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Booker Prize for Fiction > 1997 Booker Shortlist Discussion

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message 1: by Hugh (last edited May 28, 2020 02:08AM) (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3368 comments Mod
We will be discussing the 1997 Booker shortlist here from the start of June.
I am creating this thread slightly early so that we have a better place to discuss who is reading what, availability of books etc. I will set up the individual book and dynamic rankings topics at the weekend.

These are the six books:
The God of Small Things by Arundhati RoyThe God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (winner)

Quarantine by Jim Crace Quarantine by Jim Crace
The Underground Man by Mick Jackson The Underground Man by Mick Jackson
Grace Notes by Bernard MacLaverty Grace Notes by Bernard MacLaverty
Europa by Tim Parks Europa by Tim Parks
The Essence of the Thing by Madeleine St. John The Essence of the Thing by Madeleine St. John

message 2: by Ang (new)

Ang | 1685 comments I have only read The Esence of the Thing so far but I have all the others available. I probably won't manage all of them but will give it a go.

message 3: by Ang (last edited May 28, 2020 02:01AM) (new)

Ang | 1685 comments I see on the thread leading up to this that The Essence of the Thing was being discussed (hard to find; polarised ratings on goodreads). I read it because it was chosen for one of my local book groups. I really liked it but I tended to have a different take on it than most of the group (that is not unusual). I'll see what people here think.

message 4: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3368 comments Mod
I have created the six individual book discussion threads, and one for dynamic rankings.

message 5: by Karen Michele (new)

Karen Michele Burns (klibrary) | 197 comments We've been having some problems with mail theft, so I just reordered 3 of the books that were supposedly delivered in early May, still for a good price, though. I did find and receive The Essence of the Thing for about $5 from ABE books.

message 6: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3368 comments Mod
I hope to start reading these once I have finished reading Belladonna for another discussion that is due to start tomorrow over at 21st Century Literature.

Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6098 comments Those last two comments are an unfortunate juxtaposition.

message 8: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9653 comments I've read Europa. Will also be interested what people make of it. It tries to pull off that difficult trick of a first-person narrator who isn't as clever or witty as he thinks he is. At times it also veers into Carry On Mind Your Language territory.

message 9: by Paul (last edited May 31, 2020 07:49AM) (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9653 comments The inside story from one of the judges from the Guardian article that had this for every year is a slightly disappointing one - little inside goss and the judge (Jason Cowley - now editor of the left-wing political magazine the New Statesman) doesn't seem to have been a fan of any of the books except the winner:

Before the longlist was made public, if you wanted to know which books were in contention you would usually be able to find out by having a discreet lunch with Martyn Goff, the charming and mischievous prize administrator who used to operate his own idiosyncratic system of leaks, withholding and revealing in equal measure. I remember turning up to the meeting at which our shortlist would be decided to be received with suspicion by our chairman, Gillian Beer. She wanted to know how our longlist was being discussed in the papers, and I was pretty sure by the way she looked at me that she thought I was responsible. Certainly I’d been having fun writing polemical pieces about the state of the British novel.

I believed then as I do now that the Booker is essentially a jamboree, little more than a kind of sport, with its own roster of winners and losers. It shouldn’t be dignified or taken too seriously. But I wasn’t the leaker. As we sat down for the lunch that preceded our discussions, and with Gillian Beer still grumbling about the longlist leaking out, I heard Goff say: “It’s quite extraordinary. I don’t know how it happened.” He then, winningly, glanced at me and winked.

I often think that I’ve never quite recovered from my experience of being a judge. I began the year as an enthusiastic and engaged reader and reviewer of contemporary fiction, and ended it much more interested in non-fiction and narrative journalism. And of all the novels I read that year there are perhaps only two that I could ever imagine rereading: Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (our unfairly maligned winner) and Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love (which just missed out on being shortlisted and divided the judges more than any other entry)

message 10: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3368 comments Mod
I wonder if that leaked longlist is visible anywhere.

Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6098 comments From Wikipedia.

