……….To much publicity, controversy, chagrin and the odd bit of pompous crap, the Booker Prize list for 2012 was announced 2 days ago. After 48 hours I’ve already enjoyed reading some really good articles and blog posts about the Booker longlist for this year – mind you I’ve skimmed a few as well!
So in getting round to writing about it 2 days later, I think I’m pretty slow. No doubt every angle of the Booker list has been covered – but as the American politician and one time Presidential candidate Mo Udall said of a US political debate, “Everything that can be said on this topic has been said – but not everyone has said it yet!!” Well, I’m writing my Booker Longlist twopence worth in exactly that spirit!!!!!
So my challenge to myself is to write something fresh about the Man Booker when everything has already been written – that’s where Donald comes in. For those of you who don’t know, Donald Rumsfeld was US Defence Secretary twice, latterly under George Bush (a time which might aptly have been celebrated by the Specials singing their classic song “The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum!). As well as slightly-to-the-right-of-Genghis-Khan political beliefs, Donald Rumsfeld was also well-known for his, what you might call “way with words!”. And I’m using one of those classic Donald speeches to guide you through the Man Booker Longlist for 2012.
The Donald Rumsfeld Guide To The Man Booker Prize 2012
It seems to me that one of Donald’s most famous speeches lends itself perfectly to a personal review of the Man Booker Prize 2012 longlist.
“Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
Like a knife through butter (and an axe through logic and a sledgehammer through the beauty of the English language) Donald Rumsfeld allows me to strip the Booker list instantly into its three key components – and as I hope to show by the end, this isn’t just some random categorisation! I’m talking about a sociological truth, an indisputable law of book nature, and I think I have the evidence to prove it!
Category 1. Donald’s Known Knowns
These are the books that I know that I know. That’s to say I’ve read them, I know I’ve read them, and knowing I’ve read them means I know whether or not I think it deserved to be on the list – though of course at this stage known knowns can only be compared with other known knowns, as it would be unfair to compare them with known unknowns and impossible to compare them with unknown unknowns! Still with me?!
So my known knowns are:
Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel. (Great book – really loved it!)
And that’s it I’m afraid! At this stage I haven’t read any of the other books on the list – but I’m glad this one made it. And that’s not me comparing it to known unknowns or unknown unknowns – that’s me comparing it to all the other known knowns I’ve read this year which didn’t make the list!
Category 2. Donald’s (Completely, Or Slightly) Known Unknowns
Now some of these are books where I know the author but don’t know the actual book itself. And the reason is they are famous. So they are known but the book is unknown. So my Completely Known Unknowns are:
Umbrella by Will Self (Mmmmm – Will Self always seems a miserable git really – will wait and see if this makes the shortlist before I decide whether or not to read it – secretly and irrationally I hope it won’t!)
And that’s it I’m afraid! Will Self is certainly well known to me but his books are absolutely unknown to me. I’ve read articles in newspapers and magazines and seen him on TV – not my cup of tea I fear!
On the slightly known unknown front, these are books I know of, by authors I know of, but not specifically books I actually know or authors I actually know! So my Slightly Known Unknowns are:
Skios by Michael Frayn (I saw this mega-cheap in the Oxfam bookshop on Wednesday and decided against buying it – am now kicking myself!!)
The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (this is in my ‘What Next’ pile and I’ve read great reviews of it elsewhere so it will be getting promoted up the queue!)
Category 3. Donald’s Unknown Unknowns
These are books I’ve never really heard of, by authors I’ve never really heard of – till now!
The Yips by Nicola Barker (I was given her novel Darkmans as a gift but it seems to be one of those books with lead weights in it – I’ve never plucked up the energy to read it – I can barely lift it! If this weighs less I might have a go at it!)
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore (apparently part of the story is a man on a restorative walking holiday with “events” unfolding around him – sounds like a perfect book for the evil Kindle so I can read about all that walking while I’m walking the dog!)
Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil ( A story about a Mumbai opium den and its users which the review in the Guardian in February likened to an opium-induced dream – and as I am always up for an opium induced dream, I think this will be a definite for me!)
Communion Town by Sam Thompson (which tells the story of a city – possibly New York or London – told from the perspective of 10 different characters – not sure about this one yet!)
Philida by Andre Brink (one of the very few non-British authors on this year’s list with a story about a slave in South Africa in the 1830’s – I can find no real reviews of it but something about it sounds good – another one I think I’ll read myself!)
The Garden Of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng (another non-British author and perhaps one I should have heard of as a previous book of his was nominated for the Booker in 2007 – but I didn’t pay as much attention to the Booker back then!)
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (The review I read of this makes it sound like an intriguing possible! It’s about a middle class family, holidaying in France, who find a woman swimming in their pool. She stays with them and the novel charts what happens from there! However, in addition to the review, the book also apparently has an introduction by Tom McCarthy. I recently read and absolutely loved his novel “C” – so if Tom McCarthy likes it then this moves from an intriguing possible to a dead cert for me!)
The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman (It’s a great title – but I’m wary of some novels with great titles as in my experience the odds are 50:50-ish that the inside won’t live up to the promise of the great title! And to provide further evidence to support my 50:50 notion a review of this book a few days ago in The Independent compared it to the work of David Mitchell and Jennifer Egan – for me I loved Mitchell’s One Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and thought Jennifer Egan’s Welcome To The Goon Squad was awful! 50:50!!! I’ll stay in two minds about this for a while!)
The consequence of all this is that knowing so few of the books on the shortlist has been a blow to my intellectual ego – in fact my “fiction” intelligence is feeling a bit like poor old Donald Rumsfeld! I can’t help asking myself how come I read so much, write a fair bit now about reading, read a fair bit about what other people write about what they are reading and I’ve still read only one of the Booker short list and even worse haven’t heard of most of them!!!!!!
But Donald has the answer – f0r I think I can prove that the unknown unknown syndrome is pretty common among us, the reading public. And here’s my evidence.
I looked this morning at an on-line poll in The Telegraph “Books” section asking who we fiction fans think will win the Booker for 2012 – and the leader, by a country mile, is Hilary Mantel! Now is that because most of the respondents could say all twelve books were known knowns and they think Hilary’s is the best?! Or is it because they’d only heard of one or two and, like me, the rest were unknown unknowns to them!
Need further proof? Well, lo and behold, look at the next three places in the poll – Micheal Frayn, followed by Rachel Joyce and Will Self – my known unknowns. And finally, bumping along the bottom, pretty much evenly, are all those unknown unknowns.
So it’s proven – it would seem that Donald Rumsfeld holds the key to understanding the Booker and the book reading public after all!!!
And who will win? The bookies favourite is of course Hilary Mantel (and why wouldn’t she be – if she’s the only bloody known known for most of us avid readers and book bloggers, then there’s no chance the bookies have heard of any of the others either!!!)
But to be sure, before you part with your money by betting unwisely, I’d like to go back to Donald Rumsfeld for the answer to the question of who will win! As Donald also one said:
“If I know the answer I’ll tell you the answer. If I don’t, I’ll just respond cleverly!”.
So that tells you two things – I’ve no idea who will win and neither does everyone else – but my clever response money is on a book from the unknown unknown list – and that will allow the final part of Donald Rumsfeld’s Guide to the Man Booker Prize to be used:
“I would not say that the future is necessarily less predictable than the past. I think the past was not predictable when it started.”
That my friends tells you the winner will be Nicola Barker – at the moment that doesn’t look obvious because it’s the future, but when it’s the past, you’ll look back, read this post and think – well I never. Good old Donald Rumsfeld! Now why the hell didn’t I predict that too!!!!!!!