Starmag scoops an exclusive interview with Sir Howard Davies, chair of the Man Booker Prize, who shares his thoughts on choosing the longlist of titles:
Every (qualified) publisher is entitled to submit two novels published in the year, in addition to the automatic entries of former prizewinners and recently short listed authors. That rule applies both to major publishing houses like Jonathan Cape and to newer small companies like Myrmidon, which published The Gift of Rain by (Malaysia-born author) Tan Twan Eng. ... Then all publishers can submit an additional list of books they would like to have entered had they been allowed more choices. This year the judges selected about 20 more from that list, making a grand total of 110, ranging from Ian McEwan’s short novella On Chesil Beach with 166 small pages to Nicola Barker’s 836-page epic Darkmans. Oddly, both the shortest and the longest books this year made it to the long list.He says that some very interesting themes emerged this year:
A lot of novelists are preoccupied with sex (I can just about remember why that might be). And this year there are a surprising number of themes that touch on infertility. Maybe that is an interesting phenomenon particularly in developed countries, where birth rates are low and in some cases the population is declining: not an issue in Malaysia, of course. There were also 14 novels that were either largely or substantially centred on World War II, from Thomas Keneally’s latest book about Allied raids on the Japanese fleet in Singapore in 1942 (The Widow and Her Hero), to a novel about the after effects of Hiroshima. Of these, two, by Tan Twan Eng and A.N. Wilson, made it through to the long list. Tan’s strong sense of place and his ability to handle dark themes in the Japanese occupation of Malaya appealed to us. The central character collaborates with the occupiers, but tries also to help the resistance. Wilson’s reflections on the influence of Wagner on Hitler and the origins of Nazism in 19th century philosophy are challenging and well written.(Wonder why he did not also mention Peter Ho Davies The Welsh Girl which is also set during the Second World War?)
Davies also mentions the striking geographical diversity of the novels:
The long list includes one Canadian, a New Zealander, a Pakistani, an Indian based in India and one based in Wales, a Chinese Welshman and, of course, a Malaysian, alongside five British writers and an Irish woman. ... So Booker judging these days takes you on a world tour, from Toronto to Penang. In a rainy London summer, that proved to be a wonderful diversion.The committee meets on Thursday to draw up the shortlist.