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The shortlist

The shortlist

The plundering of Man Booker novels by television and film companies continues apace. A generous soul would say that media bigwigs recognise top-notch story-telling when they see it while a less generous soul might wonder why they can't come up with new stories of their own. The two latest MB books to be prepped for the screen are Eleanor Catton's 2103 winner The Luminaries and Andrea Levy's 2010 shortlisted The Long Song. Levy's book will appear as a three-part adaptation starring Haley Atwell in 2019. The author is “particularly happy” to have the BBC onside: “This untold story from Britain’s complex past in the Caribbean will be a period drama like no other,” she says. The BBC is also behind The Luminaries, although no airing date has yet been set. Catton herself is working on the script and the former Bond girl Eva Green, signed up for the series, is excited that “her own screen adaptation reveals yet more exquisite material”. Filming starts in November. 

One of the most noteworthy things about this year's shortlist among a great number of commentators was the age of Daisy Johnson – her scant 27 years making her the youngest shortlistee in the prize's history. Everything Under has been touted as her debut novel but not so, according to the author herself in an interview that followed her nomination: she wrote “bad poetry” and a “very bad novel” when she was 13 or 14. The writing lark has not been easy, she has worked at Blackwell's bookshop in Oxford and lived in a camper van: “There are a lot of coffee shops in Oxford where I have sat weeping,” she says. But then “That is why this [shortlisting] is so weird. It is like living with an animal for four years — you carry it around with you and then suddenly everyone else is reading it.”

A bizarre pairing of headlines courtesy of Canada's The Globe and Mail – a random internet search threw up “Feds to consult on banning handguns; Canadian author shortlisted for Booker Prize”. What has the pacific and law abiding Esi Edugyan, the author in question, been doing with handguns one wonders?

At the shortlist announcement, the chair of judges Kwame Anthony Appiah complained that too many of the 171 novels he and his fellow judges had to wade through were too long and badly in need of editing. His plaintive cry struck a chord. The following day, a Guardian editorial picked up Appiah's torch. It noted that “One book survey found that the average number of pages had increased from 320 to 400 pages between 1999 and 2014” and suggested that one reason for this bulking up might be “the misguided sense that volume equals value for money. Another is the odd association between physical heft and artistic or intellectual merit – 'weighty' is a compliment, 'slight' is an insult.” It acknowledged too that some long novels justify every page but unless you are George Eliot or Dostoyevsky brevity is best: “The long and short of it is that authors must earn their length.” 

A week on from the announcement of the Man Booker shortlist and Irish eyes are not smiling. Three Irish books were on the longlist: Sally Rooney's Normal People, Donal Ryan's From a Low and Quiet Sea and Anna Burns's Milkman. Only Milkman made it on to the shortlist. As the Irish Times pointed out, a week ago it “had only sold 797 copies in Ireland, in contrast to 10,913 copies of From A Low and Quiet Sea and 5,389 copies of Normal People”, the sort of stats that make it “exactly the type of book that should benefit from the commercial boost and critical spotlight a Man Booker shortlisting provides”. No one has a bad word to say about it, only praise for its unflashy and understated quality. Rooney's novel had been seen as a certainty for the shortlist and indeed favourite for the prize itself: it's a case of the hare and the tortoise.