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Some brief thoughts on the Man Booker and Prix Goncourt longlists

So, right off the bat, this is a bit of a misnomer, as the Man Booker shortlist was announced on the same day as the Goncourt longlist. This post isn't so much a coherent argument, but rather a slight meandering of musings, as I ponder my immediate reactions to the announcements, and try and convince someone who reads this blog to buy me each of the books on each of the lists.

For interest, and for those of you who don't follow the literature prizes with the same kind of obsessive fanaticism I do:

Man Booker Shortlist 2020:

  • The Shadow King, by Maaza Mengiste

  • Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart

  • The New Wilderness, by Diane Cooke

  • Real Life, by Brandon Taylor

  • This Mournable Body, by Tsitsi Dangarembga

  • Burnt Sugar, by Avni Doshi

My thoughts on the Booker longlist have already been written and you can go see how wrong my predictions were for the shortlist.

Prix du Roman de l'Académie Goncourt Longlist 2020:

  • Les funambules, by Mohammed Aïssaoui

  • Les Impatientes, by Djaïli Amadou Amal

  • Héritage, by Miguel Bonnefoy

  • Saturne, by Sarah Chiche

  • Un crime sans importance, by Irène Frain

  • Chavirer, by Lola Lafon

  • L'Anomalie, by Hervé Le Tellier

  • Mes fous, by Jean-Pierre Martin

  • Les Roses fauves, by Carole Martinez

  • La Société des belles personnes, by Tobie Nathan

  • L'Histriographe du royaume, by Maël Renouard

  • La Chambre des dupes, by Camille Pascal

  • L'Enfant céleste, by Maud Simonnot

  • Thésée, sa vie nouvelle, by Camille de Toledo

  • Yoga, by Emmanuel Carrère

  • NB: I am not going to go into details on all of these books, as the vast majority of them are not yet available in English translations and so any musings I have on these will be, by their nature, strictly personal. If it turns out that any of these blog's readers do actually read in French, please holla @ me and we can have a discussion offline!

So, first things first, I will say this: I adore, adore, the fact that these lists are more diverse than they have been before (more so the Booker than the Goncourt, but I do not have the space or the knowledge in this blog to go into the very, very real lack of multi-directional diversity in French literature). I also love all the debuts on the Booker shortlist - it's really encouraging and lovely to see people getting recognition and acclaim for their first novels, which can really help with the idea young authors just starting out can have of literature as a closed-door, non-accessible dream. Selfishly, I'm a bit gutted for Hilary Mantel, as I absolutely adored The Mirror & the Light, I consider her to be one of the greatest writers of historical fiction of all time, and would have loved if she'd been the only person ever to ever win a Booker hat-trick. I do believe that the concluding novel is perhaps not as strong as the first two, but I'm still kind of reeling from the fact that she didn't make the shortlist as I would have bet just about anything she'd be a shoo-in for that. But I also love, love, love that a person of color is likely to win the prize, and I've definitely bumped about half of the ones I have on my long-term TBR to my October and November planned reading (This Mournable Body, Real Life). From the perspective of someone who, first and foremost, reads books because she likes the stories, I was a bit sad to see the plots that most interested me drop out of the longlist - namely, How Much of These Hills is Gold, Love and Other Thought Experiments, and Such a Fun Age. Obviously I'm still going to read them, but I must say I am not looking forward to reading The New Wilderness and Shuggie Bain as much as the other three I've mentioned above just because the plots don't immediately speak to me. And I also have some thoughts about the British authors who are moaning about the fact that non-British authors are winning the Booker now that it's been opened up to any English-language books - although, again, this is neither the time nor the place.

Which brings me to my amateur musings on the Goncourt longlist. Of the 15 nominated books, 10 of them jump out at me as books that I immediately want to read, just based on the plot blurb (I will read any of the other 5 if I have to, if they make the shortlist of 4, but I'm really hoping it doesn't come to that as the 5 I am leaving off of my immediate list of desires really, really don't speak to me at all). I've highlighted, above, those 10 in purple (because I remain a fundamentally lazy person). One of my favorite authors, Carole Martinez, is on there; I've loved every book of hers I've read and I'm so excited to dive into this one in the next few months. There's a lot of historical fiction on there as well, which I think speaks to the need everybody - even apparently the Académie Goncourt ! - has for pure escapism this year, and I always have believed that nothing does escapism quite like a time and place that you will never know (and as someone who does not like sci-fi and is very critical of fantasy, historical fiction is that for me). However - only seven women. which isn't great; only one black author, which is terrible; and the favorites for the shortlist (and winner) are all white men. Not good, Goncourt - and French publishing at large, which is even more non-diverse and difficult to break into for non-established authors than just about any other of the publishing industries I am familiar with (that would be three, because I am the rankest of all amateurs).

And, for just a dash of fun at the end of this utterly pointless and incoherent rambling, here are my predictions - I'm sure I will be wrong and you can all laugh at me in November.

Booker win prediction: Real Life

Goncourt shortlist and winner prediction: La Société des belles personnes; Les Impatientes; Yoga (my prediction for winner); Un Crime sans importance

All right, all my lovely fellow bookworms - that's it from me today. As ever, please let me know what you think of these nominated books, and which ones you want to read, and check back here for my reviews of them when I eventually get round to reading them!

Happy reading,

Amélie xx

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I’m Amélie, I love books and reading, and I also love talking about them.

I’m incredibly lucky to be bilingual, so I read books in both French and English, and will talk about both of those on here – although I will do more in English, since I know that’s probably what the majority of the people who ever find this blog will be interested in!

I also like history, traveling, Shakespeare, coffee, cheese, musicals, Italian Baroque art, the ballet, Mock the Week and Have I Got News For You, flowers, makeup, high heels, and baking. Yes, I’m a walking cliché. I am aware.

Please do tweet at me with any suggestions/book recommendations/thoughts.

In case you’re curious – yes, Pride and Prejudice is my favorite book of all time.

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