’s doubtful that they’ll all make it to the longlist (I’m not even sure that they’re all eligible – or have even been entered…), but each of them would be a worthy contender for the prize.  Rest assured – once the list is public, I’ll be letting you know my thoughts and looking briefly at any which I may already have tried.

And then, of course, it’ll be time to start reading 😉

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26 thoughts on “IFFP 2014 – Longlist Predictions

  1. Nice list, Tony! I am hoping to read 'The Mussel Feast' sometime soon. Andreï Makine's 'Brief Loves that Live Forever' also looks beautiful. I want to read that too. Looking forward to the longlist on Saturday and hearing your thoughts on it.

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  2. Marina Sofia – Great books all, and there are probably several that I've simply forgotten! It'll be very interesting to see what actually appears on the list (I'd say the Marías is a dead cert though…).

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  3. Very good selection! I've read most of these and would agree with your suggestions – especially 'The Mussel Feast' and 'Strange Weather in Tokyo'. The only place where we disagree is 'A Man in Love' – I thought it was far weaker than the first in the series. It will probably still make the longlist, because I seem to be one of the only ones that didn't like it!

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  4. It's a great list, Tony. I loved 'The Infatuations' and would be very surprised if it doesn't make the longlist. I really enjoyed Elena Ferrante's 'My Brilliant Friend' and I'm looking forward to reading 'The Story of a New Name' (which I've persuaded our library to purchase). I do need to make a start on Knausgaard, though…now could be the time to do it.

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  5. Thanks – excellent selection. Where I've read them (Makine, Marias, Knausgaard) I concur – which makes me all the more interested to seek out those I haven't.

    Names I'd add to the list would be Tirza by Arnon Grunberg and Seiobo Down Below by Krasznahorkai – both of those I'd rate well above Marias/Makine/Knausgaard and I think could be stronger contenders for the overall prize and the US BTBA.

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  6. Jackie – Really? While the first one was good (particularly in the second half), I found some of the childhood stuff really dull. I have said before though that the second one is a very blokey book and that women may not be quite as impressed by it as thirty-something men with noisy kids 😉

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  7. Paul – Sadly, I suspect that neither of those are eligible as neither Open Letter nor New Directions have an office in the UK (I'd love to be wrong here, but I don't think I am). They're both books I'm hoping to get to fairly soon (I actually have an e-copy of 'Tirza'), and I'm sure they'll do well in the BTBA – but probably not in the IFFP 😦

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  8. Thanks – I'd rather overlooked that! The distinction between whether a book is published in UK or US seems a bit artificial in the 21st century – both equally easy to buy in physical as well as electronic form – but them's the rules I guess.

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  9. As you know, I loved The Briefcase. So lovely. However, despite enjoying Ferrente's earlier work, I just could not get into My Brilliant Friend though I gave it a valiant try. So, I'll have to disagree (with respect) of her inclusion into the IFFP.

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  10. Tony,
    In northern New York, I'm unable to obtain many of these books, but I've got The Briefcase coming for me in the meantime. When I have more pennies available, I'll buy more. Such a great list. I'm saving it in my “WannaReads” file.
    Thank you for the effort!
    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

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  11. Paul – I suspect that there's a danger of being overrun by the bigger US market. Also, these rules keep the number of eligible books to a manageable level – in the BTBA, anything is technically eligible, which means the judges could read up to 500 books! I don't think they do, but it's possible.

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  12. Judith – This time of year is very exciting for me, but I'm also apprehensive about availability on my library system. I'm happy to buy a couple of the titles, but I really need to source most of the books without paying for them. One of the reasons I don't focus more on the BTBA is that very few of those books are available in Australia, meaning I'd have to buy them all myself – and that's not going to happen 😉

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  13. Fantastic (and wonderfully balanced and diverse) list! I'm still trying to decide what to do with Knausi myself – the first book in the cycle was recently published in Hebrew (in the same literary series as The Infatuations, actually, plus many of my favorite books) and I like to support the series. I'm just worried they won't translate all the books and then I'd have to switch to English. Which could be weird.

    Also: wow I'm behind. I meant to read so many of these over the past year. Nope. Dismal, dismal…

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  14. Biblibio – I'm still not convinced that all six will come out in English; a win or two in these prizes might help…

    I won't feel too smug about having read all these books as I'll probably have another reality check when the list is announced. Last year, I thought I'd have read more – in fact, I was left with twelve to read, the same number as in 2012 😦

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  15. Love the list, especially since there are some familiar titles and names I have been looking out for, looking forward to seeing what turns up, but regardless, will be back to check this out.

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  16. Great list Tony! Everyone is talking about Knausgaard. I just can't seem to get excited about what sounds to me like the literary equivalent to playing the Sims. Strange Weather In Tokyo and The Mussel Feast both look interesting. And I'm staring at a copy of My Brilliant Friend as I type.

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  17. Tara – I was sceptical at first, but while I wasn't completely convinced by the first book, I really enjoyed the second one, utterly compelling. As for that copy of 'My Brilliant Friend', get it read, pronto 😉

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