Friday, 18 September 2009

Some musings on the 2009 Man Booker short list

Man Booker 2009 shortlist
One week later I seem to have found my brain amidst the last shards of the jet lag. Amidst this tangle I remembered that the Man Booker shortlist had been announced 10 days ago.
The short list

A S Byatt The Children's Book (Random House, Chatto and Windus)
J M Coetzee Summertime (Random House, Harvill Secker)
Adam Foulds The Quickening Maze (Random House, Jonathan Cape)
Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall (HarperCollins, Fourth Estate)
Simon Mawer The Glass Room (Little, Brown)
Sarah Waters The Little Stranger (Little, Brown, Virago) 
 Note: the hyperlink on the title goes to a summary on the main Man Booker site, whose front door is here. There are also short audio readings, here.  There is also a Reading Group, Toolkit, here

The Judges
Chaired by broadcaster and author James Naughtie, the 2009 judges are Lucasta Miller, biographer and critic; Michael Prodger, Literary Editor of The Sunday Telegraph; Professor John Mullan, academic and author and Sue Perkins, comedian and broadcaster.

On the day of the short list launch they gave a press conference in which they offered an account of their choices. You can view this above. Note - there is a second part - which is on offer at the end as the first option in the panel at the bottom of the screen.

My favourite -  so far - A S Byatt - The Children's Book
Though I have yet to get through the whole list, I already have a soft spot for A S Byatt, The Childrens Book Apart from the quality of her writing, I really like the way she can handle ideas on the page. I also like her deep understanding of the Victorian literary/cultural landscape.

In The Children's Book, this understanding extends into the Edwardian interlude before the first world war as she tracks the progress of the characters - both adult and children- through the changing social and cultural landscape of England between 1895 and the 1st World War.

As part of this labyrinth of storytelling she also takes us on long swathes of comment on some of the social and political movements, in the likes of the social democracy of the early SDF and the WSPU [Suffragettes]. Much of this is great - some of it is fantastic - but occasionally you do need a cup of tea.

The V&A
Also, a number of the plot points intersect inside the V&A Museum - first known as the South Kensington Museum; so much so, you could almost stretch a point and call it one of her best characters - especially in the opening chapter when she tells of how it was developed as a resource for craftsmen to discover, "the best examples of design"[Audio snippet, here]

Creative Industries
These days we talk about partnerships "with the creative industries" as if the 21st century invented this kind of dialogue. Ms Byatt slays that pretension in Chapter 1, and in a glorious sub-text to the entire project digs it up now and then and gives it a  poke just to make sure it stays dead.

On that score alone she should win the Booker!


Debrina said...

Thanks for the links! I'm a big A.S. Byatt fan, so I'm on the lookout for her latest.

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