Man Booker Prize 2012 Shortlist
New names have powered through this year's 145 entrants to take four of the six Man Booker shortlist places. There are first novels from India and the East Midlands, small publishers from Newcastle, North Norfolk and High Wycombe--alongside Hilary Mantel and Will Self, two of the great established radicals of contemporary literature. It was the pure power of prose that settled most of the judges' debates. These are books of vigour and vividly defined values--with huge and visible confidence in the novel's place in forming our words and ideas. Here Sir Peter Stothard, Chair of judges for the 2012 prize, discusses this year's shortlisted novels:
Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
This second in Mantel's trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell drew the judges into a spirited critical comparison with its predecessor, Wolf Hall, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2009. Anne Boleyn's fall from favour, fuelled by realpolitik and sexual rumour, leads to the scaffold that every reader knows - but by paths that still surprise and shock. The judges noted Mantel's mastery of method, her powerful realism in the separateness of past and present - and the vivid depiction of English character and landscape.
Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil
'Bombay' is the first and last word of Jeet Thayil's first novel, an urban history written by a former drug addict through the changing composition of opiates and the changing character of their users. In a year of many fine novels on the mystery of the modern city, Thayil's perfumed prose from the drug-dens and back streets of India's most concentrated conurbation was chosen for its power to mix the domestic and exotic, the nearly infinite and the nastily defined.
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
The surface of Deborah Levy's first novel for more than a decade is simple enough - a holiday villa in France, a pool, bohemian families at play and the young intruder who comes to stay. But this is more than a story of a snake in the grass. Inconvenient truth is etched into Levy’s idyll in subtle, obliquely outlined ways, some of them gently literary, others acid and raw. The judges admired her technical artistry, glowing prose and intimate exposure of loss.
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
This second novel by the Malaysian writer, Tan Twan Eng, contains some of the most poised, precise prose offered to the Man Booker judges this year. It is the story of a Japanese garden created in honour of a Japanese victim of war--and is sternly paced to match its subject. One of us likened its beauty to that of 'slowly clashing icebergs'; another admired the potent serenity of the gardener, Aritomo, former servant of the Emperor. The decaying memory of the Cambridge-educated Malaysian judge as she recalls wartime suffering and reconciliation exemplifies a strong Man Booker theme of 2012.
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore
This is a first novel in which a middle-aged man crosses the channel by ferry for a summer walking holiday in Germany after the failure of his marriage. He has his mother's perfume bottle, shaped like a lighthouse, in his pocket - and in his mind a mess of more damaging memories from childhood. His first hotel landlady welcomes him into one of her many beds. Her husband is a presence in and out of the shadows. The judges admired a bleak inner landscape, a temperature control set low and an impressively assured control.
Umbrella by Will Self
Umbrella is about a misdiagnosed woman in a north London mental hospital, her family and her doctor. In almost 400 pages without paragraph breaks or chapter divisions, Self aims his remarkable mind at many of the most potent themes of this Man Booker year - the tricks of age and memory, the limitations of technology, the confident delight in literary technique. This novel is both moving and draining. The judges placed Umbrella on the shortlist with the conviction that those who stick with it will find it much less difficult than it first seems. It is a book, in the words of one of us, that contains within its massive compass 'a primer for its own interpretation'.
--Sir Peter Stothard