September 10, 2008

Heavyweight Writers Left Off Booker Shortlist

By Martyn McLaughlin

THE shortlist for this year's Man Booker Prize was announced yesterday, favouring young debut authors as opposed to established literary heavyweights.

While two first-time novelists garnered sufficient nominations, there was no place for Sir Salman Rushdie, who had been widely tipped to win the prestigious award once again.

Also omitted was Netherland by Joseph O'Neill, a post 9/11 narrative of New York and cricket, and Michelle de Kretser's The Lost Dog, both of which had been regarded as favourites.

Instead, Aravind Adiga, a 33-year-old Indian journalist, and Steve Toltz, 36, an Australian former private investigator, made the cut with their respective maiden novels, The White Tiger, which explores the underbelly of India's tiger economy, and A Fraction of the Whole, a winding narrative about a father's confession to his son.

The remaining four shortlisted works are Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture, a story told through the journals of an old woman who has spent most of her life in a mental hospital; Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies, set in the era of the first opium war; Linda Grant's The Clothes on Their Backs, a story about concealed pasts; and The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher, which explores life in Thatcher's Britain through two families in Sheffield.

The judges, chaired by Michael Portillo, the former Tory MP, described the selection - dominated by large-scale narratives - as "page turning" and "intensely readable."

Dublin-born Barry was shortlisted three years ago for A Long, Long Way. Liverpudlian Grant, the only woman on the shortlist, was longlisted in 2002 for Still Here.

Londoner Hensher, formerly a Booker judge, was longlisted the same year for The Mulberry Empire.

William Hill made Barry the 2/1 favourite but expressed surprise at the exclusion of big names.

Graham Sharpe, a spokesman for the bookmakers, said: "We were convinced the winner would be Joseph O'Neill or Salman Rushdie. It looks like a very open competition."

The omission of Sir Salman, who this year was named winner of the Best of the Booker Award for Midnight's Children, which won the Booker in 1981, has raised eyebrows. His work, The Enchantress of Florence, made the 13-strong longlist, but Mr Portillo said the judges simply did not consider it worthy of making the final round.

Mr Portillo, who claims to have read 105 of the 112 entries from start to finish, described the final selection as "extraordinary examples of imagination and narrative" in a "strong year".

He added: "We particularly think that this is a great year for readability. These books are great page-turners. Booksellers should be pretty pleased."

The other judges are Alex Clark, editor of Granta; Louise Doughty, the novelist; James Heneage, founder of Ottakar's bookshops; and broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kohli.

Extracts of the novels can be downloaded on to mobile phones. The winner of this year's GBP 50,000 prize will be announced on 14 October.


TITLE: The White Tiger

AUTHOR: Aravind Adiga

SYNOPSIS: The son of a rickshaw puller, Balram Halwai dreams of escaping his life as a tea-shop worker turned chauffeur.

The White Tiger is a tale of two Indias, charting Balram's journey from the darkness of village life to the light of entrepren- eurial success.

TITLE: The Secret Scripture

AUTHOR: Sebastian Barry

SYNOPSIS: Told through the journals of Roseanne McNulty and her psychiatrist Dr Grene, the story that emerges of Roseanne's family in 1930s Sligo is at once shocking and beautiful. Seen through the haze of memory, the story emerges as a secret, alternative history of Ireland.

TITLE: Sea of Poppies

AUTHOR: Amitav Ghosh

SYNOPSIS: Just before the Opium Wars on an old slaving ship, fate throws together a truly diverse cast of Indians and westerners, from a bankrupt raja and a widowed villager, to an evangelical English opium trader and a mulatto American freedman.

TITLE: The Clothes on Their Backs

AUTHOR: Linda Grant

SYNOPSIS: In a mansion block off the Marylebone Road, Vivien, a sensitive, bookish girl, is sealed off from the past and the present. One morning, her glamorously dressed Uncle Sandor turns up, but why is he so violently unwelcome in her parents' home?

TITLE: The Northern Clemency

AUTHOR: Philip Hensher

SYNOPSIS: Set in Sheffield, the novel charts the relationship between two families: the Glovers and their neighbours the Sellers, newly arrived from London. It is a deeply moving portrait mapping Britain's social landscape through the Thatcher era.

TITLE: A Fraction of the Whole

AUTHOR: Steve Toltz

SYNOPSIS: Jasper recalls a boyhood of outrageous schemes and shocking discoveries about his outlaw uncle Terry, his mysteriously absent mother, and his father's losing battle to make a mark.

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