Booker Prize update: an obsession with youth

Before the announcement of the shortlist today, I wanted to set out my stall. Of the thirteen books, I've read nine, and I'm part way through both Half-Blood Blues and The Stranger's Child, so that leaves two as yet un-sampled novels: Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch and The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness. Obviously, my current opinions are based on this not quite complete tableau, but it's not a bad position to be in after six weeks.

I've noticed an obsession with youth (and a propensity to look back) in many of the longlisted novels so far: in some, the narrators are children (Harri is 11 in Pigeon's English, and Jessie is 16 in The Testament of Jessie Lamb); others recall their own childhood and adolescence (Jinx in A Cupboard Full of Coats, Tony in The Sense of an Ending, Lilly in On Canaan's Side, Eli, briefly, in The Sisters Brothers, Sid in Half-Blood Blues) and one novel is tied up with the Kindertransport and the displacement of children. Derby Day and Snowdrops are notable exceptions.

It's always difficult to compare books that are not alike, but for the sake of the prize, here are my current rankings:

5 STARS
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Far to go by Alison Pick

4.5 STARS
The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

4 STARS
Derby Day by D J Taylor
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

3.5 STARS
A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards

2.5 STARS
Snowdrops by A D Miller

My top six books would, I think, make an interesting shortlist: The Wild West, World War II, a near and desolate future, Victorian England at the track, inner city London and America from the '60s – to mention nothing of the varied themes and style.

However, in previous years I've been disappointed by the obvious names getting on the list, so I think it's probable that the shortlist will comprise of:
Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child (tedium, so far), Barnes' The Sense of an Ending, Birch's Jamrach's Menagerie and Barry's On Canaan's Side along with a superbly structured historical novel – Taylor's Derby Day, and a surprise entry from a first-timer, and my money's on deWitt's The Sisters Brothers. Those six are slightly history-heavy, but who knows what the judges will decide. See you when the thirteen become six.

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