And the (Shadow) MBIP 2019 Winner is…

It seems as if the Man Booker International Prize longlist was announced years ago, but it’s actually only been a couple of months that we on the Shadow Panel started working on our reading.  While it has to be said that we weren’t overly impressed with the longlist as a whole, there were a number of excellent books on there, and our shortlist ended up being very similar to the official one (with one notable exception…).  Since then, we’ve been rereading, discussing, arguing and sulking (well, that’s probably just me) before coming together (digitally) to vote for our favourite.  So, who ended up on the literary equivalent of the Iron Throne this year (nervously looking around for signs of dragons)?  Without further ado, here’s our selection 🙂


Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s The Shape of the Ruins
(MacLehose Press, translated by Anne McLean)

Congratulations to everyone who helped bring this book into English!  The Shape of the Ruins was a contender from the start, and while it wasn’t everyone’s first choice, overall it was top of our list in every round of voting.  Both JGV and McLean have done wonderful work with their writing, and MacLehose deserve credit for their continued focus on quality fiction in translation, with several other eligible books unlucky to miss out on the longlist.

However, we mustn’t give all of the praise to the winner.  There were a number of intriguing and enjoyable books on the shortlist, and we’d like to highlight a couple that didn’t quite manage to take out our prize.  This year’s honourable mentions go to:

Annie Ernaux’s The Years
(Fitzcarraldo Editions, translated by Alison Strayer)

Sara Stridsberg’s The Faculty of Dreams
(MacLehose Press, translated by Deborah Bragan-Turner)

There was a lot of love among our group for these two, and either would have made an excellent winner – congratulations to both writers, translators and publishers 🙂

And that’s it for 2019…

Firstly, as always, it’s time to thank the rest of our Shadow Panel.  With eleven judges on board this year, there has been a lot of lively debate, and far more discussion and disagreement than has been the case in recent years.  Here’s hoping we can do it all again next year (but perhaps with a stronger longlist…).

Another group of people I’d like to thank is all the readers and commenters out there who urge us on and appreciate our attempts to read and review the books.  If nobody really cared what we were doing, there’d be little point in the whole endeavour.  Thankfully, that’s not the case, and all the comments, likes and retweets make it worth our while.

Finally, on behalf of the Shadow Panel, I’d like to extend our appreciation to the official judges.  As you may have noticed, we haven’t always seen eye to eye with them (and in at least one situation, it was more like eye to ankle), but we realise how difficult it is to read this number of books and come to a consensus as to the best one.

Of course, I reserve my right to edit that last paragraph depending on what they give the prize to in about twelve hours’ time.  No pressure…


15 thoughts on “And the (Shadow) MBIP 2019 Winner is…

  1. I wish to make a public objection to The Years, which I feel has no place in a prize for literary fiction; I was the strong (sole) dissenter on this book, and I will not be surprised if it takes first place this evening. I am often in disagreement with judges (official or not).

    That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being on the Shadow Jury; as usual it is greatly enriching to read and discuss excellent literature with astute readers for months. I thank you, Tony, for bravely leading us on year after year. This continues to be a highlight of my reading year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bellezza – I don’t think you were the sole dissenter as such, it’s more that most of the shadow judges decided to accept the official judges’ decision to accept it into the competition. Once it was chosen for the longlist, just as was the case with Knausgaard several years ago, it needed to be considered along with the other titles. I certainly agree that it does seem a little out of place in a collection of works of fiction. Still, we can only hope things are more clear-cut next year 🙂


      1. It’s always interesting to me how some of us feel strongly about certain books…The Iraqi Christ, from years past. Pine Islands and The Years from this one. It makes for fascinating discussions.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. This was certainly the book that most intrigued me in terms of subject matter. It’s not been as widely borrowed from my local library as the Tokarczuk or Ernaux, for what that’s worth…


    1. Marina Sofia – That’s one reason why I hope it wins as I suspect that not that many people have actually read it (and if it doesn’t win, that may well continue, given that it’s over 500pp.!).


  3. Thanks Tony for leading our group and discussions. I love the experience, but it adds a lot of stress to find time to read these so quickly aside from all the rest, so I may skip a year before coming back, we’ll see.


  4. Thanks Tony, I love following along! I’m still rooting for Tokarczuk, even though I’m sure they won’t give it to her two years in a row. Your runners up sound most appealing to me. I have to admit The Shape of the Ruins doesn’t grab me (and it’s the rare MBI book that’s readily available over here in Canada).

    I still want to read The Pine Islands so I can join in the outrange, lol. Don’t want to pay for it though, and it’s not carried at my library, so I may have to hold off on that…


    1. Laura – Well, I’m not sure I’d bother with the Poschmann, but I’d certainly recommend all the books on *our* shortlist 😉


  5. With apologies to my doppelgänger I think the main jury made the better choice here. And in picking a Sandstone Press book they are following in a great tradition.


    1. Gumbles Yard – I’ll be posting my final thoughts tonight, and while I wouldn’t say that ‘Celestial Bodies’ was the best book on the list (in truth, it was fortunate to scrape into our shortlist), it’s certainly a fitting and appropriate choice if the aim of the judges was to select a book that won’t scare off potential readers. I suspect that this was a case, as I’ll fatuously explain, of a few books being unlikely to win for varying reasons, with this one being furiously championed and dragged across the line by one of the judges 😉


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