LONDON (NYTIMES) - The shortlist for this year's Man Booker Prize, one of the world's most prestigious literary awards, includes for the first time a novel told in verse.
The book, The Long Take, by poet Robin Robertson, mixes verse, prose and photographs to follow the story of a World War II veteran across the United States in the golden era of Hollywood.
One of the judges, feminist critic and writer Jacqueline Rose, described it as "a genre-defying novel" that "offers a wholly unique literary voice and form."
The judges said they realised that its inclusion on the shortlist was likely to set off a debate, but they said its style had not come up in their discussions.
Val McDermid, a crime writer, praised its characters, language and the insight it gave into the world. "I'm not sure what else a novel is meant to do," she said.
Kwame Anthony Appiah, chairman of the judges, said the six-book shortlist was most notable for the bleakness of its subjects, among them ecological destruction, prison life, institutional racism and slavery.
"People reading our books 100 years from now would know that we live in dark times," Appiah said. "The dominant theme of the novel in English today is of our species, and sometimes the other species with which we share this small planet, challenged by anxiety, suffering from pain, and of our institutions and environment under threat."
Hope comes in the quality of the writing and the fearlessness of the authors in tackling such subjects, he said.
"Reading these has not left me in a state of depression," McDermid said, adding that some of the books also offered "moments of toe-curling hilarity."
"It's that human capability to find humor in the darkest moments," she said.
"That's why paramedics have the best jokes."
In addition to Robertson, the shortlist - two-thirds of which were written by women - includes:
- Anna Burns for Milkman, an experimental novel that looks at Ireland in the time of the Troubles through the eyes of a young girl.
- Esi Edugyan for the novel Washington Black, in which an enslaved boy and his master's brother flee a plantation in Barbados and forge an unlikely bond. Edugyan, who is from Calgary, Alberta, appeared on the shortlist in 2011 for Half Blood Blues.
- Daisy Johnson for her debut novel, Everything Under, in which a reunited mother and daughter delve into their eerie past. Johnson, 27, is the youngest author to make the shortlist.
- Rachel Kushner for The Mars Room, a darkly comic novel set in a women's correctional facility in California.
- Richard Powers for the ecological epic The Overstory, about nine strangers trying to save one of the world's last areas of virgin forest. This is Powers' first appearance on the Man Booker shortlist; he made the 2014 longlist with Orfeo.
All were chosen over longlisted novels from Michael Ondaatje, who won the Booker in 1992, and acclaimed Irish novelist Sally Rooney. Also failing to make the cut was Nick Drnaso's Sabrina, the first graphic novel to be longlisted for the prize.
Originally called the Booker-McConnell Prize, the Booker was first awarded in 1969. It was renamed in 2002, when an investment firm, Man Group, became the primary sponsor.
The prize has been stuck in a debate for years about whether American authors should be eligible. In 2013, the rules were changed to allow any author writing in English to win. It was previously limited to writers from Britain, Ireland, Zimbabwe and Commonwealth countries.
Since then, two Americans have won the prize: George Saunders in 2017, for Lincoln In The Bardo, and Paul Beatty in 2016, for The Sellout.
This spring, a literary society that counts Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan and Zadie Smith among its members demanded that the rule change be reversed.
That debate could gain new strength if either Powers and Kushner win. But Appiah dismissed the attacks.
"I think it's sort of weird to look at people's passports to see whether you should read them," he said.
The winner - who receives £50,000 (S$90,000) - will be announced on Oct 16.