Even for a prize that thrives on controversy, the omission of Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light from the Booker shortlist today is a big shock. She is, for my money, among the greatest novelists writing today. But this year’s judges, as is their prerogative, have clearly favoured new voices over established names as no fewer than four of the shortlisted books are debuts, which I think might be a record (at least during my tenure as books editor).
The debut novels are: The New Wildernessby Diane Cook (Oneworld), Burnt Sugarby Avni Doshi (Hamish Hamilton), Real Life by Brandon Taylor (Daunt Books) – all American authors – and Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart (Picador), who was born and brought up in Glasgow, but now lives in New York. The debutants are joined by Ethiopian-American writer Maaza Mengistie with her second novel The Shadow King (Canongate) and Zimbabwean author, playwright and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga with This Mournable Body ( Faber), her third novel.
There is no clear front runner making the field wide open in terms of a likely winner. The names may be less familiar to booksellers – but this offers the opportunity, and the challenge, of handselling titles that their customers may well not have heard of. However, all have been well reviewed in the broadsheets and on broadcast media according to The Bookseller’s Books in the Media (BIM) round-up. Shuggie Bain leads the way both with the number of print reviews (an impressive nine) and sales (6,574 copies sold at time of writing). Real Life, This Mournable Body and The Shadow King have five reviews each, with sales of 4,810, 1,697 and 4,577 respectively. Burnt Sugar has sold 4,125 and benefited from three reviews, with The New Wilderness bringing up the rear with two reviews and 903 copies sold. I would expect these figures to become immediately out of date though, as nothing spikes a sale increase like a Booker prize Shortlisting (unless it’s a celebrity recommending your book on social media, but that’s another blog).
Congratulations to all!