Kudos to the Man Booker Prize judges this year in choosing a shortlist that is much stronger than the one last year. I have read five of the six (missing Alison Moore’s The Lighthouse), and each one is a literary gem, all worthy to win the Prize, which will be announced in London on this upcoming Tuesday evening.
Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies seems to be the odds on favorite, although if I were a judge, my vote would go to Tan Twang Eng, for his The Garden of Evening Mists, a work of historical fiction set in colonial Malaya and post-colonial Malaysia. Mr. Eng elegance of style in his writing is highly reminiscent to previous Booker winners, Kazuo Ishiguro and John Banville.
If Ms. Mantel wins once again this year, it will be the fourth consecutive Prize winner to have novels set in London, either past or present. Her 2009 novel, Wolf Hall, as Bring Up the Bodies, is a depiction of the life and times of Henry the Eighth in sixteenth century London. Both Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question (2010) and Julian Barne’s The Sense of an Ending (2011) have contemporary London settings.
The intention of the founders of the Booker Prize was to make the literary competition as diverse as Britain and its former Empire. Of the first ten Booker winners, seven had colonial and post-colonial themes. I believe it is important this year to consider diversity as a major criterion in the selection of the winner. I fear that if Ms. Mantel wins once again, it will reinforce the recent perception that the Booker winning circle has become the domain of an English “good old boys and girls club.”
This is not to take away from the merits of this year’s shortlist English authors. I think that Ms. Mantel has proven once again that she is the best living writer of historical fiction in the English language. Will Self’s stream-of-consciousness novel, Umbrella, is one of the most creative and innovative literary works in many years. Deborah Levy’s beautifully evocative mood piece, Swimming Home, is an emotionally-laden piece of fiction that future generations will be reading as well.
I believe that Indian author, Jeet Thayil, is also deserving to win the Prize this year. His book, Narcopolis, is a gut-wrenching depiction of hard drug users in Mumbai.This is Thayil’s debut novel, and as a poet and musician, he adds amazing nuanced elements to his driving writing style. Yet, I think that Mr. Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists demonstrates incredible literary heft in an almost perfectly written novel, giving him an edge over Mr. Thayil.