To the consternation of British Commonwealth writers, the Man Booker Prize administrators have announced that the annual literary prize for the year’s best full-length novel will be awarded to any author writing in English whose book has been published in the United Kingdom beginning next year. Up until now, eligible authors had to hail from the Commonwealth; thus, Nigerians and New Zealanders had as much of a fighting chance as Indians or Canadians. With the new inclusion of just about every author from the United States, the Man Booker risks becoming another American-dominated prize.
Or does it? I decided to look at the last 10 years of the Man Booker and offer up my thoughts on which books would have won had the prize’s new rules already been in effect.
2003 Winner: DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little
In a year of outstanding candidates (Shirley Hazzard’s The Great Fire, Toni Morrison’s Love, Damon Galgut’s The Good Doctor), DBC Pierre’s debut had healthy competition, but it’s my guess that the Australian-born author would have lost out to an American's masterpiece: Norman Rush’s Mortals.
Would Have Won: Norman Rush’s Mortals
United States: 1
2004 Winner: Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty
This one was a slam dunk: Alan Hollinghurst’s crisply Jamesian The Line of Beauty steamrolled its competition, even its British competitor Cloud Atlas and its American rival, Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. Go read Hollinghurst; the Man Booker chose well.
Would Have Won: Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty
United States: 1
2005 Winner: John Banville’s The Sea
The year that saw E. L. Doctorow’s The March and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty also saw Cormac McCarthy’s blisteringly violent and poetic No Country for Old Men, an American novel that puts its navel-gazing Irish cousin to shame. 2005 would have gone to the American contingent.
Would Have Won: Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men
United States: 2
2006 Winner: Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss
The American offerings in 2006 — such as Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan — was a bit of a weak one compared to Kiran Desai’s brilliant and deservedly popular The Inheritance of Loss.
Would Have Won: Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss
United States: 2
2007 Winner: Anne Enright’s The Gathering
The cosmopolitan titles of 2007, like the Mediterranean haze of André Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name, overshadowed Anne Enright’s tautly Irish novel — but they all paled in comparison to the Dominican-infused America of Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
Would Have Won: Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
United States: 3
2008 Winner: Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger
Many critics seemed surprised by the Indian author’s success, but Aleksandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project stood head and shoulders over any other Anglophone candidate.Would Have Won: Aleksandar Hemon’s The Lazarus Project
United States: 4
2009 Winner: Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall
It’s an odd year when a historical novel captures so many hearts on both sides of the Atlantic, but South-African-born Hilary Mantel’s deeply absorbing Wolf Hall had readers enthralled in every city around the globe.
Would Have Won: Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall
Commonwealth: 3United States: 4
2010 Winner: Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question
Jacobson’s novel received polite applause, but had its American competitors been eligible, Jonathan Franzen’s juggernaut, Freedom, would have been the winner.
Would Have Won: Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom
United States: 5
2011 Winner: Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending
The new decade ushered in a bevy of books circling around memories: Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending, Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife, Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table — all of which could simply be forgotten in light of Teju Cole’s bedazzling debut, Open City.
Would Have Won: Teju Cole’s Open City
United States: 6
2012 Winner: Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies
What about Zadie Smith’s NW? And Chris Ware’s Building Stories? It doesn’t matter; Hilary Mantel’s riveting sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, swept the awards as it should have.
Would Have Won: Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies
United States: 6
It seems critics of the Man Booker Prize’s expansion weren’t entirely off base to voice concerns about the United States’s looming influence. But an unsurprisingly large range of writers seem up to the challenge of competing on a wider playing field — and the Commonwealth can rest easy knowing that Hilary Mantel has another book (or three) up her sleeve.
But what do you think? Will the expansion of the Man Booker Prize reduce the significance of the award? Will it more accurately reflect the field of English-language novels? Do you agree with the estimations above about past prize winners? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, and we’ll highlight some of the most insightful on The Airship’s social media feeds (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr).