Milkman by Anna Burns wins the Booker Prize

by Sunita

I’m so happy. I really didn’t expect it to win, even though I thought it should. But the judges apparently chose it unanimously. The Guardian has a good rundown of the announcement here, alongside a rather ungenerous post by one of the Guardian Books people here. We get it, you wanted Sally Rooney or Daisy Johnson. But guess what? This was a flat-out better book. Val McDermid talks about the judging process in the Guardian and in the New York Times. I love the last line in the Times interview.

I really thought the New New Thing or the Big American Thing trends would swamp the Burns and the Robertson, which I ranked #1 and #2 on my short- and longlists. In reading my other longlist nominees and perusing reviews, discussions, and interviews, I’ve been struck by how much the industry is letting its desperation to hold onto its readership affect its decisions about what books deserve to be publicized and praised. Debuts win out over technically and substantively better novels by veteran authors almost every time. When they don’t, it’s often because the author herself is a Hot Commodity, someone who gets a lot of interview/profile press as part of the new release. I’ve read over half the NBA Fiction longlist and three books off the Giller longlist, and in both cases the second/third/fourth novels are better than the debuts, for all the reasons we would expect. Of course debuts are going to be less polished, on average. Yes, there are assured and impressive debut novels, but good authors tend to get even better because they hone their craft and learn to control their gifts.

I’m just about done with my long- and shortlist reading. I’ll read a few more NBA books but probably not all of them, and I’ll read one more of the Giller shortlist for sure and probably a couple of the longlisted books that didn’t make it. I’m a bit disappointed in the Giller shortlist. No First Nations books or authors (as far as I can tell) and three books by established, acclaimed authors which may or may not represent their best work. I loved last year’s list because I found new, interesting, quirky books. The established author won, but it was a challenging and interesting novel. I’m holding out hope for Eric Dupont’s Québecois novel, because otherwise the Heti or the DeWitt are really going to have to knock my socks off.

I have enjoyed reading all these nominees, and I’ll probably do it again next year. But I’m breaking up with the Tournament of Books; I’ll get reading ideas from the longlist but I won’t try to read the shortlist. After three years of close following and reading, I’ve learned my tastes and the TOB’s don’t really mesh. That leaves me the first half of the year to read much more from my TBR. Which is good, because I haven’t read nearly enough from it this year!

I’ve been out of town and away from the internet and/or super busy when in town, so I’m behind on posting here, but I’ll try to get back to posting reviews at least a couple of times a week. I’ve got plenty in the can, and I’m still reading.