Man Booker Prize

Newcomers edge out heavyweights

Elmet by Fiona Mozley is about a rural community in Yorkshire.
Elmet by Fiona Mozley is about a rural community in Yorkshire.PHOTO: COURTESY OF JOHN MURRAY

Elmet by Fiona Mozley and History Of Wolves by Emily Fridlund make the shortlist

Two debuts by newcomers have beaten literary titans to make the shortlist for the prestigious Man Booker Prize.

The list of six books, released on Wednesday, includes Elmet by Fiona Mozley, a 29-year-old British bookseller whose manuscript had not even been published when the book got longlisted; and American author Emily Fridlund's debut History Of Wolves, about a teenage girl growing up in a failing cult in backwoods Minnesota.

In a surprise twist, they edged out heavyweights such as Arundhati Roy, whose much-hyped The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness marked her return to fiction 20 years after she won the Booker for The God Of Small Things.

The success of Elmet, about a rural community in Yorkshire, defies previous predictions by Mozley, who said earlier that she had no expectations to go any further.

"I have had such a wonderful time being on the longlist and am delighted that the experience can continue," she told The Straits Times in an e-mail.

Also left out were favourites such as Zadie Smith, Sebastian Barry and Colson Whitehead, whose speculative slavery novel The Underground Railroad has already bagged several other awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction earlier this year.

Mozley and Fridlund will face off against some of post-modern fiction's biggest stars, including American author Paul Auster, whose epic 4 3 2 1 traces the four parallel lives of a boy growing up in the United States from the 1940s to the 1970s.

Elmet by Fiona Mozley is about a rural community in Yorkshire.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF JOHN MURRAY

  • THE 2017 MAN BOOKER SHORTLIST

  • 1. 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (Faber & Faber)

    2. History Of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

    3. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton)

    4. Elmet by Fiona Mozley (JM Originals, John Murray)

    5. Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders (Bloomsbury)

    6. Autumn by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)

At 866 pages, it is literally the greatest novel by Auster, who at 70, is the oldest on the shortlist. "It was like writing four novels in one book," he told ST earlier.

Back on the list are British author Ali Smith for the fourth time with her post-Brexit novel Autumn; and Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid with Exit West, a fantastical take on the global migration crisis.

Hamid, who was previously shortlisted for The Reluctant Fundamentalist in 2007, said in an e-mail to ST: "For me, it is wonderful to be shortlisted. I hope that some readers of my book might come to think a little differently about migrants and refugees, and consider the possibility that we are all migrants and refugees, in a sense, and that we should be open to others in the same spirit that we are open to ourselves."

The last on the shortlist is also a debut of sorts by American short story maestro George Saunders. The ghostly Lincoln In The Bardo, in which former US president Abraham Lincoln visits the tomb of his young son, is his first novel.

"It was such a vivid and logical - and terrifying - notion of what happens to us after we die," he told ST earlier, "this idea that the moment of our death will likely not be much different from this moment, right now."

The winner will be announced on Oct 17 and will receive £50,000 ($89,000). Each of the shortlisted authors will be awarded £2,500.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2017, with the headline 'Newcomers edge out heavyweights'. Print Edition | Subscribe