In 1997, the decision to award Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things proved controversial. Carmen Callil, chair of the previous year's Booker judges, called it an "execrable" book and said on television that it should not even have been on the shortlist. Booker Prize chairman Martyn Goff said Roy won because nobody objected, following the rejection by the judges of Bernard MacLaverty's shortlisted book due to their dismissal of him as "a wonderful short-story writer and that Grace Notes was three short stories strung together.

message 12: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9653 comments The one thing I can find is a lot of second-hand reference to a Guardian article that the choice of winner and award in general were profoundly depressing. Although seemed that was written by someone who'd approve of Jack Reacher novels being on the list and sales as the prize criteria:

Stephen Moss wrote in The Guardian that the prize has become "too establishment, too litcrit." Why are popular writers such as Iain Banks so under-represented, he asked. This year, he said, "has not even been interestingly disastrous; it has been profoundly depressing. " He has suggested that publishers of all short-listed titles should have their books paperbacked instantly at affordable prices. "Let readers—not academics, or critics, or literary editors—decide which they like and what they hope will win."

Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6098 comments and Cowley again on why Roy won in a “year of levelling mediocrity”

message 14: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9653 comments Also from Jason Cowley in 2005 saying how poor he found the 1997 submissions

When I judged the Booker, in 1997, it seemed to me generally to be a bad time for fiction, with the British novel being increasingly characterised by nothing so much as introversion, nostalgia and mistrust of the fictional possibilities of the present. So many of the books I read as a judge were essentially costume or historical dramas, in thrall to the past, under-imagined, and written in blandly measured prose. Where was the energy that I saw elsewhere all around me in pop, rave and street culture? Where were the novels, I wondered, that told us how it felt to be alive, right here and now in Britain at the end of the 20th century? Where were the British equivalents of the Americans Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, David Foster Wallace or Toni Morrison? To me, as a reader, everything seemed too neat and orderly in the garden of English fiction, and so many of our novels were largely a reflection of the times in which we lived: safe, affluent, complacent, at ease.

and hailing 2005 by contrast as the richest year for contemporary British and Commonwealth fiction since the launch of the Booker Prize

message 15: by Antonomasia (new)

Antonomasia | 2629 comments Ian Banks was a very different sort of writer from Lee Child, certainly literary. Back then judges were almost certainly put off by him also producing SF. The dual branding (with or without the M) evidently didn't help in that respect, though plenty of readers knew the difference.

message 16: by Stephen (new)

Stephen | 141 comments I seem to be a much slower reader than most folks here. I’m also trying to broaden my knowledge of translated fiction. And a tbr list that seems daunting. Having said that, I have read The God of small things a couple years ago and enjoyed it and read Quarantine twice, the latter this Lent as we approached / entered Lockdown. It was the book I chose between Wolf Hall and Bring up the bodies. I’m waffling now. But I recognise I won’t be able to read the other four novels in June but would like to read at least one. I suppose my question would be which one.

message 17: by WndyJW (new)

WndyJW | 5554 comments Write them all down and choose blindly or choose the shortest one.

message 18: by Stephen (new)

Stephen | 141 comments That would be one approach

message 19: by Hugh (last edited May 31, 2020 02:40PM) (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3368 comments Mod
Read Grace Notes

message 20: by Antonomasia (new)

Antonomasia | 2629 comments Depends what you like. For quite a few of my friends outside this group, and who aren't especially into typical realist literary fiction, they would certainly prefer The Underground Man to any of the others on the list. Others here may find it too whimsical.

message 21: by Paul (last edited May 31, 2020 03:04PM) (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9653 comments Europa would be my suggestion, lathough the idea of choosing the shortest one is a pretty reliable rule in all circumstances

message 22: by Antonomasia (last edited May 31, 2020 08:20PM) (new)

Antonomasia | 2629 comments The five non-winners are all so near the same length that it could vary between editions a reader has access to which of them is actually the shortest. 250, 256, 256, 266, 272 in the GR default editions - and two of them are the same length. Going to the shortest of those defaults means The Essence of the Thing, the lowest average rated, and to some, rather dull-sounding.

message 23: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3368 comments Mod
Essence and Quarantine are the shortest two, both under 250 pages in the editions I have.

message 24: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3368 comments Mod
Having read the three I had not read before, I would be surprised if any of them dislodge my top 3 because my memories of all of those are largely positive. On to Quarantine...

message 25: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9653 comments The memory thing is interesting - as it does seem some of the books have dated very badly.

message 26: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3368 comments Mod
I am pretty confident that I will still like Grace Notes and Quarantine. The God of Small Things may be more vulnerable, but I liked it a lot at the time.

Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6098 comments On Quarantine and Grace Notes - it’s interesting to note that when we did the poll here of the best book of the 2010s: both authors appeared in the top 25. Harvest and Midwinter Break respectively. It was them being in the list this year that persuaded me to participate.

But having then been bewildered by the banality of Essence, being put off when flicking through the whimsical Underground, and being already tired by the sexism and misanthropy of Europa (but also at the same time knowing that I like nothing better than a Booker shortlist discussion) I loved this quote from Europa.

Yes, that it was a mistake, I reflect. .. that it was a big mistake to have come on this trip, I have never doubted from the moment I agreed to it, and perhaps even before, if such a thing is possible. Or let’s say that the very instant I took this decision was also the instant I recognized, and recognized that I had always recognized, that coming on this trip was one of those mistakes I was made to make.

message 28: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9653 comments I was thinking same the Harvest and Midwinter Break as well albeit they were much later books and Harvest did get a Booker nod. This one wasn’t seen as St John’s best at the time and there was general surprise when Destiny wasn’t featured the next year (“easily the best of English fiction published so far this year”: Irish Times, which seems a fair assessment), and I think it was seen as a reaction to the 1997 list.

message 29: by Antonomasia (new)

Antonomasia | 2629 comments Though the great thing about this list - which I daresay you'd agree with Paul - is how short all the books are. Six books under 350 pages, five of them under 300.

message 30: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3368 comments Mod
Maybe Destiny missed out because those who had read Europa disliked Parks too much...

message 31: by Sam (new)

Sam | 1713 comments Antonomasia wrote: "Though the great thing about this list - which I daresay you'd agree with Paul - is how short all the books are. Six books under 350 pages, five of them under 300."

I certainly agree! Great comment!

message 32: by Antonomasia (new)

Antonomasia | 2629 comments Lots more people would join in if it were only that amount of reading each year. But now, with the public longlist, it feels like missing the party to only read the shortlist. More writers and books do get the publicity in the newer system though.

message 33: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9653 comments Yes good to see that the 97 judges valued concision rather more. The God of Small Things is surprisingly and pleasingly compact as well - my hazy memory of it means I had assumed it was rather like her more recent book.

I think 99% of the reading public only get interested in the Booker at short list stage if at all. Reading the longlist is largely a preserve of - well - us! Look at the International Booker where the prize itself seems to be more interested in promoting the shortlist amongst reader groups but didn’t do so re long list.

message 34: by WndyJW (new)

WndyJW | 5554 comments I admit that the short length of the books is what made me decide to join in. If a few of them were over 350 pgs I wouldn’t have.

Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6098 comments 5 books in and I am really regretting this decision. A couple of the books have hit 3 stars.

message 36: by Neil (new)

Neil | 1978 comments I have also just finished number 5 with just the winner to go. It has sadly not been a good experience.

message 37: by Karen Michele (new)

Karen Michele Burns (klibrary) | 197 comments I'm enjoying Grace Notes, and I plan to listen to the winner which I know I liked the first time I read it, but I'm feeling less sure of reading the three I will have left.

message 38: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3368 comments Mod
Having read or reread all six, I think my younger self chose the right three to read. For me, Grace Notes and The God of Small Things are strong, and Quarantine is not far behind. The Underground Man is a distant fourth, but is quite an interesting first novel if a flawed one. So although it is far from the strongest shortlist, having revisited a few and participated in all of the group's revisit projects, I don't think it is the weakest either.

message 39: by Neil (new)

Neil | 1978 comments Which ones are worse (so I know what to avoid)?

message 40: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9653 comments This list seems so poor it makes you wonder what the judges missed, although other than overlooking Ian McEwan I'm not sure there were many 1997 novels that have stood the test of time.

