The Booker Prize’s “wide-ranging and diverse” shortlist has been met with a broadly positive response from the trade, though there is surprise from some that authors like Max Porter missed out on the final six.
Yesterday’s shortlist, including four PRH titles, ranged from Margaret Atwood’s soon-to-be-released The Testaments (Chatto & Windus), tipped to be one of the year’s biggest publishing hits, to Lucy Ellman’s 1,000 page stream of consciousness doorstopper Ducks, Newburyport (Galley Beggar Press).
Also included were Elif Shafak's 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World (Viking), Bernardine Evaristo's Girl, Woman, Other (Hamish Hamilton) also made the shortlist, with Nigerian novelist Chigozie Obioma’s An Orchestra of Minorities (Little Brown) and Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte (Jonathan Cape).
However, the two longlisted titles with the biggest sales so far missed out on the final stage. By the time yesterday’s shortlist was announced Porter’s Lanny (Faber) had sold 16,548 copies through Nielsen, putting it second-only on the longlist to Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, The Serial Killer, which had shifted 17,791 books.
Paul Sweetman, who runs City Books in Hove, said the omission of Braithwaite, the only debut on the longlist, was a particular disappointment as it was one he could “thoroughly recommend” to customers. He said: “I was disappointed that the Braithwaite didn’t make it, though I wasn’t exactly surprised. It was a really original novel and very cleverly mixed up lots of different themes. I thoroughly enjoyed that book.”
But he added: “I’m really pleased that Shafak’s on there – she’s absolutely superb.”
Clare Alexander from Aitken Alexander Associates, whose clients include Porter, told The Bookseller: “There are always books that we represent or especially love we regret are not included. Why was Mark Haddon’s The Porpoise not on the longlist? Why was Lanny by Max Porter or The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy not on the shortlist?
“But we are absolutely thrilled that Bernardine Evaristo’s brilliant Girl, Woman, Other is a worthy inclusion on what is definitely a strong and diverse Booker shortlist.”
Jonny Geller from Curtis Brown, whose agency represents Shafak and Atwood, said: “Everyone knows it is always hard for authors not to be included in these prizes, but when you do get the recognition, it is a wonderful chance to widen readership and give the authors a boost of confidence as they are about to embark on their new work. This is list is very wide in appeal and I hope it will bring book buyers into bookshops for the busiest autumn for fiction I can remember.”
Bea Carvalho, Waterstones fiction buyer, was also surprised at Porter’s omission, along with that of Levy’s The Man Who Saw Everything.
But she said: “The judges certainly had an unenviable task whittling down this year’s longlist, and they have come up with a shortlist which is truly representative of the scope and ambition of this year’s fiction publishing. The inclusion of two Booker winners gives the list real gravitas – and it’s exciting to see them rubbing shoulders with some less widely known authors whose careers are now set to be propelled to new commercial heights.
“We’re especially pleased to see The Testaments on the shortlist as the countdown to its publication enters its final week: we hardly needed confirmation of its quality but the judges’ endorsement makes us even more excited to read it and share it with our customers. Its release is the literary event of the year, and it is yet another fantastic talking point that it hits the shelves with a major prize shortlisting under its belt already.
“10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World has been a favourite this year, and we’re thrilled to see Shafak’s immense talent recognised by the Booker Prize with her first shortlisting. Of all the shortlisted titles already published, this one has seen the greatest sales uplift since its longlisting with sales improving by 170% week on week after the announcement.”
Nic Bottomley of Mr B’s Emporium said: “I think that now it’s whittled from 13 to 6 it feels like a more intriguing and quite wildly varied list. You’ve got a couple of literary legends, books that play with style and all manner of different settings and cultures.”
And John Clegg from the London Review Bookshop weighed in: “With Man having gone overboard, it’s great to see the Booker Prize keeping things shipshape and maintaining an even keel with its latest shortlist – and the last novel to arrive, Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, is certain to make a big splash. We’re all sorry to see Deborah Levy and Max Porter jettisoned, but whoever the eventual winner is, we look forward to piping them up the gangway.”
The appearance of Ellman was hailed by indie Galley Beggar’s co-director Eloise Millar as an “amazing validation for an extraordinary, revelatory novel – as well as for Lucy, who has worked so hard, so fearlessly, and put everything she has into this book”.
She added: “Lucy’s shortlisting for the Booker Prize is a wonderful boost for Galley Beggar Press, of course – but we also like to see it as a kind of ‘waving of the flag’ for all small presses out there in the UK, many of whom we know personally, who help and support us on a daily basis – and who we watch working so hard, so passionately, and so constantly for their books and their authors. We feel privileged to be part of this community; it’s a daily inspiration. Most of these companies are run by no more than a handful of people – and because of them, many important books and writers are finding a home, and a way into the world.”
At PRH, a “thrilled” Venetia Butterfield, publisher for Penguin General, called Shafak “the bravest writer I know”. Simon Prosser, publishing director of Hamish Hamilton and editor of Girl, Woman, Other, called its shortlisting “a cause for joy”. Bea Hemming, acting publishing editor for Jonathan Cape, and editor for Quichotte, said: “It shows a master storyteller at his most exuberant and inventive, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to see it recognised by the Booker judges.”
Becky Hardie, deputy publishing director for Chatto & Windus and editor of The Testaments, said: “The Handmaid’s Tale was on the Booker shortlist in 1986 and it’s a real excitement and pleasure to see its sequel on the list 33 years later. In chaotic times like these we need writers like Margaret Atwood more than ever. I hope this shortlisting will bring the benefits of her visionary wisdom to even more readers.”
And a “delighted” Ailah Ahmed, editorial director at Hachette UK’s Little, Brown, and editor of An Orchestra Of Minorities, said: “Chigozie is 33 and is extraordinarily talented - this is such an wonderful moment. Beautifully written, stylishly crafted and hugely important, An Orchestra Of Minorities deserves to find many readers. Working with Chigozie is such a pleasure.”
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