Two American authors line up with British novelists including Ali Smith and Howard Jacobson
Global reach … the Booker shortlist 2014
British writers have clinched three spots on the Man Booker prize shortlist after the UK's most prestigious literary award opened its doors to writers of any nationality for the first time in its 46-year history.
The move, intended to embrace "the freedom of English in all its vigour, its vitality, its versatility and its glory wherever it may be", had prompted fears that the heavyweights of American literature would dominate the British award. But in the event, two US writers have made the final round of this year's award: Joshua Ferris and Karen Joy Fowler.
Ferris and Fowler make the final six alongside the Australian writer Richard Flanagan, with three British writers shortlisted for the £50,000 award this year: former winner Howard Jacobson, Neel Mukherjee, and Ali Smith. Fellow UK author David Mitchell's much-anticipated new novel The Bone Clocks, described in the Guardian review by Ursula K Le Guin as "600 pages of metafictional shenanigans in relentlessly brilliant prose", missed out on a shortlist place, as did US literary stars Siri Hustvedt and Richard Powers.
Instead, picking from a longlist of 13, judges headed by philosopher AC Grayling plumped for Ferris's third novel To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, a book dubbed "The Catch-22 of dentistry" by Stephen King in which a dentist finds he is being impersonated online, and Fowler's eye-poppingly original We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, a story of one of the more unusual familes in modern fiction which has already won her the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
Flanagan was picked for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North, focusing on Australian PoWs used as forced labour on the Burma Death Railway, Jacobson for the dystopian J, set in a world where it is dangerous to talk of the past, and of "What Happened, If It Happened", and Calcutta-born Mukherjee for his story of a Bengali family as it falls apart, The Lives of Others.
Smith, who has made the final Booker six twice before, completes the shortlist this time with the acclaimed How to Be Both, a combination of the stories of a teenager whose mother has just died and an Italian Renaissance painter. This is the first year the Man Booker has been open to writers of any nationality, writing originally in English and published in the UK. Previously, it could only be won by authors from the UK and Commonwealth, Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe.
The judging panel praised the "depth and range" of the list. "As the Man Booker prize expands its borders, these six exceptional books take the reader on journeys around the world, between the UK, New York, Thailand, Italy, Calcutta and times past, present and future," said Grayling, announcing the shortlist this morning. "We had a lengthy and intensive debate to whittle the list down to these six. It is a strong, thought-provoking shortlist which we believe demonstrates the wonderful depth and range of contemporary fiction in English."
At Waterstones, Dan Lewis wrote that "after all the controversy over rule changes the American contingent, in the form of Karen Joy Fowler and Joshua Ferris, is rather unassuming – in number at least. Ferris, who at 39 is the youngest author on this year's list, perhaps hopes To Rise Again at a Decent Hour can emulate fellow listee Jacobson's 2010 win: the last time a comic novel triumphed. Meanwhile Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves which has proved a hit with our booksellers and customers, will no doubt be hailed as a breath of fresh air – a highly readable answer to any accusations of stuffiness or impenetrability which are so often levelled against literary prizes."
To Rise Again At a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
J by Howard Jacobson
The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee
How to Be Both by Ali Smith