It’s a lovely surprise to see Belinda Bauer’s name atop the Man Booker longlist this year. She’s been nominated for her eighth novel Snap but I’ve been a fan ever since her debut Blacklands. It is a surprise because the Man Booker judges have not often chosen to recognise the brilliance of crime fiction but then Snap, whilst suspenseful, also explores the effect of a terrible crime on a young boy and his siblings. And she can write a convincing child protagonist like nobody else.
I’m equally delighted, though not AT ALL surprised, to see Sally Rooney longlisted for her second novel Normal People. Her astonishing debut Conversations with Friends was one of the best novels, let alone debuts, I read last year. Normal People, which charts the effect one person can have on another’s life, is both beautifully observed and profoundly moving. She is doing something so fresh and exciting with the novel form.
It’s pleasing to see Donal Ryan recognised too for From a Low and Quiet Sea (I thought his last novel, All That We Shall Know, was very unfairly missed off the longlist in 2016). Hurrah too for Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room, an Editor’s Choice for me, a powerful, visceral novel set inside a woman’s prison in California.
But enough of all the delight. The glaring omission for me is Pat Barker’s dazzling The Silence of the Girls, retelling The Iliad from the perspective of Briseis, queen turned "prize" of war which, although set 4,000 years ago, chimes strongly with the present day. She has won before, for The Ghost Road in 1995, and I think this one is every bit as good.
I would have also loved to see Kate Atkinson get a nod for Transcription, which is out in September this year, and was my Book of the Month. As I wrote in a recent profile "her ability to create characters that the reader cares deeply about and involve them in an engrossing plot combined with heart-wrenching emotion and sharp humour – often on the same page – is unrivalled." I was also hoping to see Samantha Harvey’s The Western Wind on the longlist, as I think she is one of the most exciting literary novelists we have.
Other notable Booker-friendly names missing from the longlist are Julian Barnes for The Only Story, Peter Carey’s A Long Way from Home, Alan Hollinghurst for The Sparsholt Affair and Ali Smith’s Winter, the second in her Seasonal Quartet after Autumn which was shortlisted for last year’s prize.