There are thirteen authors on this year’s Man Booker Prize longlist. If you’re the kind of person who takes an interest in such things, if you’re eager to participate (at least passively and conceptually) in the judges’ decision, and wish to consider more than the authors’ names and their cover designs, then you may have a vague intention of reading some or all of the books on this list. Good for you.
Let’s be clear: it’s very unlikely that you will find the time to read thirteen novels in the next three months. Perhaps people were able to read thirteen novels in three months back in 1969, before the internet etc., but these days, there are just too many op-eds, Twitter threads and Game of Thrones series.
Let’s accept that you’re not going to read all thirteen of these novels. You didn’t read them last year. Let’s accept that you’re not going to read the majority. Who can afford to buy thirteen (mostly hardback) books these days anyway?
Taking into account self-compassion and an accurate assessment of your own will power, a reasonable goal might be to read two books on the list. The question then becomes: how to find the books which will most resonate with your personal taste? You could follow hallowed tradition and judge the books by their covers, or the physical beauty of the authors. Or you could experiment with a more radical method. Namely, the old adage: try before you buy. Accordingly, we’ve collected our favourite extracts, short stories, essays and interviews with each author for you to explore without financial obligation, allowing you to commit to a longer term relationship with the authors with whom you feel the greatest affinity:
Paul Auster, 4 3 2 1
Paul Auster has been writing for Granta since 1993. You can read an extract from his latest novel 4 3 2 1 on our website, and listen to Auster discuss the novel, the differences between fate and chance, and embedding historical events into fiction with Granta’s online editor Luke Neima.
Mohsin Hamid, Exit West
Mohsin Hamid is the author of three novels, including The Reluctant Fundamentalist, for which Hamid was shortlisted for the Booker; it was also adapted into a film by Mira Nair. Granta published an extract from Hamid’s latest novel, Exit West, earlier this year. For a taste of Hamid’s shorter fiction, we recommend ‘A Beheading’, a brief, shocking story originally published as part of our Pakistan issue. Most recently, he contributed his thoughts on the future of travel writing.
Fiona Mozley, Elmet
Elmet is the debut novel of twenty-nine-year-old Fiona Mozley. The book won’t be published until late August, adding a sense of mystery and anticipation to the nomination. In the meantime, for want of written materials, here’s the author’s laconic website.
George Saunders Lincoln in the Bardo
Following on from a number of highly acclaimed short story collections, Lincoln in the Bardo is George Saunders’s debut novel. You can read an extract from the novel at Granta.com, and listen to Saunders discuss the novel with our online editor – they touch on the mind of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil war, the art of creating distinctive historical voices and writing the afterlife.
Jon McGregor, Reservoir 13
In the summer of 2002, Granta’s ‘Bad Company’ issue, which featured work by Milan Kundera, Arthur Miller, Gary Shteyngart and Edmund White, introduced a startlingly new voice: Jon McGregor. In his story ‘What the Sky Sees’, a young agriculture student from Lincolnshire is driving home after visiting his new lover when he accidentally runs someone over. Ten years, two novels and many short stories later, McGregor returned to this first published work in order to rewrite it from the female perspective. The result was ‘In Winter the Sky’, published in 2012.
Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad tells the story of a fifteen-year-old slave named Cora as she escapes from a plantation in Georgia – but in this case, the underground railroad is literally an underground railroad. The book has already won the National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize, and you can read the first chapter over at Scribd. Here’s Whitehead talking to Granta’s former editor John Freeman for Lithub. Even better, perhaps, is his conversation with Oprah.
Zadie Smith, Swing Time
In 1999, Granta published a story by a young Cambridge graduate called Zadie Smith. ‘The Waiter’s Wife’ was an extract from the manuscript of White Teeth, which was published in London the following year. TIME has since named the book one of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923. Smith went on to be chosen not once but twice for Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists series, for which she contributed the stories ‘Martha, Martha’ and ‘Just Right’ in 2003 and 2013.
Kamila Shamsie, Home Fire
Kamila Shamsie is one of two Pakistani authors on this year’s longlist. Like Mohsin Hamid, she contributed to our Pakistan issue in 2010, writing a sharply insightful essay on pop idols. She also joined Zadie Smith in our 2003 Best of Young British Novelists issue, with the short story ‘Vipers’, which follows two Pashtun men, Qayyum and Kalam Khan, fighting with the British army in World War 1. Below, you can watch Shamsie describe her early influences, including Peter Pan, Winnie the Pooh and Narnia – she muses on the dissonance of reading British children’s stories while living under a military dictatorship.
Ali Smith, Autumn
You can read an extract from Smith’s new novel, exploring the unknown female Pop Artist Pauline Boty, in the TLS. For a more intimate perspective, we recommend Smith’s brief, illuminating portrait of her father: his love of salmon fishing, enduring support for the Conservative party, and his persistent English accent despite living in the Highlands since 1949.
Mike McCormack, Solar Bones
Asked about his work in an interview with Stinging Fly, Mike McCormack says, ‘My guiding principle when I set out to write a book or a story is this: if the book or the story could write itself, what lines, shapes and rhythms would it take on?’. The form that his novel Solar Bones took on was a single sentence, bouncing around the head of an engineer from County Mayo. The book was first published in Ireland by Tramp Press in 2016, and went on to win that year’s Goldsmiths Prize. But due to the enigmatic regulations of major literary prizes, it wasn’t eligible for the Man Booker until it was published in the UK by Canongate this year. Here’s McCormack himself giving a reading.
Arundhati Roy, The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness
Arundhati Roy’s debut novel The God of Small Things – an excerpt of which first appeared in the print issue of Granta 57: India – won the Man Booker prize in 1997. Twenty years later, she’s released a second book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, which has again been nominated for the prize. What has she been doing in the meantime? She’s been writing essays, and making a name for herself as one of India’s most outspoken activists and public intellectuals, taking on everything from India’s development of the nuclear bomb, to the occupation of Kashmir and the building of mega-dams along the Narmada River – her work saw her imprisoned (for a day) and charged with sedition. She talks about this – along with her favourite records – on a recent episode of Desert Island Discs.
Sebastian Barry, Days Without End
Sebastian Barry, playwright, poet and novelist, has been shortlisted twice previously for the Man Booker. ‘My wife was ashen, my editor was staring forward, my agent, whom nothing upsets, was upset,’ Barry recalls from his second loss in 2009. Will he have to go through the whole bittersweet process again? You can watch Barry read from his latest novel on Faber’s website.
Emily Fridlund, History of Wolves
Emily Fridlund’s debut novel is told from the perspective of an isolated teenager called Linda, living in a remote woodland community in Minnesota that’s managing a scandal involving a predatory high school teacher. In an interview with ZYZZYVA, Fridlund explains that she did not try shocking the reader, ‘So often tragedy happens without the fanfare we’ve come to expect from traditional storytelling, and that’s one of the worst things about it’. You can read selected extracts from the book via the Pool.