The Booker Shortlist

The shortlist for the Man Booker prize is out and it includes Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (which I loved) and Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil (which I wrote about here, sorta). The piece below was came out yesterday.

Thayil’s Narcopolis in Booker Shortlist

The Man Booker Prize’s love affair with debut novels by Indian authors continues.

On Tuesday, in London, the six novels shortlisted for the £50,000 prize were named and Jeet Thayil’s Narcopolis is one of them. Thayil, 53, is the seventh Indian author to be selected in a Booker shortlist since the prize was instituted in 1969 for the best original, full-length novel in English by an author from one of the Commonwealth countries or the Republic of Ireland.

The other five in the shortlist this year are Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, Umbrella by Will Self, The Lighthouse by Alison Moore, Swimming Home by Deborah Levy and The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twang Eng. Sir Peter Stothard, the editor of a prestigious literary magazine and the chair of the Booker panel, said of the shortlist, “We loved the shock of language shown in so many different ways and were exhilarated by the vigour and vividly defined values in the six books.”

Unlike last year when the emphasis was on what the judges termed “readability” and critics interpreted as populist, this year’s selection has been praised for applauding works that are more experimental and radical. Had the criterion for this year’s Booker shortlist been stories that zip along, Narcopolis would probably not have made the cut.

Thayil’s novel, which was rejected by a number of Indian publishers before being picked up by Faber and Faber, is an intoxicating and unromantic meander through time and gloomy opium dens in a grimy, dark part of Mumbai. The critical response was divided with some accusing Thayil of self-indulgence and others praising the novel for its poetic quality.

In the past, Thayil has published and edited a number of collections of poetry. He is also a performance poet and musician. Thayil has a reputation for attracting controversy. Most recently, he was among the writers who read extracts from The Satanic Verses at this year’s Jaipur Literature Festival to protest Salman Rushdie’s absence. Rushdie cancelled plans of attending the event when he received death threats.

The Booker prize, however, considers “texts not reputations”, according to Sir Peter. While it was a surprise entry into the longlist, the gambling company Ladbrokes had backed Narcopolis being included in the shortlist. In the race for the ultimate prize, however, the novel is very much the dark horse. At present, Bringing Up the Bodies and Umbrella are the frontrunners. The odds being against Narcopolis doesn’t bother Thayil. When asked how it felt to know Narcopolis had been selected for the shortlist, Thayil told DNA, “It was a strong longlist this year. I’m absolutely delighted.”

The Man Booker prize winner will be announced on October 16, in London.

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