Care to throw a wager on a Booker winner?

Its 4.44 am here in Sydney Australia and I’m 3 hours out from the announcement of the 2011 Booker Prize.  I’ve not had a chance to read all of the short list. I’ve read Julian Barnes The Sense of an Ending and a chunk of Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers. I have all the others and have been going through them, checking for style and getting a feel in the last desperate hours of hot debate.

This years Booker is different for many reasons. Alan  Hollinghurst wasn’t included (for example) and he usually is – or so it seems. The novelists have been taken from all over the Commonwealth, there are four first time nominees and two debut novelists. Interestingly (or I think so) all the protagonists of each novel are men who are lost somehow and find themselves out-of-place in the world with complicated inner selves.

We only have three hours to guess. This Booker has been more hotly debated than almost any Booker short list previously. It has also out sold any previous Booker short list. Controversially this list has been claimed to be chosen for “readability” which (i guess) means Tom Mc Carthy’s C wouldn’t have made it in this year. To support the judges claim, this short list has been purchased and, unlike previous short lists, read. Or so it would seem. One would certainly hope that anything chosen for ‘readability’ was being read.

Here are some interesting sales stats taken from The

A D Miller’s Snowdrops (Atlantic) is the bestselling title at Waterstone’s with bookies’ favourite Julian Barnes’ A Sense of An Ending (Jonathan Cape) in second place. Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon English (Bloomsbury) was its third, Patrick De Witt’s The Sisters Brothers (Granta) fourth and Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues (Serpents Tail) was its fifth, withJamrach’s Menagerie in last. At WH Smith, Jamrach’s Menagerie andSnowdrops are almost neck and neck and are followed by A Sense of An Ending.

Waterstone’s spokesman Jon Howells said: “Opinion is split here about what will win. The favourite is obviously the Barnes, but a lot of people are raving about The Sisters Brothers. I think they are right—there will be a surprise winner [tonight]. Whatever the controversy, the Booker remains an incredibly powerful force, and the winning author will reap the rewards very quickly.”

Yesterday, bookmaker William Hill announced Julian Barnes’ A Sense of an Ending was the 6/4 favourite, with 50% of bets placed on the prize backing the Jonathan Cape author to win. revealed Barnes had also been the shortlisted title most downloaded to the Kindle, with 29% of people choosing his book from those in the running for the prize.

Interesting about the Kindle.

I got all the books in e copy, cause that’s how I like to swing, but it seems that people choose largely on who they think is going to win the prize.

And therein lies the real value of the Prize. Sales. I guess by choosing a ‘readable’ short list the Judges have revitalised commercial interest in the expensive prize (Each entrant to the Booker competition gives $10,000 entrance fee to the Booker) which is how these books are selected by the publishers who enter them. But I don’t want to be too cynical. I know that is the place of integrity for a write such as myself, but I get too much of a kick out of the spectacle to be too hard-assed about the whole thing.

having said that. Lets check out the short list:

Julian Barnes: The sense of an Ending.

This is the front-runner. Barnes has been listed four times as a booker nominee without ever winning – this time being his mighty fourth. he’s the odds on favourite, but he is also the only one I have read in its entirety and given the wa things go, I suspect I’ve jinxed him. there is little chance I will have read the actual winner before announcement with only one book, so my guess is I’ve ruined his chances. I have a full review of the novel here on my blog.  (As as aside, apparently there is some long running public feud between Julian Barnes and Martin Amis I’m woefully behind on that I am DYING to catch up with – maybe I’ll send you good folk a blog piece on it when I do)

Patrick de Witt: The Sisters Brothers.

I like this novel, although again, its ‘readable’ which is ambiguous, but in my mind that means the novel doesn’t take any new territory which is something I like in a novel. I’m a David Foster Wallace fan after all – i like a little literary meat with my vegies. I found the tone engaging and the Western Style refreshing – something else I am unfamiliar with. This is a violent novel i have already found out, with an engaging style that has been compared to Cormac McCarthy (like almost all novels these days) and the Cohen Brothers (unlike all novels these days). I would agree with this assessment. You can read a full review of the novel here.  Other interesting facts: Second time novelist, first time Booker listed.

Carol Birch: Jamrach’s Menagerie.

I haven’t read this one at all yet, so there is little I can say except that it is the one (besides Half Blood Blues)  I am the most interested in. This is Birch’s eleventh novel and the first she has published in the United States. This novel has been compared to Moby Dick, and I haven’t read a review that shy’s away from this comparison, which is pretty huge.  It’s a sprawling novel with compliments being paid to the voice of the youthful protagonist that Birch is able to transform as Jaffey gets older and wiser (something not accomplished with Room, a shortlisted novel from last year).  You can read a review of the novel here.





Esi Edugyan: Half Blood Blues

This novel looks just great. It’s another take on the Nazi Germany story but this time it’s from the perspective of the swingers and jazz club.  This is a (timely) book about european racism with something of a smouldering realism that pays testament to the research talents of Edugyan. Apparently she has the voice of Sidney Griffiths down perfectly, making great use of the jazz slang of the European 40’s.  the brilliant Hieronymous Falk, an African german national,  the young genius of the band was hauled off to a concentration camp after being declared stateless. Years later, when returning to shoot a documentary about the band, we find that Sidney has troubles with the young genius himself and that relationships can turn nasty indeed when jealousy is involved. You can read a full review of the novel here.


Stephen Kelman: Pigeon English

this is Kelman’s first novel and he is a Booker shortlister, which I must confess makes me illogically envious.  he’s the outsider and one of the books I haven’t read. It is based on the true story of a ten-year old Nigerian boy who was murdered in London in 2000 by some boys just a few years older than him. Through the novel, you know the grizzly end is coming, but Kelman writes in such a buoyant cheerful voice that you forget where the novel is headed, I’ve read. Another boys murder opens the book and a group of friends decide they will track down the killers.  Apparently the inclusion of the Pigeon is an odd move, but there is so much delight in the voice that the novel overcomes any difficulties. I have my hot little copy, and can’t wait to read this. You can get a full review here.


A.D. Miller: Snowdrops

Andrew Miller is the journalist of our group. Snowdrops is his first  novel as well. “In russia there are no love stories. Only crime stories.” Nick Platt prevents a mugging at a Moscow train station and the two girls he rescues reward him by involving him in a scheme to steal a widows apartment. meanwhile his firm is trying to facilitate an oil deal for an ex KGB agent. I’ve heard the KGB agent is a little thinly sliced, but other than that there is nothing but praise for this first novel. Miller is an editor at the economist and it would seem a tad cynical about life, given the subject matter and the hard-assed nature of the protagonist. But then, I haven’t read the novel yet. You can get a full and complete review here.