The 2016 Man Booker International Prize announcement is almost upon us, with the winner revealed on Monday. That means, of course, that the Shadow Panel announcement is also just around the corner (as always, we’ll be stealing their thunder a matter of hours before the official decision is revealed). Before we get to that, though, I thought it would be nice to look back a little to the origins of our little quest to keep the judges honest; you see, while this is our first Shadow MBIP, it’s actually the fifth time we’ve thrown ourselves into the quest to find the best work of translated fiction published in the UK. Let me refresh your memory about how things have gone in previous years…
Stu Allen (Winstondad’s Blog) founded the Shadow Panel back in 2012, and I was a late addition to what turned out to be a seven-strong initial group. Back then, of course, we were shadowing the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, and big names that year included Haruki Murakami (1Q84) and Umberto Eco (The Prague Cemetery) – although the biggest book belonged to Péter Nádas, with Parallel Stories coming in at a shelf-breaking 1300+ pages…
Right from the start, we realised that our views would rarely coincide with those of the official panel, led by our arch-nemesis Boyd Tonkin. An early leaked report suggested that the shortlist would contain one book from Israel and one from Germany – which it did, except that they weren’t the ones we’d been expecting… In the end, we were fairly disappointed by the official winner, Aharon Appelfeld’s Blooms of Darkness (translated by Jeffrey M. Green), much preferring our inaugural champion, Sjón’s From the Mouth of the Whale (tr. Victoria Cribb).
The following year saw a streamlined five-person Shadow Panel tackle one of the stronger lists in recent memory. Quite apart from the first appearance of Karl Ove Knausgaard, we enjoyed books by Ismail Kadare (The Fall of the Stone City), Andrés Neuman (Traveller of the Century) and eventual winner Gerbrand Bakker (The Detour, translated by David Colmer). Of course, there was also Chris Barnard’s Bundu, which we all placed safely near the bottom of our pile – and which Tonkin and co. shortlisted…
This decision was even more bizarre when you consider that Satantango (tr. George Szirtes), omitted from the shortlist, went on to win the Best Translated Book Award and help László Krasznahorkai receive the Man Booker International Prize (for career achievement) in 2015. In our own final run-off, Satantango was highly commended but ended up losing in a split-decision (3-2) to a popular winner, Enrique Vila-Matas’ Dublinesque (tr. Anne McLean and Rosalind Harvey).
In 2014, six intrepid bloggers took on the task of reading a longlist with a few big (and familiar) names. Knausi was back, and so too was Javier Marías, with The Infatuations. While most of us were pleased with the eventual choice of Hassan Blasim’s The Iraqi Christ, translated by Jonathan Wright, that had more to do with our affection for the publisher (Comma Press) than the book itself, as it failed to make our shortlist.
This year, we were very close to crowning our first female winner as Yoko Ogawa’s Revenge and Birgit Vanderbeke’s The Mussel Feast were both near the top of our rankings. However, in the end we opted for Jón Kalman Stefánsson’s The Sorrow of Angels (tr. Philip Roughton), a wonderful book and our second Icelandic winner in three years🙂
Although we didn’t know it at the time, 2015 was to mark the final edition of the IFFP, so it was only fitting that we assembled the largest and most international Shadow Panel yet, eleven bloggers spread over four continents. While there was some surprisingly innovative writing included on the longlist (for example, the later BTBA winner from Can Xue, The Last Lover), this year saw us finally lose our tempers with the official panel after they saw fit to leave out one of our expected favourites, Zone by Mathias Énard (tr. Charlotte Mandell).
After lengthy deliberation, we decided to call the book in, and it went on to prove a sound decision, with Zone only falling at the very last hurdle by seven votes to four. The winner, of course, was pretty much a foregone conclusion, with Jenny Erpenbeck’s The End of Days (tr. Susan Bernofsky) the favourite from gun to tape. Erpenbeck thus became our first female winner, and only the second in the history of the official prize (after Marta Morazzoni’s The Alphonse Courrier Affair, translated by Emma Rose, in 20o1) – although that information only came to light by accident at the start of the 2015 process…
So there you have it – a short history of the Shadow Panel :) Our eight judges for this year’s edition are well aware of the weight of the past on their shoulders, but I feel that we’ve done a good job with our deliberations and are confident that we have chosen a fine book as our winner. You’ll have to wait a couple of days to find out what it is, but I can tell you one thing – this was by far the closest decision ever…
Here are all of our judges so far (if you spot any errors, let me know!):
Stu Allen (2012-2016) * Tony Malone (2012-2016) * Mark Stanforth (2012-13)
Gary Moon (2012-13) * Lisa Hill (2012-13) * Rob Burdock (2012)
Simon Quicke (2012) * David Hebblethwaite (2014-2016) * Bellezza (2014-2016)
Tony Messenger (2014-2016) * Jacqui Patience (2014)
Grant Rintoul (2015-2016) * Clare Rowland (2015-2016) * Emma Cazabonne (2015) Julianne Pachico (2015) * Chelsea McGill (2015) * Joe Schreiber (2015)
Lori Feathers (2016)