A bookseller's as-yet-unpublished debut is among the novels longlisted for the £50,000 Man Booker Prize 2017, alongside books by authors including Arundhati Roy, George Saunders, Sebastian Barry and Zadie Smith.
Fiona Mozley, aged 29, who works at the Little Apple Bookshop in York, was longlisted for her novel Elmet (JM Originals), a book about family as well as a meditation on landscape in South Yorkshire. The bookshop, whose staff didn't know her title had been put forward for the prize, called it "fantastic news" on its Facebook page this morning (27th July). The book, due to be published next month, was the first ever acquisition of John Murray assistant editor Becky Walsh, who revealed Mozley wrote the story while commuting on the train. “To be longlisted is an impressive achievement for anyone but for a debut author who wrote Elmet while travelling up and down to London from York on the train is just amazing,” she told The Bookseller.
Two other debut novels have been recognised: Saunders, a prolific US short story writer, is longlisted for his much-praised debut novel Lincoln in the Bardo (Bloomsbury). The father-and-son story, which has already secured a film deal, features Abraham Lincoln and is set in 1862 against the background of the American Civil War. And fellow American Emily Fridlund is longlisted for History of Wolves (Weidenfeld & Nicolson), set in a dying commune in the American Midwest.
Roy has made the cut for the first work she has written since The God Of Small Things (Harper Perennial) last won the Booker Prize 20 years ago with The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. She is one of four authors on the list to hail from Hamish Hamilton's stables, nurtured by publisher director Simon Prosser, along with Pakistani novelist Hamid's fourth novel Exit West; Ali Smith's Autumn, part of an ambitious series of four seasonal novels and Zadie Smith's Swing Time, about friendship, music and stubborn roots in North West London.
Meanwhile Barry is one of four previously shortlisted writers to appear again in the "Man Booker Dozen", along with Ali Smith, Zadie Smith and Mohsin Hamid. His American epic Days Without End (Faber & Faber), published in February, has already made him the first novelist to win both the Costa Book of the Year and the Walter Scott Prize twice. The novel follows Thomas McNulty, a migrant who flees the Irish famine during the 1850s, and his brother-in-arms as they go to fight in the Indian Wars and ultimately the Civil War. Costa judges earlier this year called it "brutal", "terrifying", and, in its exploration of the two characters' gay relationship, "one of the most wonderful depictions of love in fiction". Barry has previously been longlisted for the Booker prize for The Secret Scripture in 2008 and On Canaan’s Side in 2011.
Another much-garlanded author on the longlist is US scribe Colson Whitehead. His book The Underground Railroad (Fleet) about slavery in the antebellum American South this year attracted multiple awards including the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for fiction in April, as well as praise from former US president Barack Obama. It follows runaway slave Cora's bid for freedom using a literal underground railroad, incorporating elements of magical realism.
Three independent publishers have an author longlisted for the prize. Canongate author Mike McCormack is recognised for his Goldsmiths Prize-winning novel Solar Bones, a book that is written in a single novel-length sentence, Faber & Faber counts two entries on the list with US author Paul Auster's 4 3 2 1 entering alongside Barry's Days Without End, and Bloomsbury has Kamila Shamsie's Home Fire, a reimagining of Sophocles' Antigone through two British Muslim families, as well as Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo.
IMPAC Award-winning author Jon McGregor only moved to 4th Estate a year ago from Bloomsbury to publish Reservoir 13, which is the final book to make the cut. Set in a Derbyshire village, the title tells a story of lives haunted after a teenage girl goes missing.
Chair of the 2017 judges Baroness Lola Young commented: "Only when we’d finally selected our 13 novels did we fully realise the huge energy, imagination and variety in them as a group. The longlist showcases a diverse spectrum — not only of voices and literary styles but of protagonists too, in their culture, age and gender. Nevertheless we found there was a spirit common to all these novels: though their subject matter might be turbulent, their power and range were life-affirming – a tonic for our times.
"Together their authors — both recognised and new — explore an array of literary forms and techniques, from those working in a traditional vein to those who aim to move the walls of fiction."
The Man Booker Dozen were all published between 1st October 2016 and 30th September 2017. A shortlist of six books will be announced on 13th September and the winner on 17th October at a ceremony in London’s Guildhall broadcast by the BBC.
For the past two years books from independent publisher Oneworld have won the prize. Last year's winner was The Sellout by Paul Beatty - the prize's first American winner. To date over 360,000 print copies of the Oneworld edition have been sold through Nielsen BookScan and 26 foreign language rights deals have been secured (19 of which were sold since his prize win).
Chris White, fiction buyer for Waterstones, commented: "There are so many great novels on this year’s longlist. I think it’s the strongest there’s been in years. Obviously, I’m delighted to see our current Book of the Month, The Underground Railroad, in there and if I were forced to predict a winner I’d say that it’s a toss-up between that book and George Saunders’ virtuoso debut novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, but really almost any of these books would make worthy winners.”
Frances Gertler, web editor for Foyles, said: "Ali Smith is a huge favourite at Foyles but Sebastian Barry is a strong contender and we also loved the Saunders. As last year, there are a couple of dark horses and it will be intriguing to see how these fare."