The 2018 Man Booker longlist, announced this week, shows the judges themselves daring to take the risks prizes purport to reward. This year’s Booker Dozen is full of works from writers displaying a ‘willingness to take risk with form’, according to philosopher and cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah, chair of the five-strong judging panel. This longlist expands the definition of literary fiction. A graphic novel, Sabrina by Nick Drnaso (Granta), has been included for the first time. Belinda Bauer’s Snap (Bantam) shows that crime fiction should not be excluded from estimations of literary achievement. Scottish poet Robin Robertson has been listed for a (perhaps) unclassifiable work of fiction The Long Take (Picador).
Robertson’s narrative mixes poetry and prose as it tells the story of Walker, a Nova-Scotia born soldier who returns from the European theatre of war not to his home but to the great American cities. Moving from New York, to LA and San Francisco between 1946 and 1953, the book chronicles Walker’s attempts to reintegrate himself with a society itself in upheaval. Already the winner of the 2018 Roehampton Poetry Prize, it is hard to pin this work to a single genre: it is cinematic, a long narrative poem with epistolary interpolations, a work of fiction that has begun outside the novel form.
This all speaks to the longlist’s recognition of the contemporary interplay of storytelling genres. This list is refreshingly unexpected. Only one previous winner, Michael Ondaatje, is included in this year’s selection, listed for Warlight (Jonathan Cape), a shadowy novel set in the aftermath of the London Blitz. This makes for a ‘Booker Dozen’ full of new talent: Normal People Sally Rooney’s swift follow-up to her celebrated 2018 debut Conversations With Friends (both Faber) promises much when it is published in September; debuts from Guy Gunaratne (In Our Mad and Furious City, Tinder Press) and Sophie Mackintosh (The Water Cure, Hamish Hamilton) sit alongside first novels from writers accomplished in other forms. Daisy Johnson, listed for Everything Under (Jonathan Cape), is the author of a collection of short stories.
When the shortlist is announced on 20th September and the thirteen narrows to six, we will see whether this audacity continues.
Robin Robertson in the SRB Archive:
- An interview with Robin Robertson from 2015
- Brain Morton on Robin Robertson’s The Wrecking Light in 2010
- New Poems, from 2009