Every year as I waited for the official IFFP shortlist to be announced, I thought “surely this year the judges will have a similar list to ours”, and every year, without fail, I was surprised, dumbfounded and (frequently) disappointed. This year, though, with the shift to the Man Booker International Prize, and the same names coming up again and again in online discussions, I was more convinced than ever, allowing myself to believe that this year, this time, the judges’ shortlist would be close to ours.
Yeah, didn’t happen 😉
José Eduardo Agualusa (Angola) & Daniel Hahn
– A General Theory of Oblivion (Harvill Secker)
Elena Ferrante (Italy) & Ann Goldstein
– The Story of the Lost Child (Europa Editions)
Han Kang (South Korea) & Deborah Smith
– The Vegetarian (Portobello Books)
Yan Lianke (China) & Carlos Rojas
– The Four Books (Chatto & Windus)
Orhan Pamuk (Turkey) & Ekin Oklap
– A Strangeness in My Mind (Faber & Faber)
Robert Seethaler (Austria) & Charlotte Collins
– A Whole Life (Picador)
It’s safe to say that we didn’t see that coming…
In fairness, our list has three books in common with the official one, which is just about par for the course (from memory, the overlap has always ranged between two and four out of six). The inclusion of A Whole Life isn’t a huge surprise either – earlier this week I wrote:
I’d say that this might be a dark horse for the shortlist as it’s the kind of book that goes down well with judges – short, uncomplicated and an interesting look at a man and his life.
So that’s one thing I got right 😉
The inclusion of the other two outliers, though, was far more surprising. A Strangeness in My Mind and A General Theory of Oblivion are very similar books in that they are pleasant reads but leave little behind in your mind once you’ve finished them, and it’s not giving too much away to say that neither of them were ever really in consideration for the shadow shortlist (and, yes, we did have enough people get through the massive Pamuk novel to be able to judge it fairly…).
It’s not so much the inclusion of these two that is so surprising, though (they’re both enjoyable books I was happy to have discovered), but what was subsequently left out. Death by Water was one of my personal favourites, but not everyone shares my love of J-Lit, so its omission is not a major shock. Tram 83, on the other hand, was one I felt sure would make the selection. Quoting myself again, on A General Theory of Oblivion:
It will have its backers, but it may well suffer in comparison with the other African book on the longlist, Tram 83. Yes, that sounds crude and cynical, but that’s often the way these things work, and if there’s only room for one African book on the shortlist, A General Theory of Oblivion is likely to be the one to miss out.
OK, so I’m not *always* right 😉
However the biggest oversight (if that’s what we can call it) is the failure to choose either of the French novels from MacLehose Press for the shortlist. Mend the Living and Ladivine are books which have impressed most who have tried them – in fact, my only concern (to quote myself again) was whether there was room for both. From my review of Mend the Living:
Two books by French writers, both women, both from the same publisher – is there room for both on the shortlist, or will the judges decide that one is enough and give someone else a chance?
I think I should just stop this quoting business while I’m behind 😦
I could make some spiteful comments here (about how, for example, the MBIP seems to be following the IFFP’s footsteps in favouring nice, readable books over experimental works), but instead I’m going to look on the bright side and give the judges the benefit of the doubt. If anything, I’d say it strengthens the chances of the three books both panels picked, which is good news for Han Kang, Yan Lianke and the mysterious Elena Ferrante. And of course, there is one last point to remember. Ndiaye, de Kerangal and Oe are still in the running for the Shadow MBIP – from here, our path and that of the official panel must diverge. Let’s see if those paths cross again when the winner is announced 🙂