British author Jim Crace has been shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize for a novel which he has said will be his last.
The writer is one of six in the running for the £50,000 prize, which was won last year by Hilary Mantel and which also includes A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, released by Canongate, the Edinburgh publisher.
Jim Grace’s book, Harvest, the story of a village which comes under threat, was inspired when the author got a glimpse of fields on a train journey he took in frustration after spending two years trying to write a novel that he could not get to work.
Crace, who was shortlisted for the Booker in 1997 for Quarantine, has said that Harvest, which came together in just six months, will be his final novel.
He has said of his decision to stop writing fiction: “Retiring from writing is to avoid the inevitable bitterness which a writing career is bound to deliver as its end product, in almost every case.”
The other shortlisted authors are Eleanor Catton (The Luminaries), Colm Toibin (The Testament Of Mary), Jhumpa Lahiri (The Lowland), NoViolet Bulawayo (We Need New Names) and Ruth Ozeki (A Tale For The Time Being).
Irish writer Toibin’s book The Testament Of Mary features the mother of Jesus mourning angrily years after her son’s crucifixion.
The winner is announced at a ceremony on Tuesday, October 15.
Jamie Byng, the chief executive of Canongate tweeted: “Over the moon...Thank you judges, great list.”
Four of the books on the shortlist are by women and two by men, while three of the novels are contemporary.
Bookmaker William Hill installed Catton’s The Luminaries as favourite to win, followed by Crace’s Harvest.
There is one debut novel on the shortlist - We Need New Names, the story of Darling and her friends in a shanty called Paradise, by Zimbabwe-born Bulawayo.
The chair of the judges, writer Robert Macfarlane, said all the books on the “exceptionally varied and international shortlist” managed to “extend the power and possibility of form”.
He added: “These novels are all about the strange ways in which people are brought together and the painful ways in which they are held apart.”
Announcing the books at a press conference in central London, he said: “It is a shortlist that shows the English language novel to be a form of world literature. It crosses continents, joins countries and spans centuries.”
He said the judging process remained “peaceful and that the carpet remained unbloodied” and there were no “walk-outs or punch-ups”.
A spokesman for booksellers Waterstones said: “With a multicultural shortlist dominated by women I think the bookies may be wrong this time.
“It’s five years since the last ‘surprise’ winner - The White Tiger - and I think this shortlist gives the judges a lot of options.
“The question of ‘what is a novel?’ is raised again with Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary - at 101 pages it makes Julian Barnes’ 160 page The Sense of an Ending look, if not like War and Peace, then at least Crime and Punishment.
“This is an impossibly tough year to call, but I will be placing a small bet on Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being: I think it shares some of the spirit of Life of Pi that was such a memorable winner in 2002, and I think it might be time for another surprise.”
• The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
The first New Zealand author to be shortlisted since Keri Hulme won for The Bone People in 1984, Eleanor Catton’s huge 800-page novel follows a dozen different characters through a murder mystery set among the 1866 gold rush in New Zealand.
• We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
The debut novel of Bulawayo, who was born in Zimbabwe but moved to America as a teenager, is made up of linked stories narrated by a girl called Darling who lives in a shanty town called Paradise in Zimbabwe. The grim reality of her live is leavened by, as one critic said: “humanity and humour”.
• Harvest by Jim Crace
The veteran author tackles the destruction of communities in England with a period novel about a village that comes under threat. A trio of outsiders, two men and a dangerously magnetic woman, arrive in the woodland borders of a village and set up a make-shift camp. The same night the nearby manor house is set alight, the strangers are punished and the village is gripped with rumours of witchcraft.
• The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
The novels examines 50 years of Indian and American history through the lives of one family. Lahiri, who was born in London to Bengali parents and raised in Rhode Island, tells the story of two brothers from West Bengal, one of whom moves to America while the other becomes embroiled in militant politics.
• A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
The American-Japanese author follows a novelist’s attempts to discover if a Japanese schoolgirl killed herself or was killed during the tsunami of 2011. The book tells the story using the facilities of non-fiction including footnotes, appendices, a bibliography and quotations from Japanese Zen masters.
• The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin
The shortest “novel” in the shortlist has provoked controversy of whether it is really an exceedingly long short story or a short novella, but either way the Irish author’s re-imagining of the “greatest story ever told” told through the eyes of Jesus’s mother, Mary, has been garlanded with terrific reviews.
Nick Barley: Unenviable task for panel of judges
YOU have to hand it to the Man Booker judges. To read 140 books and boil them down to six you agree on is a corrosive exercise that plays havoc with your sense of perspective.
There are strange dynamics that develop between judges. You start the process imagining everyone’s well-read, open-minded, internationalist then discover that taste in novels is unpredictable. It’s impressive that the judges have delivered such a sparkling and diverse list.
I loved the opening chapter of NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names when as a short story it won the 2011 Caine Prize for African fiction. Now the Zimbabwean writer has extended it pretty successfully into an uninhibited depiction of a girl growing up in Mugabe’s chaotic Zimbabwe, eventually leaving for America. Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, follows Indian characters on their journey from Calcutta to Rhode Island.
I was slightly put off Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, by a marketing strategy that included “fully interactive” cover designs and social media conversations. However, I’m delighted that Cannongate has once again produced a novel worthy of the shortlist. Ozeki’s story is a riotous journey through the post-tsunami Japanese imagination.
Jim Crace’s Harvest is a thoughtful depiction of a lost landscape of Englishness in the 16th century. Crace’s powerfully allegorical novel describes the appropriation of common land by private forces. But it is bettered by two others on the shortlist. New Zealand-born Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries is big book and confirms her as a genuine literary superstar. Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary is deeply moving story of a mother whose son is put to death on the cross; Toibin has written a strange, haunting novel. Toibin or Catton to win on 15 October? I don’t envy the judges for having to choose.
• Nick Barley is director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival.