So what if they didn’t win the Booker?
All prizes are equal, but some prizes are more equal than others. The Man Booker, Pulitzer, Women’s Prize for Fiction, the DSC Prize for South Asian literature, these are a few that bestow prestige on the literary landscape. Qualified in critical acclaim and quantified in increased book sales, prizes can be career-changers for their recipients, who often become literary celebrities overnight.
What, then, of the runners-up?
This year’s Man Booker Prize winner was announced on 17 October, and George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo finds itself on the wall of fame. Meanwhile, Lounge travels across this year’s galaxy of prizes to spotlight worthy titles across the short and long lists that are stars in their own right.
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
“The hills are alive,” says the Financial Times, of McGregor’s latest, his first novel in seven years, which placed him on The Man Booker Prize (2017) longlist for the third time. His debut in 2002 made him a contender for the prize, and he was also longlisted in 2006. Reservoir 13 opens to a missing teenage girl, on holiday in the English hills. As the search for her continues, so does everyday life in the village—in all its tragedy. The book is also in the running for this year’s Goldsmiths Prize (to be announced in November), among five others.
The Poison Of Love by K.R. Meera
Described in Lounge as “an almost bestial exploration of a cruel love, and the madness for revenge that deforms the protagonist Tulsi”, the Sahitya Akademi award-winning author’s novella, translated by Ministhy S. from the original Malayalam Meerasadhu, was celebrated on this year’s The DSC Prize for South Asian Literature longlist. A drama that delves into a love that is abusive and devastating, it was one of two translated entries among the 13 novels, but then made way in the short list for books by, among others, Aravind Adiga and Karan Mahajan.
Judas by Amos Oz
This acclaimed Israeli author has been a potential candidate for the Nobel Prize for literature for some time now; it is no surprise, then, that his latest work, recently translated from the Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange, was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize. A tragic-comedy, Judas, Shmuel’s coming-of-age story in the Jerusalem of 1959-60, is a “radical rethinking of the concept of treason” in which Oz ponders the idea of betrayal. It is noteworthy that the author’s own political stance has moved many to deem him a traitor to the state.
Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett
A finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and longlisted for the 2016 National Book Award, Haslett was shortlisted in 2003 too for his short story collection, You Are Not A Stranger Here. In this book, it’s 1960s’ London, and Margaret’s fiancé, John, has been hospitalized for depression. In an act of faith, she marries him, and they build a loving family. The Pulitzer jury distinguished it “for the quiet and compassionate saga of a family whose world is shaped by mental illness and the challenges and joys of caring for each other”.
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson
The Guardian review opened with a declaration: Maggie Nelson is “among the sharpest and most supple thinkers of her generation”. After her 2009 work of philosophical commentary and poetry, Bluets, Nelson has now attracted the attention of prize-givers by being shortlisted for the 2017 inaugural Rathbones Folio Prize with this genre-twisting and “timely” memoir. Where definition fails, shorthand must suffice—and The Argonauts is, at its heart, a love story between Maggie Nelson and the gender-fluid artist Harry Dodge. In a slim novella, its author reflects on serious issues, including pregnancy, queer identity, family and feminism.
A Country Road, A Tree by Jo Baker
Baker has a penchant for paying homage to great literature and literary figures. Her 2013 release, Longbourn, elaborated on the events of Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice—from the servants’ point of view. Her new novel—shortlisted for The James Tait Black Prize for Fiction , and The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction —is an imagining of Samuel Beckett’s wartime years in France. At the heart of it is Beckett’s pulsing love for his partner Suzanne, punctuated with moments of hunger and heroism, desperation and despair.
Stay With Me by Ayòbámi Adébáyò
Right from the start, the reader is pulled into the lives of Yejide and Akin. Set in 1980s Nigeria, it chases a couple whose marriage crumbles in the face of childlessness, and, later, the loss of children. Sprinkled with superstition and secrets, patriarchal structures and sickle-cell disease, this debut secured a spot on the 2017 Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist, making Adébáyò, who was mentored by Margaret Atwood, “the fourth African ever to be shortlisted” for the prize.
Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size Of A Fist by Sunil Yapa
Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size Of A Fist ultimately does for WTO protests what Norman Mailer’s Armies of the Night did for the 1967 March on the Pentagon,” declares The Washington Post, of this debut, which was a finalist for the 2017 Pen/Faulkner Award. Moreover, the writer Colum McCann has likened the Sri Lankan-American author’s work to that of Michael Ondaatje and Arundhati Roy. This is the utterly relevant story of Victor, who, in his homecoming to Seattle, finds himself unexpectedly in the midst of a massive riot, where humanity’s limits of love are tested.
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
On the 10-author shortlist of the International Dublin Literary Award 2017 is this first work of long-form fiction from the Nigerian-American author, who debuted on the literary landscape with a short story collection. “Ijeoma comes of age as her nation does” reveals the blurb—and the book is equal parts love story and war story. Beyond the questions of selfhood, womanhood, and nationhood, Okparanta also voices continental concerns: while the judges noticed her “attempt to give African marginalized gay and lesbian citizens a powerful voice”, fellow Nigerian writer, Helon Habila, named it “an African bildungsroman”. This is constant-gulp-in-your-throat good.
The Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss
While Indian-American names like Paul Kalanithi and Siddhartha Mukherjee dominated this year’s non-fiction nominees, Sarah Moss was one of two contenders for the Wellcome Book Prize’s fiction category. Situated in England, Adam, a stay-at-home parent’s family starts to fall apart when he receives news that his teenage daughter Miriam collapsed at school—and that her heart stopped. With the NHS at its nexus—The Guardian goes so far as to call it “something of a pioneer as a novel in which the NHS is a central theme”—some of the issues the novel nurtures are parental love, the public healthcare system, and 21st century sexual and gender politics.