Man Booker International Prize 2016 – The Official Shortlist

MBI2016 Logo RGB pinkEvery 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

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 🙂

18 thoughts on “Man Booker International Prize 2016 – The Official Shortlist

  1. I don’t have such an issue with 2 0f the books included. Although neither made by personal shortlist, I actually ranked the Pamuk above Four Books, and A General Theory over Tram 83. But that was more from an personal perspective. Although neither was for me, I can see that Tram 83 and Four Books are more worthy novels, and perhaps I need to revisit both to see what others saw in them.

    But the shocker as you say is the omission of Ladivine, Death by Water and Mend the Living, albeit to give the Jury some credit they did pick those for the longlist in the first place. To overlook those and pick Forrest Gump the Novel instead….

    Well there is hope for 2017 at least. There were strong hints when the award was launched that there would be a new Chair next year (“he will also join the Booker Prize Foundation Advisory Committee after serving his term as chair”).

    I see that some of your number have been invited to the shortlist party today. Does that imply some official acknowledgement of the Shadow Jury and perhaps if so they could co-opt some of you on to the real thing next year.

    And also worth saying even with this shortlist it is still a strong selection of books and much better than the main Man Booker shortlist last year.


    1. Paul – Not sure we get ‘official’ acknowledgement, but they are all well aware of us (and I hope they feel us looking over their shoulders!). It would be great to see a blogger on the panel for this, but it’s never going to happen – they’d rather have someone in the industry, with a lot of education and experience in writing (even if they might not always know as much as they should about literature in translation). In any case, it wouldn’t be me they’d be inviting!

      And, yes, a strong longlist, but it could have been stronger…


      1. “they’d rather have someone in the industry, with a lot of education and experience in writing (even if they might not always know as much as they should about literature in translation)”

        This year they had the translator of Kadare & Perec, a lecturer on world literature who was on the BTBA 2014-15 juries, a poet and an author. It looked pretty solid which is why I expected the different outcome.

        Admittedly there was a fifth member of the jury I haven’t mentioned……


        1. Paul – I wouldn’t assume that ‘a poet and an author’ are experts in fiction in translation – writing, yes, but not this area…


          1. Fair point.

            I guess I was reasonably impressed / optimistic when I saw the initial jury.

            And it certainly beat the benchmarks of the infamous Booker jury headed by someone known for being head of MI5 and a writer of airport thrillers.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting. If there is a tendency to go for less experimental work (in both prizes) that’s a great shame – but I guess sales may be the issue there…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes I think that’s a fair point.

      For English language books we have as well as the main Man Booker, the more mainstream Costa Prize at one end and, my personal favourite, the more experimental Goldsmiths at the other.

      But for translated literature we only have the one award – and it feels that as both IFFP and MBI it actually ends up closer to the Costa International.

      Now I find that personally disappointing in terms of the sort of novels I like.

      But if the aim is to promote translated literature to the general reader, and given how little translated literature, outside of Scandi-crime, is read in the UK, this may well be the right approach.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, this is the dilemma – what is the prize doing? Celebrating the best of the best or the most readable and, hence, floggable? I’ve been down the IFFP v BTBA path many times before (including one lengthy comparison post), and this shortlist suggest that this is the road the MBIP is taking too. Time will tell 😉


  3. I am halfway though Pamuk’s book and I quite enjoy it, so I am happy for him, even if it is not his best, Snow and The Museum being among my all time favorite books… I will be reading The Vegetarian as well, together with Death by water, and then I will comment some more… but more often than not awards are not about what books impressed us the most…. or even the Nobel prize. I am among those people who still do not understand why Haruki Murakami has’nt won yet… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ally – Well, I’d be *very* surprised if Pamuk won… Of the official list, I’d probably pick ‘The Vegtarian’ as my sentimental favourite, but there are others that missed out that I like a lot too 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “I’d be *very* surprised if Pamuk won” – frankly nothing would surprise me given the shortlist they came up with.

        But if A Whole Life wins then I give up.

        Incidentally just finished The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse which I saw a few of the shadow jury citing as one they were surprised missed out. Having read it, couldn’t agree more.


        1. Paul – Yes, I read it just before the announcement as I thought it had a chance – again, too difficult for this prize…


  4. So the BTBA jury also preferred A General Theory of Oblivion to Tram 83.

    Have to say they also seem to have got a little MBI this year as well – no Hilbig, no Bae Suah but Story of my Teeth on there.


  5. I only disagree with you that A General Theory of Oblivion was enjoyable. Didn’t like it one bit. It is fascinating to see what gets chosen by the judges though, and I share your disappointment in the omission of the Oe.


    1. Bellezza – Well, I think that’s a bit harsh, but we all have different views on books 😉 The omission of the Oe was very disappointing, though…

      Liked by 1 person

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