July 23, 2013

The long wait for news from Britain is over: the Man Booker Longlist is here!


All together, these people helped conceive the celebrated list.

The wait is finally over. After month upon month of speculation, after even mainstream press had worked themselves into a lather and British tabloid editors had long since lost their minds, after all the merchandising and white hot scrutiny and a public vigil outside of Buckingham Palace, the good day has come. That’s right, the 2013 Man Booker longlist has been announced.

The announcement was greeted with jubilation across the U.K. and indeed the world. From The Guardian:

The cheers – hesitant at first but soon full-throated – erupted as dusk fell on a packed street outside St Mary’s Paddington …

Initial disbelief that the long-awaited news was finally here evaporated almost instantaneously among the crowd, many of whom turned to their mobile phones for confirmation.

The Man Booker is one of the most anticipated literary prizes in the English language, and drives robust sales of books on both sides of the Atlantic, but the press coverage has been extraordinary this year, even for so important an award. Journalists have been speculating on the news for months now, since well before the winner of the 2012 prize was announced. From the New York Times:

“For weeks, photographers and camera crews have camped out with stepladders and other equipment outside St. Mary’s …

The period preceding the [announcement], however, was marked by a display of restraint among Britain’s usually aggressive tabloids, with no sign of photographs of the [judges] from clandestine stakeouts.”

Indeed, the fervor reached such a pitch that Prince Charles himself felt the need to comment on the announcement.

Both my wife and I are overjoyed … . It is an incredibly special moment… we are so thrilled… a unique moment in anyone’s life… I am enormously proud and happy… we are eagerly looking forward to seeing [the shortlist] in the near future.

One assumes he’s just glad to have a potential winner that doesn’t revolve around scandalous remarriage by British royalty.

The Times is even speculating that this might be enough to help float the entire U.K. economy for a while.

Britons are expected to spend more than £243 million (or $420 million) on merchandise, other goods and party food in July and August… according to the Center for Retail Research.

While in past years the longlist has been announced simultaneously on twitter and on the Man Booker Prize site, this year, perhaps for reasons of nostalgia, perhaps as a confused nod to the archaic topic of last year’s winner Bringing Up the Bodies, the announcement was first set in a golden easel outside of a private obstetrics hospital, and then shouted out by an old man in a silly hat with a bell. It’s Britain. Eventually we all stop asking why.

Strangely, much is being made in the press about how heavy the longlist is, and whether it was brought into the world “naturally.” Is this indicative of an aesthetic turn to self-serious fiction in the UK? Is it backlash against the relatively slim 2011 winner, Julian BarnesThe Sense of an Ending, or the rare humorous winner, 2010’s The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson?

Whatever the peculiarities of the press reaction, it’s a welcome fanfare. Preliminary lists for prizes like the Man Booker are usually seen as nothing more than a formality, springing out of the air, when in reality they are the product of much sweaty, private effort, probably terrible to behold. It’s good to see that this one, at least, has gotten its due.


Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.