Man Booker Prize

The Man Booker and me

I’ve followed the Man Booker Prize for the last few months. It’s been a pretty special experience.

Shadow judging

You’ll know by now that the Book and Brew book club loves a literary prize and we jumped at the chance of working with The Reading Agency on this one.

The Reading Agency asks reading groups to shadow prizes to get their views on the shortlisted titles. It was our shadowing of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction that turned me from a bookworm to a book blogger so I was more than happy to apply for the opportunity to shadow the Man Booker.

We got the gig. We squealed. We blabbed about it on social media before we should have (sorry, again, Reading Agency bosses) and we started swotting up on the longlist.

The lovely folks at Blackwell’s Newcastle book club shared their reviews of the longlist with us so we had an invaluable guide to the titles vying to be in the final six. The shortlist was announced in September and we eagerly awaited an email from The Reading Agency to see which of the six books we’d be reviewing.

His Bloody Project

Our book was – and still is – a cracker!

We got His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet. We’d all been drawn to this on while we speculated about which title we’d receive so we were pretty pleased to get it.

His Bloody Project competition
Shadow judging

It represents everything I like about the Man Booker Prize : a challenging subject matter; a unique structure; an engaging narrative; and a plot that tests your moral core and stays with you long after reading.

I also loved the fact that this was the little book up for the big prize. It’s Burnet’s second book and is published by a relatively small Scottish publisher, Saraband. Book sales soared when it secured a place on the shortlist – far outnumbering those of its competitors – and the nomination did wonders for the profile of this fantastic publisher. Check out their other titles if you’re not familiar with them already.

Reviewing

We all raced through the book, with its pace and riveting storyline gripping us until the end. We grabbed our cakes, stocked up on biscuits, pocketed some teabags then headed to Blackwell’s, who had opened especially (it was Indie Bookshop Month after all) for our Man Booker book club special.

Book and Brew Man Booker Prize review
Settling in for our debate

It was a perfect book club – rain lashing on the windows outside, a warm mug of tea in hand and a selection of sugary treats spread out in front of us. Oh, and there was a book to discuss.

We spent a few hours reviewing it. The brilliance of the book is that everyone brings their own moral views to the events that befall the protagonist, Roddy Macrae, so our individual readings were challenged by the others in the group.

And the questions. So many questions. Is this fiction or fact? Did he do it? (Someone suggested a rather juicy twist that could throw the whole narrative wide open!) Is he responsible if he did? Who’s to blame? We were exhausted!

So, we took refuge in more cake.

Book and Brew review
Books, brews and cakes

Shortlist readings

Claire and I took a trip to London to hear the shortlisted authors read from their books. Initially, I was just extremely relieved to get their considering the experience I had trying to make it to the Baileys readings. That one didn’t end well.

It was a really interesting event, and a fascinating insight into the motivations of the six writers. What came across strongly was the diversity of the texts – the stories are all so different as are the writers and their narratives styles. These six books feature complex protagonists in challenging circumstances that span various centuries, decades, countries and social standing. They really are a brilliant reflection of the quality of literary fiction on our bookshelves right now.

Man Booker Prize readings
Sara Pascoe and six shortlisted writers

And the winner is…

If you haven’t heard already (where have you been?), Paul Beatty won the prize with his novel The Sellout. 

Our book didn’t make it but the exposure of Burnet’s writing and Saraband’s back catalogue is enough for me. I’m certain both the author and publisher will go from strength to strength after their Man Booker journey. I can’t wait to see what they do next.

So, another prize is over. I’ve learned loads about the literary fiction world, read brilliant books from writers I probably wouldn’t have chosen myself, had challenging and exciting book club debates, and got to listen to six wonderful authors from the fifth row of the Royal Festival Hall in the Southbank Centre.

It’s certainly been a whirlwind few months for the Man Booker and me.

(P.S. Bring on the Costa Prize next month!)

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