IFFP 2015 – Two Shortlists (and more besides…)

IMG_2040As regular readers will no doubt be aware, the shortlist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize was announced earlier this week, with six books remaining from the fifteen longlisted selections.  Before that, though, the intrepid members of the Shadow Panel had also whittled down the choices to an even half-dozen (although, of course, we were dealing with sixteen of the best…).  Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the American equivalent, the Best Translated Book Award, was just getting started, with a twenty-five-strong quality-packed longlist.  But let’s leave that for later – back to the IFFP…

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The official shortlist saw most of the obvious also-rans leave the field, but I wouldn’t say that the final six were all obvious choices.  Jenny Erpenbeck’s The End of Days was a given, and the Murakami was always likely to attract a lot of love.  It was also great to see indie publishers well represented.  By Night the Mountain Burns is now both the first long- and short-listed book for And Other Stories while the inclusion of In the Beginning Was the Sea and While the Gods Were Sleeping meant Pushkin Press were the only publishers with two shortlisted titles.  The only one of the six I wasn’t too impressed with was Daniel Kehlmann’s F – it’s certainly got its backers, but I’m not one of them (as you’ll see when my review is eventually posted…).

It will come as no surprise that there was little overlap with the Shadow Panel’s selections; in IMG_5187fact, only the Erpenbeck and Murakami titles appeared on both lists.  The alternative shortlist was rounded out by Hamid Ismailov’s The Dead Lake (yet another Peirene Press title we thought worthy of progression), Marcello Fois’ Bloodlines (an excellent story of a Sardinian family’s tribulations through time), Tomas Bannerhed’s wonderful debut novel The Ravens (describing a young boy’s childhood and his father’s struggles with depression) and…

a0a94-img_5135Mathias Énard‘s Zone!  Having called in this book, we were always likely to move it on to the shortlist, but it’s not only Stu and myself who have enjoyed it.  All the other shadow judges who have tried it so far have agreed with us – I wonder why the ‘real judges’ didn’t…

Once again, I much prefer our list to the official one (even if, personally, I’d have loved us to select the Erwin Mortier book), but this year has given us more of an insight into the nature of prize judging.  With a record eleven bloggers shadowing the prize, things have gone very differently this year, and where in the past one or two people have had a disproportionate influence over proceedings, this time around we’ve all had to be content to see books we loved fall by the wayside (Joe has touched upon this in his round-up of the Shadow proceedings).

Which is not to say that we sympathise with the real judges completely…  At the Booktrust site, the panel chair, Boyd Tonkin, wrote:

“I’m delighted by the diversity, the originality and the reader-friendly accessibility of this year’s shortlist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.”

Now that’s a comment which gave us all pause for thought – is ‘reader-friendly accessibility’ really what we’re striving for here?  Immediately, memories of the great Booker controversy come swimming back, a storm in a teacup which ended up spawning the Folio Prize in its wake.  Of course, for lovers of fiction in translation, if it’s a more serious approach you want, you only have to switch your focus across the pond…

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All of which brings me to the BTBA longlist – not quite as large as the notorious IMPAC Prize BTBAselection, but still pretty lengthy 😉  The initial impression for me, having concentrated on the IFFP list for so long, was the rather surprising omission of The End of Days, a book with a writer, a translator (Susan Bernofsky) and a publisher (New Directions) made for these events.  Still, even without that novel (and a couple of other hot tips), the eventual longlist was still a fascinating one.

I won’t go through the whole list here (please click through to the official page for that), but it’s full of great books, many of which were already on my radar.  I’ve read five so far (Elena Ferrante’s Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, Valeria Luiselli’s Faces in the Crowd, Andrés Neuman’s Talking to Ourselves, Marcos Giralt Torrente’s Paris and Can Xue’s The Last Lover), and I’m hoping to get to Énard‘s Street of Thieves very soon too.  The list has a fascinating mix of titles, and it just goes to show that when your aim is to choose the best piece of fiction in translation available, and when you go out of your way to consider books (and, of course, when ‘reader-friendly accessibility’ is not really a priority…), you actually can come up with a decent longlist.  I hope the appropriate people are listening…

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So, after much rambling, it’s time to get back to work, reading and reviewing, hoping to stumble across another gem of fiction in translation.  Having finished all the IFFP books now, I just need to finish off the reviews before it’s time to start discussing the winner (and I might even find the time to partially reread a couple of the titles).  It’s not easy, this panel lark, but it can be rewarding too…

…well, as long as you do it the right way, that is 😉

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24 thoughts on “IFFP 2015 – Two Shortlists (and more besides…)

  1. I agree that Tonkin’s “reader-friendly” comment is very interesting – perhaps this partly explains why Zone wasn’t longlisted and The Last Lover wasn’t shortlisted if that’s what the judges were aiming for?

