Man Booker International Prize 2016 – Predictions by Tony Malone

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize is dead – long live the Man Booker International Prize! Well, that’s what the organisers of the new prize would have us think, anyway. Those of us who followed the old prize might not be quite so gung-ho about the change, but it’s almost time to see how the brave new world of British literary translation prizes unfolds. The schedule for the 2016 edition is as follows:

10 March 2016 – Longlist Announcement
14 April 2016 – Shortlist Announcement
16 May 2016 – Winner Announcement

While it may be the start of a new era, Boyd Tonkin is still on board as one of the judges, and a selection of the usual blogging suspects will also be back to shadow the prize and keep the ‘real’ judges honest (more about that in the weeks to come). But just what will we be reading? Well, today I’ll share a few thoughts on what might be on the list next month (all links to my reviews, where applicable), and as you’ll quickly notice, I’ve come up with a rather long list of possibles. It seems to have been a pretty good year in the world of fiction in translation…
(Note: post amended 8/2/16 – I now realise that not all Scribe Australia titles appear through Scribe UK…)

Where literary prizes are concerned, any talk of certainties is tantamount to tempting fate, yet there are some books I’d be surprised not to see on the list. Han Kang’s The Vegetarian (translated by Deborah Smith) has received huge amounts of praise since its release, and the amount of publicity given to Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation (tr. John Cullen) and Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83 (tr. Roland Glasser) makes me think they’ll be included. Another probable contender is Seiobo There Below (tr. Ottilie Mulzet) as László Krasznahorkai’s novel has already tasted success in the shape of the Best Translated Book Award for its US edition.

Seiobo… isn’t the only book which crossed the pond last year, and several others have a good chance of making the cut. In the Night of Time (tr. Edith Grossman), Antonio Muñoz Molina’s expansive novel set during the Spanish Civil War, has impressed those who have chosen to tackle it, and while Mathias Énard‘s Street of Thieves (tr. Charlotte Mandell) didn’t quite live up to the sublime Zone, it’s still an excellent read. Then there’s Alejandro Zambra’s short-story collection My Documents (tr. Megan McDowell), a book which had me hunting down all of the Chilean writer’s work translated so far 🙂

Last year I reviewed several books for Scribe Publications, an Australian press with a UK presence, and I can see a few with a chance of being longlisted (although not all of them were published by Scribe in the UK!). Hwang Sok-yong’s Princess Bari (tr. Sora Kim-Russell, published by Periscope Books) would add some much-needed geographical variety to the list, as would Brazilian writer Tatiana Salem Levy’s The House in Smyrna (tr. Alison Entrekin). A more likely candidate, though, might be Tommy Wieringa, and his most recent novel, These are the Names (tr. Sam Garrett), is an outside chance. And let’s not forget former IFFP winner Gerbrand Bakker, whose novel June (tr. David Colmer, released by Harvill Secker in the UK), while not one of my favourites last year, may well catch the eye of the judges.

That’s already a solid set of contenders, but there are a lot more books with a chance of being chosen for the longlist. Jón Kalman Stefánsson’s The Sorrow of Angels took out our Shadow IFFP in 2014, and The Heart of Man (tr. Philip Roughton), the last book in his trilogy, must be in contention this year. Elena Ferrante hasn’t had any luck in the UK so far, but the last book in her series of Neapolitan novels, The Story of the Lost Child (tr. Ann Goldstein), might see that situation change. Of course, that other serial offender, Karl Ove Knausgaard, has another eligible book, Dancing in the Dark (tr. Don Bartlett) – it isn’t one I’d pick, but you never know…

Then, there are some real heavyweight names who can’t be ignored. On the back of Patrick Modiano’s Nobel Prize win, any one of the new releases might make the grade (your guess is as good as mine when it comes to which one…), as could fellow laureate Kenzaburō Ōe‘s Death by Water (tr. Deborah Boliver Boehm) or Orhan Pamuk’s A Strangeness in my Mind (tr. Ekin Oklap). Two writers who haven’t won the Nobel Prize despite being highly fancied are Haruki Murakami and Umberto Eco, and Wind/Pinball, the new translation (by Ted Goossen) of Murakami’s early novellas, and Numero Zero (tr. Richard Dixon) are also possible longlisters.

Wait – that’s not all… You see, for the 2016 prize there’s an extended eligibility period, from the 1st of January, 2015, to the 30th of April, 2016 (from 2017, the eligibility period will run from May to April). This means that several recent releases will be eligible, assuming they were submitted. The best example of this is Human Acts (tr. Deborah Smith), with Han Kang’s latest book in English possibly vying for a spot on the longlist with her previous novel. It also means that the longlist may contain books which haven’t even been published yet, such as Judith Hermann’s Where Love Begins (tr. Margaret Bettauer Dembo) or Javier Marías’ latest novel Thus Bad Begins (tr. Margaret Jull Costa)…

That’s an impressive pool of books to work from, yet I realise that I haven’t even considered works from small presses like Peirene Press, And Other Stories, Pushkin Press or Istros Books. Surely one or two of those will have something in contention. Which all means that there’s only one thing I can predict with any certainty – whatever twelve I decide to pick, the real list will undoubtedly be very, very different 😉

By Tony Malone

This blog was originally published on Tony’s Reading List on 7 February 2016.

Category: Other Blogs


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