(Incidentally - if you think we are being rather tardy with our comment in the press, please be reminded that because of the Hari Raya holiday last weekend, there were no Sunday newspapers!)
So who's going to win?
I'm always torn with the Booker. Should the judges choose a novel which will be a popular choice, knowing that readers around the world will pick up the winner, even if they don't generally read much literary fiction?
Or should they base their decision more on literary merit, giving it to the author who breaks new ground and does something exciting with the form?
Is it possible to find a novel that's fulfills both criteria? Hopefully, yes.
I have read all of the shortlisted books except for Nichole Barker's Darkmans, which I started yesterday (and so far so good), and will talk about them a bit more on Sunday.
I think in many ways this is the shortlist which has more to offer readers in this part of the world than some of the previous year's lists have. I can see Malaysian readers really enjoying Animal's People, Mr. Pip and The Reluctant Fundamentalist.
Of the three, I think I would press the case of Lloyd Jones' Mr. Pip which probably gave me the most pleasure and certainly made me cry (always a good sign! I blubbered on the plane to Bali).
Animal's People was marvellously entertaining and at the same time I was glad to be made conscious of the fact that the people of Bhopal in India have yet to receive proper justice for the terrible industrial accident that blighted their lives. (Much more about this later.)
The Reluctant Fundamentalist will strike a chord with many readers, disillusioned with America post 9/11, and I like the way this short novel is narrated.
On Chesil Beach I talked about before and strongly recommended, especially as it makes a strong plea for sex education - something very much needed here.
Anne Enright’s book The Gathering, is more difficult and an angry painful book written in a stream of consciousness. I must confess that I did not immediately warm to it, perhaps because I’d made the mistake of taking it with me as a holiday read. (It isn't the book to read beside a swimming-pool in Bali!) But I appreciated it a great deal more on second reading.
So what do the bookies say? According to William Hill:
The biggest gamble in Booker Prize history is set to land a six figure payout for punters who have forced the odds of unknown New Zealand writer Lloyd Jones' 'Mister Pip' down from 20/1 to 6/4 favourite to beat former hot favourite Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach.I was much tickled by Stephanie Bunbury's assessment in the Age of what you get when you try to read the whole shortlist ahead of the announcement:
'There has never been a betting plunge like this on the Booker - Jones was 20/1 outsider of the field at the Long-list stage yet when the short-list was announced he had been so heavily backed that he became clear favourite, pushing former winner Ian McEwan out to second favourite' said Hill's spokesman Graham Sharpe. 'If Jones wins on Tuesday night we will be making a six figure payout to happy literary punters'.
Latest William Hill Man Booker Prize odds: 6/4 Lloyd Jones 'Mister Pip'; 15/8 Ian McEwan 'On Chesil Beach' 6/1 Mohsin Hamid, 'Reluctant Fundamentalist'; 7/1 Nicola Barker, 'Darkmans'; Indra Sinha 'Animal's People'; 12/1 Anne Enright 'The Gathering'.
... if you add six books with 2,051 pages weighing 3.5kg and costing £83.94 and divide it by five weeks, what do you get? A headache, a heavy handbag, and an empty wallet.I know, I know! But it has been an extremely interesting journey ...
Bunbury goes on to take a look at what bloggers think of the shortlisted books. Also well worth reading is Geordie Williamson's assessment in the Australian. He sums it all up rather nicely:
Against the inclusion of advertising copywriter Sinha's exercise in magical hystericalism we can place Enright's truly devastating account of mental breakdown, while Hamid's elegant but overly programmatic short novel is more than compensated for by the magnificent sprawl of Barker's Darkmans.Well, we shall see!