Historical Fiction on 2009 Booker Longlis

I heard the Booker Longlist being read out last night by Jim Naughtie and Locasta Miller on Front Row.  Although it seems an impossible task, whittling 132 novels down to the “baker’s dozen” longlist of just 13, here are the results:

The 2009 longlist is:

Author                          Title  and Publisher

Byatt, AS                      The Children’s Book Random House – Chatto and Windus

Coetzee, J M               Summertime Random House – Harvill Secker

Foulds, Adam              The Quickening Maze Random House – Jonathan Cape

Hall, Sarah                   How to paint a dead man Faber and Faber

Harvey, Samantha      The Wilderness Random House – Jonathan Cape

Lever, James                Me Cheeta HarperCollins – Fourth Estate

Mantel, Hilary              Wolf Hall HarperCollins – Fourth Estate

Mawer, Simon             The Glass Room Little, Brown

O’Loughlin, Ed             Not Untrue & Not Unkind Penguin – Ireland

Scudamore, James      Heliopolis Random House – Harvill Secker

Toibin, Colm                Brooklyn Penguin – Viking

Trevor, William             Love and Summer Penguin – Viking

Waters, Sarah              The Little Stranger Little, Brown – Virago

With his usual air of confidence, James Naughtie, who chairs the judging panel, said:

‘The five Man Booker judges have settled on thirteen novels as the longlist for this year’s prize.  We believe it to be one of the strongest lists in recent memory, with two former winners, four past-shortlisted writers, three first-time novelists and a span of styles and themes that make this an outstandingly rich fictional mix.’

His fellow judges are Lucasta Miller, biographer and critic; Michael Prodger, Literary Editor of The Sunday Telegraph; Professor John Mullan, academic, journalist and broadcaster and Sue Perkins, comedian, journalist and broadcaster.

What was really interesting was that both Mark Lawson and Jim Naughtie remarked on the dominant presence of “historical themes”:   AS Byatt, Adam Foulds, Hilary Mantel, Simon Mawer, Colm Toibin, and Sarah Waters all have written historical novels of one form or another.  As Mark Lawson says, “it seems a prize dominated by historical novels.  Ten of the thirteen are set entirely or partially in the past”.

It was particularly revealing – and exciting – that Lucasta Miller confirmed this trend by saying that almost half of all those submitted – all 132 – had some historical element to them, so “it’s definitely something that’s going on in fiction generally at the moment”.

I’m delighted that Solander – the magazine published by the Historical Novel Society – will be publishing an interview with Hilary Mantel this November, and there are plans for profiles of Sarah Waters and AS Byatt next May.

However, historical themes apart, it’s a fantastic spread of ages and styles, new and experienced writers…  as Jim Naughtie correctly states:

There isn’t a bias towards historical fiction, there’s a bias towards good writing.

The short list will be announced in October and – for what it’s worth – my money’s on Hilary Mantel.

Postscript on Thursday 30th July:

William Hill have now published their opening Odds on the Booker longlist:  it’s neck-to-neck between Sarah Waters and Hilary Mantel at respectively 4/1 and 5/1!  I’d love to know who bets on the Booker prize?  Critics, general readers, the authors, the publishers!?  Are you tempted?

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