Alan Hollinghurst's gay, century-spanning novel The Stranger's Child, already the bookies' favorite, heads up a wide-ranging Booker longlist featuring familiar names like Sebastian Barry and Julian Barnes alongside four first-time novelists:
A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards -- East London girl's mother murdered
Derby Day by D.J. Taylor -- Victorian mystery
Far to Go by Alison Pick -- Czechoslovakia in WWII
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan -- Paris 1940 and Berlin 1990
Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch -- 19th century London and harrowing whaling voyage
The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness -- Ceausescu's fall in Bucharest
On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry -- 89 year-old Lilly Dunne looks back
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman -- 11-year-old Ghanaian boy investigates London murder
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes -- aging, memory, youthful ardor
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt -- misfit outlaw brothers in California 1851
Snowdrops by A.D. Miller -- dubious dealings of a lawyer in Moscow
The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst -- a poem reverberates through the century
Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers -- futuristic bio accident kills millions of women
The judges will announce the shortlist on September 6 and the winner on October 18.
I've read the Hollinghurst, to be released here in October, and while you'll want to too, it is not so magnificent that you need to import it immediately from the UK. It's brilliant, of course, and the individual sentences and scenes are a great pleasure, but after 568 pages covering 100 years you see the tradeoffs of his making his protagonist a poem rather than a person. In Britain, where The Stranger's Child debuted at #1 on the Sunday Times bestseller list, they're pushing it as an English country house novel, which Hollinghurst does not appreciate. He hated Downton Abbey and considers Brideshead Revisited to be "a rather baleful sort of book."
Writing in the LRB, Christopher Tayler makes an trenchant point that may also apply to excellent straight novels by queer writers, such as Brooklyn and The Little Stranger:
"The Stranger’s Child is also milder than his previous novels when it comes to what he probably wouldn’t call the heteronormativity of the world at large. There are more women, fewer sex scenes and fewer of the entertaining put-downs – ‘The other man was a morose heterosexual with a pudding-basin haircut and a copy of Mayfair in his locker’ – with which he once countered the disdainfully or cursorily observed gay characters of other books. I missed the sense you get from his earlier novels of an utterly authoritative, unembarrassable voice being brought to bear on disparate areas of experience: Louis Quinze escritoires, cocaine and Ecstasy rushes, a suburban funeral, cruising at Hampstead Ponds. Fewer areas in the new book haven’t been worked over by writers of Hollinghurst’s stature, and there’s a faint note of critic-appeasingness – not a note you’d think of him as needing to strike – in the way he reins in the characters’ knowledge of music and architecture as well as sex."
Do you already know Carol Birch? Apparently Jamrach's Menagerie is her 11th novel and A.S. Byatt calls it "one of the best stories I’ve ever read; an extraordinarily good and completely original book."