Richard Flanagan is sadly the only Commonwealth author to be long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.
Richard Flanagan is sadly the only Commonwealth author to be long-listed for the Man Booker Prize.

The Man Booker Prize has for many years been the holy grail of literary awards for Commonwealth writers.

While the Miles Franklin Award and State-based prizes are Down Under gems, the Booker prize places an international audience square in an author's lap.

The prizes are a gold-stamp of approval enjoyed by literary heavyweights such as Thomas Keneally (Schindler's Ark, 1982), Peter Carey (Oscar and Lucinda, 1988; True History of the Kelly Gang, 2001) and DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, 2003).

It is with this in mind, this year's expansion of Booker prize eligibility to books composed in English is a sad change for Australian writers.

The GBP50,000 prize is likelier to prove more elusive for locals and their Zimbabwean, Irish and Commonwealth counterparts.

Booker prize organisers last week unveiled their long-list, but only one Commonwealth author made the cut.

Australian Richard Flanagan pulled a mention for The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

Flanagan was named second in an alphabetised list of 13 writers, listed alongside six Britons, four Americans and two Irish writers.

The American writers making their debuts in the Booker stakes with Flanagan were Joshua Ferris (To Rise Again at a Decent Hour), Karen Joy Fowler (We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves), Siri Hustvedt (The Blazing World) and Richard Powers (Orfeo).

Howard Jacobson (J), who grabbed the prize in 2010 with The Finkler Question, made the long-list with two previously shortlisted authors, Ali Smith (How to be Both) and David Mitchell (The Bone Clocks).

Some punters tipped Flanagan to win last month's Miles Franklin Award, but his hopes were dashed by British-Australian debutante Evie Wyld with her rural tale All the Birds, Singing.

Wyld missed out on a Booker mention, as did WA author Tim Winton who presented a contemporary urban novel to literary judges of 2013 titles.

Flanagan's Narrow Road is a wartime story of a love-struck medic marooned on the Burma railway during World War II.

It's a mature tale from an author the BBC dubbed "the leading Australian novelist of his generation", and suitably literary for most prize-tipping spectators.

But what makes something a Booker prize winner, and is that likely to change with US market influences?

Respected British newspaper The Guardian last year released its list of 10 ways to win the Booker prize.

To dumb them down, a winner is usually a verbose 48.8-year-old, Oxford-educated, private school boy fond of love and obsessed with death, who has a simple name, short book title, fair back-list, and a working relationship with Penguin Random House imprint Jonathan Cape.

Would many Australian writers meet that criteria? No. But perhaps that doesn't matter. Or at least, at it doesn't to one online bookmaker.

Sportsbet.com.au has tipped Flanagan to win, with $5 odds, with the organisation's Shaun Anderson saying the bookie believed the novel was the one to beat.

American Jacobsen is near favourite, paying $6, while Nicholls, Powers and Kingsnorth were judged slim pickings, on $17 odds.


  • The Man Booker Prizes people will announce their short-list on September 9 and winner on October 14.

MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2014 LONG-LIST

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, Joshua Ferris (Penguin Random House $30, ebook $11)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan (Penguin Random House $20, ebook $11)
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler (Allen & Unwin $28, ebook $6)
The Blazing World, Siri Hustvedt (Hachette $30, ebook $17)
J, Howard Jacobson (Penguin Random House $33, ebook preorder $19)
The Wake, Paul Kingsnorth (Unbound, Australian distributor status unknown, ebook $8)
The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell (Hachette $30, ebook $17)
The Lives of Others, Neel Mukherjee (Penguin Random House $33, ebook $15)
Us, David Nicholls (Hachette $TBA, ebook $17)
The Dog, Joseph O'Neill (Harper Collins, Australian distribution status unknown, ebook $15)
Orfeo, Richard Powers (Atlantic Books $27, ebook $8)
How to be Both, Ali Smith (Penguin Random House $30, ebook $11)
History of the Rain, Niall Williams (Bloomsbury $28, ebook $11)

The West Australian

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