One of Philip Hensher’s many qualities as a critic is that he doesn’t take prisoners. So his entertaining and judicious guide to the Man Booker longlist ended like this:
‘The shortlist should comprise McCann, Tóibín, Mendelson, Crace, House and Catton. House’s novel is the one you ought to read, and Mendelson’s the one that everyone will read and love. The prize will go to Crace.’
We now know whether the judges have followed his advice. Answer: they went halfway with him. They have Jim Crace’s Harvest – so his tip for the winner is still on – Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary and Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries.
But Noviolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names (Hensher: ‘has a liveliness of voice, but suffers from a remote tendency to cover every important subject afflicting the lives of its Zimbabwean slum-dwellers’), Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland (‘not bad in its American-airport-bestseller style’) and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being (‘a conventional researcher’s-homelife-versus-interesting-textual-discovery sort of novel’) appear in place of his other choices.
Given Hensher’s vivid descriptions of them, I reckon I’ll get to Richard House’s The Kills (‘a thrilling, overwhelming ride’) and Charlotte Mendelson’s Almost English (‘sheer bliss’) before the second half of the official shortlist. Further evidence for making up your own mind here.