A commercial list
08.09.09 | JONATHAN RUPPIN
Like last year's panel, the judges this year seem to have identified strong storytelling as the primary criterion for selecting their list. Come the announcement of the winner on 6th October, it seems likely that bookshops will be promoting something very commercial and entertaining like The White Tiger or The Life of Pi.
Some may feel that the Booker is better awarded to something exquisitely beautiful, along the lines of recent winners such as John Banville's The Sea or Anne Enright's The Gathering, but as world's best-known literary award, the Man Booker has a more popular mandate.
It's noticeable that this year the majority of writers in contention all have a few books to their names already, which perhaps underlines the fact that most outstanding authors are like vintage wines, developing a fuller, richer appeal as their careers progress. For bookshops, winners with a few books under their belt already tend to be better for sales: this gets people buying more books by that author and, we hope, encourages them to start exploring beyond the bestsellers at the front of the shop.
My money would be on A S Byatt, on the grounds that everyone who likes it seems to adore it, but Booker judges rarely follow expectations and I don't think any of the six shortlisted writers should turn up on the night without an acceptance speech on them.
A S Byatt - The Children's Book
The wealth of historical detail and the grand sweep of the story make this a very impressive piece of writing and a book which the judges will find it tricky to remove form consideration. It fulfils literary fiction's brief of widening horizons magnificently.
J M Coetzee - Summertime
Twice a winner already and a Nobel laureate, Coetzee is perhaps the only author on the list who doesn't need the exposure winning would bring, but he will be a very serious contender again. His books have everything: strong characters, intriguing plots, lyrical prose and a wise perspective of humanity.
Adam Foulds - The Quickening Maze
This is probably the least commercial book on the shortlist, but as an award-winning poet, Foulds has already shown an uncanny knack for attracting new readers though his daring and unique voice. He's the flagbearer for a new generation of young British writers, writers like Sarah Hall, Simon Lelic, Sebastian Beaumont and Emily Mackie, bringing a fresh approach to the novel.
Hilary Mantel - Wolf Hall
A very perceptive writer, much loved by the trade and by critics, but this was always going to be the book which put her right up with Britain's favourite writers. She'd also be a very popular winner with bookshops as she has a backlist full of outstanding novels of great variety for readers to investigate.
Simon Mawer - The Glass Room
A deeply intelligent novel, refracting history through the lens of an extraordinary architectural experiment. Mawer is a master of understatement, rightfully confident of the attraction of his story and its characters to draw readers in. Although his name will be unknown to most, he's a perfectly realistic prospect to win.
Sarah Waters - The Little Stranger
As always, Waters conjures up a thoroughly convincing sense of time and place, but the plot runs out of steam as the book nears its end. She will undoubtedly win the Booker sooner or later, but I hope it's for a book which really does her talent justice.