Man Booker International Prize – Random Thoughts

MBI2016 Logo RGB pinkWhile I was sitting at my computer slowly going loopy while waiting for the Man Booker International Prize longlist to appear (and getting extremely jealous of those readers interested in the Baileys Prize longlist, which has just been released), I started messing around on a post, wondering what might be in store on Thursday.  I’ve already looked at a whole host of possible contenders, but today I thought I’d consider matters from a slightly different angle.  Insights or ramblings?  You be the judge😉

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Let’s talk geography to start off with.  The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (the MBIP’s predecessor) was usually European dominated, and it would IMG_5299be surprising to see that change dramatically – although let’s hope that last year’s showing of five books from Germany isn’t repeated (especially as I wasn’t a fan of most of them…).  If we’re looking further afield, Tram 83 and The Meursault Investigation are a couple of well-known African possibilities, and either of the Han Kang novels eligible would provide a worthy Asian contender.  My guess is that there’ll be a healthy(ish) mix this year, with around seven European books and five from elsewhere.

Lost ChildThen, of course, there’s the gender split, a topic which has been under great scrutiny over the past few years.  The IFFP didn’t do a great job in this area on its long- and shortlists, even if on more than one occasion the judges actually pointed the finger in the direction of the publishers submitting the books.  Last year saw four of fifteen longlisted titles by women, with only one, the eventual winner (Jenny Erpenbeck’s The End of Days), making the shortlist, but I’d expect there to be a better percentage this year – choosing Elena Ferrante for the first time would certainly help here ;)  My guess is that four out of twelve of this year’s list will be by women.

Another concern for the brave souls shadowing the prize, and perhaps for the real judges too, is IMG_5207the length of the longlisted titles, as the inclusion of too many chunksters makes it tricky to get through the list in time.  In previous years, we’ve had to deal with Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, Péter Nádas’ Parallel Stories and Andrés Neuman’s Traveller of the Century, but there haven’t been too many longish novels over the past couple of years, with some great long books (e.g. Mathias Énard’s Zone or Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès’ Where Tigers are at Home) missing out.  My guess is that this trend will continue: most of the books will be under 250 pages (several under 200), with only one over 500 pages (possibly Antonio Muñoz Molina’s In the Night of Time).

It’s also interesting to think about the presses the books will come from.  As with most years, I IMG_5320would expect the majors to have a strong presence, particularly the many imprints making up the random penguin empire, but I always had the feeling that the IFFP had a soft spot for the smaller publishers, and that may continue into the MBIP era.  Peirene Press, for example, had at least one longlisting in each of their first five years of existence, and they might be lucky enough to get another with The Looking-Glass Sisters.  With presses like Pushkin Press, Istros Books and And Other Stories consistently pumping good books out, there is every chance that they might be represented too.  My guess is that about half the longlisted titles will reward the efforts of small presses🙂

Finally, let’s look at an area few people associate with translation in fiction, genre.  One thing we looknoticed over our four years of shadowing the IFFP was that there appeared to be a deliberate effort to add some variety to the longlist by including a few titles which were not straight lit-fic.  Examples include African eco-safari romance Bundu, last year’s YA effort Tiger Milk, Hitler ‘comedy’ Look Who’s Back and the Israeli thriller Exposure.  The question is whether the move to the Man Booker branding, and a more limited longlist selection (a reduction from twelve to fifteen), will allow for many of these – I suspect it won’t.  I’m predicting a more ‘serious’ longlist’, with perhaps only one title that is recognisably ‘genre’.

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There you have it – a bunch of unsubstantiated claims, which will probably bear no relation to the reality of the longlist (a completely European, male-dominated list full of 600pp+ crime novels it is!).  Let’s hope the real list has a great selection of books, whatever they are – and that it gets announced very soon.

I’m really starting to fear for my sanity here…

15 thoughts on “Man Booker International Prize – Random Thoughts

  1. Interesting thoughts! I’d like to see some Russian titles on there myself!🙂 And yes, let’s hope the smaller presses continue to dominate.

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    1. Kaggsy – Russian books have not done very well over the past few years (I can’t remember one in my four years of shadowing…) – perhaps this will be the year😉

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  2. Really interesting angle! Given that the new MBIP is essentially the same IFFP rules under different branding chaired by Boyd Tonkin, I would imagine the trends we’ve seen for the IFFP in recent years may continue. Either way, I can’t wait to see what’s on the longlist🙂

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    1. Clare – Yes and no. I just have this feeling that the panel will be aware of the Booker ethos, and that there may be a slight shift to a more literary approach. Daniel Medin, who was a BTBA judge, would certainly be that way inclined, I suspect. We’ll just have to wait and see!

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  3. Your crystal ball gazing is far more sophisticated than my own. My prediction will be that I will find at least half of the list will be books I’ve never read. I’m hoping so anyway. The list and the prize itself is a good way to give a lift to airs who deserve more attention. Which is partly why I would prefer it if Ferrante and Han Kang didn’t win.

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    1. Karen – No sophistication here, purely made-up frippery😉 As for new names, I’m sure there’ll be a lot on the list – I’d be surprised if I’d read more than 3 or 4.

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  4. Excellent analysis, Tony. Let’s hope you’re right – not that I have any personal interest…… But seriously, a greater gender/geographical balance would be wonderful.

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  5. I stopped trying to double guess them a couple years ago nothing that complex would be another hence robless not making list . I’M also hoping not so many german books as they weren’t even that good but that is may just down to taste we will have to wait and see next year will be the year if it is post Boyd I think

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    1. Vicky – Well, Erpenbeck was last year’s winner, so a good choice🙂 I think the other two are both a fair chance of making the list.

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