In an announcement that has further escalated the anticipation among the literary circles, the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize (Fiction) 2017 reveals two parallel races for the much coveted prize. Novels by three men and three women exploring unusual and challenging themes along with a neck-and-neck fight between American heavyweights and British fiction together make up the shortlist of six novels.
Paul Auster (US), Emily Fridlund (US), Mohsin Hamid (UK-Pakistani), Fiona Mozley (UK), George Saunders (US) and Ali Smith (UK) are the six authors who have made the cut for the much coveted prize and a look at the themes explored in each of their novels and their subtle co-relation to the longstanding literary rivalry between the United States and Great Britain hints at how close this fight is.
While 1997 Booker winning author Arundhati Roy's "The Ministry of Utmost Happiness" was the most hyped novel in the list, many had guessed its ouster from the shortlist soon after the release of the longlist. But for the Booker judging committee too, Roy was too popular a face at the time of the announcement to not take note of. Why else, one wonders, would the committee ignore the immensely creative and soulful works of Salman Rushdie and Roddy Doyle to pick Roy's somewhat mediocre novel in the longlist?
On the other hand, the other novels that have failed to make the cut, like "The Underground Railroad" by Colson Whitehead or "Swing Time" by Zadie Smith were as compelling as the ones that are still in the race.
Among the novels that have made it to the shortlist are Paul Auster's "4321", "History of Wolves" by Emily Fridlund, the much deserving "Exit West" by Pakistani-UK writer Mohsin Hamid, "Elmet" by Fiona Mozley, "Lincoln in the Bardo" by George Saunders and Ali Smith's "Autumn". This shortlist of the Man Booker Prize (Fiction) 2017 was whittled down from the longlist of 13 books to make a further compelling race between six novels that are running for the much coveted prize.
This year's judges, chaired by Baroness Lola Young, revealed the six titles on Wednesday morning.
"With six unique and intrepid books that collectively push against the borders of convention, this year's shortlist both acknowledges established authors and introduces new voices to the literary stage.
"Playful, sincere, unsettling, fierce: here is a group of novels grown from tradition but also radical and contemporary. The emotional, cultural, political and intellectual range of these books is remarkable, and the ways in which they challenge our thinking is a testament to the power of literature," Young commented.
In between the US-UK literary rivalry and the sweeping European themes in the novels of the shortlist, it is easy to wander off into premature judgements and predictions -- like it happened with the inclusion of Arundhati Roy in the longlist -- but digging deeper beyond most popular faces is "Exit West" by Mohsin Hamid, perhaps the most powerful contender for the prize.
The book poignantly transports readers to a world or time in the future where migration is peaceful and where people are open to accepting others. Between the lines, the author reminds us that ultimately we have more in common with "others" than the sum total of our differences. Marked by careful symbolisms and imageries, the novel stands to serve the purpose of fiction.
The announcement of the shortlist precedes the prize-giving ceremony on October 17, when the final winner for 2017 will be revealed. The winner will take home 50,000 pounds prize money at a glittery event, often said to be the Oscars of literary world.
(Saket Suman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)