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New talent to the fore in Man Booker Prize shortlist

Madeleine Thien's ‘Do Not Say We Have Nothing’ touches on classical music in revolutionary China. ― AFP pic Madeleine Thien's ‘Do Not Say We Have Nothing’ touches on classical music in revolutionary China. ― AFP pic

LONDON, Sept 13 ― Judges for top British literary award the Man Booker Prize spurned big-name novelists in favour of experimental new talent as they announced their shortlist in London today.

None of the six writers who made the cut for the coveted prize for fiction is well known outside literary circles.

Those who failed to make the shortlist included Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee, with The Schooldays of Jesus.

The panel of judges told a press conference they wanted to reward creative pioneers.

“Being innovative, being bold, courageous, a willingness to take risks, being novel within the novel ― that’s what really excited us because it shows that the art form isn’t being nostalgic,” said Amanda Foreman, chair of the judges.

Bookmakers Ladbrokes have made Graeme Macrae Burnet favourite to win with His Bloody Project at odds of 5/2.

The novel tells the story of a memoir written in prison in 1869 by a triple murderer. The manuscript is discovered by one of his descendants, who shares the author’s name. He then edits and publishes the work himself.

Previous winners of the prize include Hilary Mantel for Wolf Hall, Salman Rushdie for Midnight’s Children and Michael Ondaatje for The English Patient.

The winner will be announced in London on October 25.

Gritty subjects

Other shortlisted novels include US author Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, a satirical novel set in a fictional Los Angeles neighbourhood which explores racial equality and the civil rights movement.

One of the judges was actress Olivia Williams, who read many of the books between rehearsals and performances at London’s National Theatre.

She described The Sellout as “shocking and unexpectedly funny” and compared it to the work 18th century satirist Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels.

Another was All That Man Is by Canadian-British author David Szalay, which judge Jon Day said was about “masculinity and the state of contemporary Europe ― a post-Brexit novel for our times”.

It traces nine moments in the lives of different men across the continent ― from a Prague suburb to a Belgian motorway ― to make wider points about masculine identity. 

South African-born Briton Deborah Levy is the only author previously shortlisted for the prize to make this year’s final six.

She made the cut for Swimming Home in 2012 but this year is included for Hot Milk, described by its publishers as “a study in paralysis” set in a Spanish fishing village.

Foreman said it was about “the toxic waste produced by damaging parents and damaged children”.

Completing the shortlist are Eileen by US author Ottessa Moshfegh and Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Canada’s Madeleine Thein.

First-time author Moshfegh, 35, has written a portrait of a disturbed young woman trapped between caring for her alcoholic father in a squalid house and her job as a secretary at a boys’ prison.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing is based around a world of classical music and silence in revolutionary China. 

The judges dismissed suggestions that many of the books were gruelling and their characters unsympathetic.

Hot Milk had me laughing out loud,” said Williams, whose films include Rushmore and The Sixth Sense.

“I was banned from reading The Sellout in bed by my husband because I kept shaking the bed, I was laughing so much.”

The Man Booker carries a cash prize of US$52,500 (RM215,788), but its higher reward lies in prestige which typically generates huge sales. ― AFP

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