Well, it’s been a long, hard road, but I’ve finally read and reviewed all fifteen of the longlisted books for this year’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and next week we’ll get to see who actually takes out the coveted honour of being chosen as best in field by the Shadow Panel 🙂 What’s that? Oh, yes, there’s an official panel as well – I’d almost forgotten about them…
I suppose, then, seeing as I’ve gone to the effort of reading all the books, I should go to the trouble of looking at the official shortlist, and try to predict a winner (all links are to my reviews). It’s not an easy task though – those ‘professionals’ are notoriously difficult to second-guess…
The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim
(translated by Jonathan Wright, published by Comma Press)
Brownie Points: A fashionable setting (the Middle East), some excellent stories (some verging on Magical Realism), a great small publisher with lots of friends.
Black Marks: It’s a short-story collection, and it’s a little uneven.
Chances of Winning: Slim, I’d say. While I’m happy to see Comma Press get lots of great publicity, I don’t think this is one that many people would expect to hear named as the winner next week (go on, prove me wrong!).
Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami
(translated by Allison Markin Powell, published by Portobello Books)
Brownie Points: A beautiful story, elegant writing and a great ending.
Black Marks: A little lightweight with a truly awful cover – hate it 😦
Chances of Winning: Not very high. It’s a lovely book, but it doesn’t really have the necessary heft to win a prize like this. Heft? You know, gravitas, oomph. Moving on…
A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard
(translated by Don Bartlett, published by Harvill Secker)
Brownie Points: A genuine worldwide success, a subject that resonates with many people, well-written and equally well-translated – and surprisingly gripping too.
Black Marks: Divisive – has many vocal haters amongst the crowds of admirers. May also be a bit of a blokey book (does Knausi’s angst resonate as much with women?).
Chances of Winning: He’ll be there or thereabouts come the announcement, but I suspect that he’ll be a very well-supported runner up…
A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli
(translated by Sam Taylor, published by Portobello Books)
Brownie Points: Easy to read, WW2 setting (everyone loves that, right?).
Black Marks: Too easy to read, not really that interesting.
Chances of Winning: Much higher than I’d like – the judges have form with WW2 books… Surely they can’t give the prize to an overblown short story – can they?
Revenge by Yoko Ogawa
(translated by Stephen Snyder, published by Harvill Secker)
Brownie Points: Dark, clever, a great translation, eminently rereadable – a great book with a female author (what the prize has been crying out for…).
Black Marks: Not many I can think of – it’s not really even a short-story collection. Lacking in war references, perhaps?
Chances of Winning: Very, very high. I hope Ogawa’s in attendance, as everyone will look very silly if Revenge wins and Boyd Tonkin has to accept it on her behalf. If ever a short-story collection by a female writer is to win, this is the time 😉
The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke
(translated by Jamie Bulloch, published by Peirene Press)
Brownie Points: A taut, tense work, already a classic back in Germany, telepathic waves of support from bloggers all over the world for the plucky underdogs from Peirene Towers 🙂
Black Marks: Not many, really, apart from being up against a few good books. Possibly a bit short?
Chances of Winning: Definitely not unthinkable, but I suspect that The Mussel Feast will just come up short. If Revenge wasn’t on the list, Vanderbeke’s role as the ‘Great Female Hope’ (trademark pending) would be unchallenged. Instead, I think the Nymph will have to be content with compliments from the judges and complimentary champagne 😉
All of which leads me to conclude that the official winner next week will be Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge (in a split decision over A Man in Love, with The Mussel Feast the other book to feature heavily in the discussions)…
…so, naturally, the judges will choose A Meal in Winter just to spite me. If that does happen, then I’d just like to say to all the other authors on the list – I’m really, really sorry 😦