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Friday September 13, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Friday September 13, 2013 MYT 7:18:50 AM
by mark brown AND david smith
This year’s Man Booker Prize shortlist is notable for its international diversity.
AT 30,000 words and 104 pages, Colm Toibin’s The Testament Of Mary can be read in an afternoon – but it is unquestionably a novel, Man Booker judges said on Tuesday, as it became the most slender work to be shortlisted for the £50,000 (RM257,000) prize.
Six books have been named on a list striking for its international diversity. As well as Toibin’s imagining of the mourning of Mary after the crucifixion of Jesus, there are novels featuring the destruction of an English village, one girl’s escape from Zimbabwe to Detroit, a communist insurgency in Kolkata, the New Zealand gold rush, and bullying and Buddhism in Japan.
The chair of judges, Robert Macfarlane, says they had been drawn to novels that “sought in some way to extend the power and possibility of the form”.
He adds: “This is a shortlist that shows the English language novel to be a form of world literature. It is a shortlist that crosses continents, joins countries and spans the centuries.”
If anything connected the works, he says, it was that they were all about ways of relating. “They are all, all about the strange ways people are brought together and the painful ways in which they are held apart.”
Harvest by Jim Crace is on the shortlist, to no one’s surprise, and remains British bookmakers’ favourite to win.
It is a dark, often horrifying story of fear and superstition set at a time when English peasant farmers were being forced from the land. It is Crace’s second shortlisting, for a novel that is probably, says the 67-year-old, his last.
Women outnumber men on the shortlist for the first time since 2006. They are Eleanor Catton, at 28 the youngest writer, for her 832-page epic The Luminaries; Ruth Ozeki, 57, an ordained Buddhist priest, for A Tale For The Time Being; Jhumpa Lahiri, 47, who was appointed to the US president’s committee on the arts and humanities by Barack Obama, for The Lowland; and NoViolet Bulawayo, 32, the only debut novelist, for We Need New Names.
Macfarlane says there had been “an exhausting number of child narrators” among this year’s entries, but none stood out like Bulawayo’s creation, Darling.
The writer is the first Zimbabwean shortlisted for the prize. Speaking from a hotel in Cape Town, South Africa, she said: “I’m over the moon. It’s one of those things that leaves you speechless; I’m one of those people who can’t scream.”
For Toibin, it is the third time on the Booker shortlist following The Blackwater Lightship in 1999 and The Master in 2004. The Testament Of Mary has been warmly received by critics, although a Broadway stage version, with Fiona Shaw as Mary, closed after just 27 previews and 16 performances.
The judge Robert Douglas-Fairhurst says there were many reasons that Toibin’s book qualified as a novel.
“Yes it is compact, but it is also dense and it is far-reaching. This is a short novel but one we felt is long in the memory,” he says.
The judges whittled down the 152 entries to six in an amicable fashion.
“The judging process was a great pleasure. The carpet remains unbloodied, there were no flare-ups, no put-downs, no walkouts, no punch-ups,” Macfarlane says.
The other judges this year are the BBC broadcaster Martha Kearney, the classicist and critic Natalie Haynes, and the former literary editor of Scotland On Sunday Stuart Kelly. The winner of the £50,000 (RM257,735) prize will be named on Oct 17. – Guardian News & Media
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