The longlist for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize was announced on Wednesday, and before we respond to that, thanks are due to the official judges for the hard yards they’ve put in, whittling the piles of books submitted down to a manageable number. I’m sure readers all over the world are looking forward to getting started on a collection of works that reflect what’s happening in the world of fiction.
On examining the longlist more closely, several points leap out. There’s a greater geographical spread than usual, with fewer than half of the books written by European authors. Our vicarious travels will this year take us to Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Oman, Palestine, China and South Korea, as well as a quick tour through Europe. While Russia misses out once again, and the lack of a work translated from the Japanese is surprising, the list is diverse and interesting.
The list is also notable for the number of female writers included (eight out of thirteen), the most so far, and for its domination by small presses. With nothing from PRH longlisted, there’s a very independent feel (perhaps appropriate for an award that has built on the foundations of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize). Congratulations are due to Fitzcarraldo Editions, Granta Books, Scribe Publications and Quercus/MacLehose Press for having two books each make the cut, with And Other Stories, Oneworld Publications, Serpent’s Tail, Yale University Press and Sandstone Press each also being represented. As readers (and Shadow Judges), we appreciate the role small presses play in championing fiction in translation and are pleased to see that rewarded here.
Overall, when we look at the titles on the longlist, the selection came as a surprise, if not a shock. While writers such as Samanta Schweblin and Olga Tokarczuk were tipped to be longlisted again, many of the chosen works are far less familiar – and we look forward to discovering them over the next two months. Of course, this also means that many highly regarded titles were omitted from the final selection. Notable among these are Sayaka Murata’s Convenience Store Woman, Négar Djavadi’s Disoriental, Javier Marías’ Berta Isla and Sjón’s CoDex 1962. Certainly, few readers will have read the majority of the longlisted titles prior to the announcement. We of the shadow panel had our own discussions prior to the longlist being revealed, and while our speculation turned out to be wide of the mark, in a year with fewer obvious stand-out works, we are happy to follow the official list and avoid calling in any other titles.
In omitting the more widely discussed titles and opting for some lesser-known works, the judges have put their own stamp on this year’s prize. If the chosen books turn out to disappoint, then their decisions will inevitably be criticised. However, their bravery, if we can call it that, will hopefully be rewarded, and readers across the Anglosphere will thank them for the introduction to several excellent books and some new favourite writers. There’s only one way to find out which way this will go – so, if you’ll excuse us, it’s time to start reading…