Ondaatje, Bauer, Rooney and Ryan on 'dystopian' Man Booker longlist

Ondaatje, Bauer, Rooney and Ryan on 'dystopian' Man Booker longlist

Golden Man Booker winner Michael Ondaatje has been longlisted for this year’s £50,000 Man Booker Prize for his “wonderfully” atmospheric novel Warlight (Jonathan Cape), in a line-up the judges described as dominated by dystopias.

Meanwhile Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina (Granta), which tells the story of what happens when an intimate, ‘everyday’ tragedy collides with the appetites of a 24-hour news cycle, is the first graphic novel to reach the longlist and Donal Ryan’s From A Low and Quiet Sea has become the first novel published by an Irish press – Doubleday Ireland – to make the cut following an entry criteria change earlier this year.

Also longlisted is crime writer Belinda Bauer whose Snap (Bantam Press) is described by judges as an “acute, stylish, intelligent novel about how we survive trauma”.

In a year in which organisers have faced pressure over the US dominance of the prize, authors from the UK and Ireland make up a majority - eight out of the 13 writers - of the longlist, alongside two Canadians and three Americans; comparable to the make-up of the longlist last year. Altogether seven novels from Penguin Random House’s stables are in the running, including three from the Jonathan Cape imprint, with Cape's associate editor Robin Roberston’s debut novel in verse The Long Take (Picador) making the cut.

Four longlistees are under the age of 30: 27-year-old Sally Rooney’s Normal People (Faber & Faber), a tale of two young people moving in and out of a relationship, goes head-to-head with Everything Under (Jonathan Cape), a tale of a solitary lexicographer which turns classical myth on its head, by Daisy Johnson, also 27. Along with Drnaso, completing the under-30s club is 29-year-old Sophie Mackintosh, who is nominated for The Water Cure (Hamish Hamilton), a “chillingly beautiful” novel imagining a world “close to our own: where women are not safe in their bodies, where desperate measures are required to raise a daughter”.

Mackintosh, Johnson and Robertson account for three of the four debuts on the longlist; the last is Guy Gunaratne’s In Our Mad and Furious City (Tinder Press), described by the judges as an “ambitious” inner city “novel for our times”.

Canada's Esi Edugyan and US author Richard Powers join Ondaatje and Ryan in the collection of authors to be nominated previously for the prize: Edugyan is down for her "dazzling exploration of race" Washington Black (Serpent’s Tail), having been previously shortlisted in 2011 for Half-Blood Blues and Powers is down for The Overstory (William Heinemann), a tale of how we are destroying and saving our trees. Ryan was longlisted in 2013 for The Spinning Heart, while Ondaatje won in 1992 with The English Patient.

Completing the “Man Booker Dozen” is US writer Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room, a tale of gender, class and the corruption of the American dream - the third Jonathan Cape title to make the running alongside those from Johnson and Ondaatje and the UK's Anna Burns, who is in the running for Milkman (Faber), set in Ireland during the Troubles.

Chair of the judges Kwame Anthony Appiah said dystopian novels reflecting the current climate were strong in the collection. “Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the times, there were many dystopian fictions on our bookshelf – and many novels we found inspirational as well as disturbing. Some of those we have chosen for this longlist feel urgent and topical, others might have been admired and enjoyed in any year,” Appiah said. “All of these books – which take in slavery, ecology, missing persons, inner-city violence, young love, prisons, trauma, race – capture something about a world on the brink. Among their many remarkable qualities is a willingness to take risks with form.

"And we were struck, overall, by their disruptive power: these novels disrupted the way we thought about things we knew about, and made us think about things we didn’t know about. Still, despite what they have in common, every one of these books is wildly distinctive. It’s been an exhilarating journey so far and we’re looking forward to reading them again. But now we’ll have thousands and thousands of people reading along with us.”

Also judging were crime writer Val McDermid; cultural critic Leo Robson; feminist writer and critic Jacqueline Rose and artist Leanne Shapton.

Altogether three independent publishers are represented across four books: Faber, which has two titles, Granta and Serpent’s Tail. Penguin Random House accounts for seven on the list through its imprints Hamish Hamilton, William Heinemann, Bantam Press and Jonathan Cape (which makes the list three times), as well as Doubleday Ireland, an imprint of Transworld Ireland. Pan Macmillan imprint Picador has one and so does Hachette's Headline.

The judges L-R Val McDermid, Leanne Shapton, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Leo Robson and Jacqueline Rose

Katharine Fry, trade buying manager for Blackwell’s, said the list was “strong” and balanced. “It’s a really strong list that will definitely spark debate, featuring novels in verse and a graphic novel. It also has a great balance of known names and others to be discovered with some really commercial titles thrown in,” she said. “As a former Bookseller of Broad Street and following the pre-order campaign and launch we will definitely be backing Daisy Johnson and hoping she makes it all the way.”

Chris White, fiction buyer at Waterstones, branded the list “fascinating”, with the inclusion of a graphic novel “a major talking point”.

“It is emblematic of list which is trying to expand our understanding of what the novel can be and do,” he said. “I thought Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls was a shoo-in and I’m surprised not to see Crudo on there but I’ve been around long enough to know that part of the fun of a Booker announcement is bemoaning the great books which didn’t make it. I’m not close to having read them all but I loved Normal People by Sally Rooney so I’ll make that my early pick for the winner and hope it doesn’t jinx it.”

He added: “One thing this longlist demonstrates beyond doubt is that the novel is alive and well, and fully equipped to deal with anything the modern world has to throw at it.”  

Alice O'Keeffe, The Bookseller’s books editor, welcomed Bauer’s inclusion on the longlist, along with Rooney and Ryan, but also questioned the omission of Pat Barker’s The Silence of Girls (Hamish Hamilton).

Meanwhile, Guardian journalist Justine Jordan dubbed it “a longlist to overturn expectations”, praising it "an impressive synthesis between popular and literary tastes”. While the novels longlisted "make for fresh, exciting reading”, she also remarked this year’s list is “heavy on British and Irish authors” amid disgruntlement from the industry over the rule change that has seen two consecutive US authors scoop the prize.

The shortlist of six books will be announced on Thursday 20th September and the winner will be revealed on Tuesday 16th October.