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    1. Clare – It’s not really a secret Tonkin has just revealed, merely confirmation of what we’ve all know for years. It’s why ‘Satantango’ didn’t get shortlisted a couple of years back and undoubtedly, as you mention, why ‘Zone’ was completely overlooked…

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      1. Yes Satantango was a definite omission, how could that have been overlooked especially in a year when Bundu was a selection, nothing particularly wrong with Bundu but better Krasznahorkai’s book, on what planet could that be conceived?

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  2. I did listen to that 3% podcast (where your question was answered) and they did discuss the difference in focus between the two lists (which I can’t exactly remember off hand but it seems the BTBA emphasizes style and form). I have only read two books from the BTBA, Ondjaki and Can Xue. They could not be more different. Ondjaki’s Granma Nineteen is a funny, magical tale about life under Soviet and Cuban influence post independence in Angola. But I am just thrilled to see Biblioasis, a small Canadian publisher with a growing list of translated titles get the attention.

    I have already bought 5 titles from the BTBA longlist since it was announced. I agree it is a fascinating list.

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    1. Joe – It was something like plot for IFFP and form and structure for BTBA (i.e. readability v craft) – I know where I stand… I’d love to read more of the BTBA list, but in addition to time constraints, they’re not quite as easy to source (for free, at least) as the IFFP books – which is the opposite for you, I suspect 😉

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  3. Yes I do wonder if Boyd has shot himself in the foot a bit like the booker did but probably not I know there is a undercurrent of the prize should be more on lit value than on genre or highlighting issues that said the btba tends to pick books that are quite hard to get in uk for second year to get any significant number of the books would cost me a lot outside the ones available in both UK and us from same publisher .I hope at some point we get another uk based prize we have smaller prizes that maybe I should highlight more

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    1. Stu – Another UK prize would be great, something along the lines of the BTBA with entry for everything and a more independent organising committee. The issue is who would organise it – the only real candidate would be the BCLT, but I suspect they’d be reticent to upset the status quo. We may have to wait until we see what Katy Derbyshire and co. get up to with their prize for female writers in translation…

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  4. Ha! This is exactly what we were wondering on Twitter a few days ago, isn’t it, whether they are emphasising literary merit or accessibility? I think it’s very interesting that the two lists do look so very different – but as long as it means that there is a wider variety of books to be read and considered, I reckon that’s perhaps a good thing.

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    1. Marina Sofia – No, there was no doubt or conjecture in my mind 😉

      I’m all for variety, but not at the expense of quality. Sadly, there have been too many poor IFFP books foisted upon us for the sake of ‘readability’ over the past few years…

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  5. Hasn’t this been a recurring problem with the IFFP, or is it now of such an issue that books are being promoted that have no place on this or any list of merit. Having been a past Shadow member I can recall past omissions & additions that were so wrong that there had to be an agenda possibly unstated maybe now Boyd’s comment is highlighting what has always been there.

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  6. It’s great to have the lists just to know what’s out there and available and being considered, which encourages more reviews and improves the potential readers ability to find what may attract them. I often prefer the longlists for that reason.

    I was wondering Tony if you would consider adding the Recent Posts widget on your blog, so we can see your most recent reviews at the top of the page and get to them quicker. Thanks.

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    1. Claire – Well, you’ll love the BTBA one then, twenty-five strong – and then there’s the IMPAC…

      As for the widget, I’ll have a look (I’m still not completely au fait with WordPress admin…).

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      1. Brilliant! Just been back and seen your enticing reference to previous posts, it’s a great help. Appearance, Widgets… it does take time to remember where to find things, but your site is looking great Tony, I hope you have no regrets changing over.

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        1. Claire – It seems to be working (although I did have some teething issues at the start…). At some point, I’d like a template where I can have snippets of multiple posts on the home page while keeping the side bar – but I’ll leave that for another time 😉

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    2. I just wanted to say that I agree with you Claire that I find the longlists most exciting for the range of titles they offer – like a smorgasbord to choose from. Outside the Folio which at 80 books is absurd. The impac on the other hand, because of the way it is derived from library input, offers some obscure gems for consideration.

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  7. Shall we form a Shadow Jury for the BTBA next year? 😉

    I was intrigued by the two lists, ours and theirs of the top six. At least a few of my favorites were included in the official list. But, I still maintain that readers know books better than judges. I am thrilled wih our top six, and I consider it by far the best list.

    (F made it? Seriously?)

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    1. Bellezza – I like our list, even if I would have changed a couple 😉

      Re: the BTBA, I’m seriously considering having a go at the shortlist – it’ll depend on how many I’ve read and how much money I’m prepared to spend!

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  8. Chortling out loud. By nothing wrong I meant that it was ok as a romantic adventure novel its problem was that was better covered by Traveller of the century which was that & much much more. It was just out of its depth compared with books that didn’t get through.

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