At midday on Wednesday, the opening list of runners and riders for Britain’s leading books prize is unleashed on the reading world. Who will it be? Who will it be?
With less than 24 hours to go before the longlist is announced, we’re starting to wonder who’ll make up this year’s Man Booker dozen – even though offering predictions is, in this game of “posh bingo”, as Julian Barnes put it, a bit like filling in your card before the numbers have been called.
In the second year that American authors have been eligible, one obvious contender is Hanya Yanagihara’s epic tearjerker about love, friendship and the effects of childhood abuse: A Little Life is hot off presses in the UK and currently consuming readers on both sides of the Atlantic. Other US novels to look out for include Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, the third in her Gilead series, published to ecstatic reviews last November; a strong debut from Atticus Lish exploring poverty and hard graft in an unforgiving post-crash US, Preparation for the Next Life; plus highly praised novels of New York intellectual life (Ben Lerner’s 10:04), politics and race in Clinton’s Houston (Attica Locke’s Pleasantville) and gothic goings-on in rural Virginia (Sara Taylor’s The Shore).
Laird Hunt’s Neverhome, told in the voice of a woman fighting as a man in the American civil war, deserves a wider readership; while Jonathan Franzen’s first novel in five years, out at the beginning of September, is sure to make headlines whatever happens. Purity, about a young woman in search of her father, will either give him his first Booker nomination or see him take Martin Amis’s place as author-most-reported-for-his absence.
The British frontrunner must be Kazuo Ishiguro, for his elusive meditation on memory and forgetting, The Buried Giant, which used fantasy tropes to interrogate national and personal trauma – though it’s a book that violently divided readers. Then there’s previous Booker winner Anne Enright’s brilliant, unforgiving novel about family, The Green Road, and Sarah Hall’s Wolf Border, both a timely examination of the role of wilderness in the land and the psyche and a further development from one of the UK’s best writers.
Sunjeev Sahota’s impressive Year of the Runaways is equally timely, going behind headlines on immigration; Richard Beard’s time- and genre-bending biblical thriller Acts of the Assassins is brilliantly weird; and Grace McCleen’s disturbing, lyrical third novel The Offering marks her out as a writer to watch. From Zimbabwe, what about Petina Gappah’s forthcoming The Book of Memory, about a woman on death row; or from Australia, Steve Toltz’s wild, dark and funny Quicksand?
But there’s no shortage of big names jostling for contention too, from Colm Tóibín’s Nora Webster, Andrew O’Hagan’s The Illuminations and Peter Carey’s Amnesia, to forthcoming titles from Salman Rushdie, John Banville, William Boyd, Margaret Atwood, Pat Barker, Andrew Miller, Tessa Hadley and more.
Personal preferences? I’d love to see a place for Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things, in which an evangelist takes the word of God from a collapsing Earth to an alien planet, a book as unusual and as beautifully written as you might expect from the author of Under the Skin; and for Marlon James’s Jamaican tour de force A Brief History of Seven Killings. Most recently I’ve loved Gavin McCrea’s debut Mrs Engels, based on the lives of the working-class Irish sisters who shared their lives with Marx and Engels.
Over to you. Are you swayed by William Hill’s offer of 33/1 for Go Set a Watchman to take the gong? What are you hoping to see on the Booker longlist when it’s unveiled at noon on Wednesday? And what – a different question, perhaps – are you expecting?