The appearance of so many books by small presses on this year's Booker longlist (below) warms the cockles. In a comment on the Bookseller site Jane Rogers, whose futuristic Testament of Jessie Lamb was published this spring by the tiny Highland Sandstone press, and which now appears on the list, says: 'Until yesterday's longlist announcement, I thought it was likely to sink without trace, since it had only 3 reviews, and was barely visible in bookshops. This longlisting means it will be read.' Wonderful, when lately there has been the whiff of sell-out around some prizes, that this year the Booker has operated to allow great writing to triumph over market forces.
There is on the other hand a distinct lack of what one might call 'challenging' writing on the list, ie writing that doesn't fall into recognisable categories - Anne Enright and Ali Smith are conspicuous by their absence - and it has been noted elsewhere that for the first time genre writing makes up a good deal of the list, which last in itself is refreshing, but also indicates perhaps a leaning towards recognisable forms. In fact, I'd say that Jane Rogers, for instance, is a highly innovative writer who pushes the boundaries with voice, but her work is always at the same time admirably accessible, and this time she has gone further and opted for the sci-fi genre. This Booker list, it seems, demonstrates a turning away from writing that wears its challenge on its sleeve, and one wonders how far that reflects moves in the industry in general.
Here's the list:
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (Jonathan Cape)
• On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry (Faber)
• Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch (Canongate Books)
• The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (Granta)
• Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan (Serpent's Tail)
• A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards (Oneworld)
• The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst (Picador)
• Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman (Bloomsbury)
• The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness (Seren Books)
• Snowdrops by AD Miller (Atlantic)
• Far to Go by Alison Pick (Headline Review)
• The Testament of Jessie Lambby Jane Rogers (Sandstone Press)
• Derby Day by DJ Taylor (Chatto & Windus - Random House)