Wednesday, August 10, 2005

And outstanding but predictable list of contemporary fiction

A VERY STRONG longlist indeed we have here! English fiction never had it so good. This year has seen a bountiful harvest of fiction, with strong novels coming from some of the best novelists writing in English today. It has been years since the garden of English fiction flowered in such profusion and chaos and there is much beauty in such chaos: John Banville, Julian Barnes, J.M. Coetzee, Kazuo Ishiguro, Dan Jacobson, Hilary Mantel, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie — all literary heavyweights. From the middleweights we have Sebastian Barry, Rachel Cusk, Ali Smith, Zadie Smith and William Wall. And emerging writers like Tash Aw, Monica Lewycka and James Meek are doing interesting things with the novel as a literary form.

IT is well and good that there are many established literary heavyweights in the longlist. But we must not discount the fact that there are a couple of middleweights and lightweights who have written excellent works. The prize must go to the most deserving, especially works that encompass all the qualities of good writing. Outstanding works include Julian Barnes’s Arthur & George, Sebastian Barry’s A Long Long Way, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, Dan Jacobson’s All for Love, Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black, James Meek’s The People’s Act of Love and Ali Smith’s The Accidental.

HOWEVER, there are a couple of writers not on the longlist which I thought was a shame: John Berger’s Here Is Where We Meet, Dermot Bolger’s The Family on Paradise Pier, Joseph Boyden’s Three Day War, Charles Chadwick’s It’s All Right Now, Louise Dean’s This Human Season, Will Eaves’s Nothing to be Afraid of, Diana Evans’s 26a, Maggie Gee’s The Cleaner, Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Desertion, Peter Hobbs’s A Short Day Dying, Ian Holding’s Unfeeling, Russell Celyn Jones’s Ten Seconds from the Sun, Andrew Miller’s The Optimists, Tim Parks’s Rapids, Caryl Phillips’s Dancing in the Dark, Philippa Stockley’s A Factory of Cunning, Rupert Thomson’s Divided Kingdom, Adam Thorpe’s The Rules of Perspective and Tim Winton’s The Turning. As passionate readers, we must learn to be wise to the ways of the world and not discount the fact that there are many books that somehow get lost in the clutter and fail to win literary prizes but are nevertheless brilliant.

DESPITE the shortcomings of book prizes such as the Booker Prize, we must admit that some of the previous winners are among the best novels of the 20th century: A.S. Byatt’s Possession, J.M. Coetzee’s Life and Times of Michael K., J.G. Farrell’s The Siege of Krishnapur, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s Heat and Dust, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea, V.S. Naipaul’s In a Free State, Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Paul Scott’s Staying On and Barry Unsworth’s Sacred Hunger, among others.

The 2005 Booker Prize for Fiction longlist in full


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