But a more creative group of judges might have noticed the debut novel-in-verse of an exciting new talent, a book hailed as "a complete original" and "a true discovery", with one critic noting as a result that "perhaps one of the fruits of multicultural British consciousness will be the evolution of hybrid literary forms, crossing boundaries, mixing genres, challenging established ‘ways of saying’, enriching the vocabulary of both form and utterance".

That novel was Lara but it would take the Booker Prize 22 years to catch up.

message 41: by Robert (last edited Jun 14, 2020 11:32AM) (new)

Robert | 2106 comments Neil wrote: "Which ones are worse (so I know what to avoid)?"

Or the opposite which shortlist/s are your faves? - by this I mean all 6 books are stunners (mine would be 2015 - but my all time fave - i've been following since 2002- would be the 2014 one. )

Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6098 comments The Economist in 1997 blamed the lack of diversity of the judging panel

“Much as when people apologise for the local weather or the state of their garden, it will no doubt be claimed in mitigation that this was just not a good year for fiction. But that feeble excuse is contradicted by several strong novels ignored by the Booker panel, which surely has to take some of the blame for a mediocre shortlist itself. Of this year's six judges, two are novelists, two are (or were) professors of English literature, one is a literary editor and one is a feature-writer and critic. Excellent as they may be at their day jobs, all are paid-up literary professionals. Need novel judges be so exclusive? Are not butchers, bakers and candlestick makers readers of fiction too”

message 43: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3368 comments Mod
Neil wrote: "Which ones are worse (so I know what to avoid)?"
I would have to analyse the list properly to answer that, and there are plenty of years in the 70s and 80s that I have only read one or two from. Best of the ones we have revisited is still 1980 (apart from the winner!)

message 44: by Neil (new)

Neil | 1978 comments I wasn't thinking of a deep analysis! It's just that you said ..having revisited a few and participated in all of the group's revisit projects, I don't think it is the weakest either. So I wondered which years you had in mind when writing that. I am thinking they would have to work quite hard to be worse than this list.

message 45: by Paul (new)

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 9653 comments The 2014 list had the incredibly annoying dentist, the "did I mention my dad died the day I finished the book" novel ("yes, you did, repeatedly!"), and 'We are All Completely Besides Ourselves as to What On Earth This is Doing on a Booker List'. It was the first time I ever read the complete Booker shortlist - and I felt rather vindicated in my previous approach of waiting for time to pass to see which stood the test. A lesson I then failed to learn in future years.

message 46: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3368 comments Mod
1970 was probably worse. 1975 might have been bad but they only named two books (and to be fair I rated both of those very highly). 1976 doesn't look great, but too many unknowns to be sure. Apart from Rushdie, 1981 looks weak (again too many unknowns to be sure), as does 1993. 1996 certainly looks a lot better than 1997 - 4 very strong contenders and 2 I haven't read.
I have not looked properly at anything after 1999, but there are still 113 shortlisted books I haven't yet read (out of 248 or 303 including winners, so I am more than halfway there now).

message 47: by Robert (new)

Robert | 2106 comments Haha . The dentist book was the launching pad for my dissertation on digital literacy. As for the chimp book. That’s totally not a booker novel but over the years the booktuber friendly tome is a regular appearance on the shortlist. Last year GWO was one of those exceptions where both booktubers and M & Gers held equal opinions.

message 48: by Hugh (new)

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3368 comments Mod
I know I won't complete the list because some of the early ones are way out of my price range and very unlikely to be reissued.

Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6098 comments GWO was an exceptional choice as well as an exception - and that choice looks ever more timely given the events of the last week or two in the U.K. The book has just hit number 1 in our bestseller charts (embarrassingly the first time that has happened for any woman of colour) and the author made a brave but (from what I can see) very well received appearance on our flagship political discussion programme this week, as well as on BBC Breakfast news.

message 50: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) | 1018 comments Mod
Maybe I was just in a bad mood for a decade or so, but I remember literature (as a whole - not particular to the Booker) going through what I still think of as "the MFA period" when everything was very... same-ish, at least the celebrated books.

My problem is I don't remember the dates or much about it beyond feeling like every book praised in the various places I'd counted on for years suddenly sounded the same. I'm sure it didn't last as long as I felt it. Anyone else remember this time/era? Was it over by 1997?

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