Michael Johnston makes his Booker Prize pick from six.
As I write about my personal choice for the Man Booker Prize in 2013, bookmakers, who react to the amount of money placed on each contender, have shortened the odds for two books: Harvest by Jim Crace and The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (the youngest ever contender) with veteran Colm Tóbín’s The Testament of Mary lying third. In truth, though I have no money riding on the outcome, that is how I would rate the shortlist.
My problem with the Tóbín is simply its length: this isn’t a novel, being just too short. It is a beautiful writing exercise but I do not warm to the subject and feel short-changed by the length. Crace did better with his earlier novel Quarantine (which is the French word for forty days) which told the story of the forty days and nights spent by Jesus in the wilderness.
My problem with Catton is certainly not that, with over 800 pages, it is too long: no really good book can ever be too long. However, I did become weary of the structure where the first chapter takes up half the book and subsequent chapters are half the length of the preceding one. The first half is a great read and Catton deserves a loyal following of book buyers to support a very promising career but if (blissful thought) I had to read over a hundred novels to select a long and then a short list, I might not have picked out The Luminaries. Some readers’ polls put it out in front, however.
Michael’s Book Prize pick is Harvest by Jim Crace: but will it win?
So, I am going for Harvest and for a writer who could well have won this prize for some of his earlier work. The mysterious village where the action takes place over a week seems to be mediaeval but some have even suggested it is post-apocalyptic. Who knows? The narrator is a one-time incomer of twelve years standing (in other words, despite marrying into the gene pool, still something of an outsider). It is barley harvest time when calamity strikes, and strikes again. Crace uses words like a true craftsman and you find odd ones that may not appear in the dictionary that create a sense of distance from the present day. He builds a crystal clear picture touching all our senses, not least smell, but occasionally lets smoke from fires drift over the plot to keep the reader on the qui vive. I hope Crace wins and that this prompts him to go on writing.
Now then, I must get back to work on a contender for next year!