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Literary Blog

Barnes Has to Be Favorite for Booker

Julian Barnes, shortlisted for the fourth time in his three-decade literary career, was among the six finalists for the 2011 Man Booker for Fiction, the prize committee announced earlier today. The Sense of an Ending, his 11th novel, is about four old school friends entering middle age. Barnes’s novel-writing colleague Anita Brookner reviewed it in the Telegraph here. Since he is one of Britain’s most celebrated novelists, Barnes has to be considered the favorite for the prize, even though The Sense of an Ending is a 150-page novella, rather slim for the best novel of the year, even in slim-book-loving England.

My money is on 35-year-old Stephen Kelman, whose Pigeon English is about an immigrant boy from Ghana who finds himself caught up in gang violence in London. Kelman skillfully weaves in sharp-tongued Ghanian slang in a novel that is as much about mastering the English language, and fashioning a distinctive narrative voice, as it is about the marginalization of African immigrants in British culture and society. Kelman revives a style and subject explored to great effect by Colin MacInnes half a century ago.

Two-years-older A. D. Miller was also shortlisted for a first novel. Snowdrops is a crime novel, and when it was nominated for the prize, controversy and celebration broke out in equal measures. Although “genre-bending” is all the rage, the Man Booker follows the parade rather than leading it. Miller is unlikely the win the prize.

Two Canadians, Patrick deWitt for The Sisters Brothers and Esi Edugyan for Half Blood Blues, were both shortlisted for the Booker and longlisted earlier today for the Giller Prize, one of Canada’s top two literary prizes. Veteran 11-book novelist Carol Birch fills out the Booker half-dozen, but another historical novel has to be listed as a long shot only two years after Hilary Mantel won the prize for Wolf Hall.