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The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2008 – Shortlist

It’s been just over a month now and the judges have obviously read much more of the longlisted titles than me, who seemed more interested in reading everything else rather than those suggested. But I did get through three of them (The Moon Opera by Bi Feiyu, The Book Of Words by Jenny Erpenbeck, and Agamemnon’s Daugher by Ismail Kadare, reviews of the Erpenbeck forthcoming) and had a couple of aborted attempts at Alaa Al Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building and Erwin Mortier’s Shutterspeed. It would seem I needn’t have bothered as none of these titles has made the final six.

The shortlisted titles are:

  • Castorp, Paweł Huelle (Antonia Lloyd Jones, Polish, Serpent’s Tail)
  • Measuring The World, Daniel Kehlmann (Carol Brown Janeway, German, Quercus)
  • Gregorius, Bengt Ohlsson (Silvester Mazzarella, Swedish, Portobello Books)
  • The Model, Lars Saabye Christensen (Don Barlett, Norwegian, Arcadia Books)
  • The Way Of The Women, Marlene van Niekerk (Michiel do Heyns, Afrikaans, Little, Brown)
  • Omega Minor, Paul Verhaeghen (Paul Verhaeghen, Dutch, Dalkey Archive Press)

The bracketed information includes translator, original language, and publisher respectively.

Luckily, with the exception of Omega Minor, I have the shortlist in my possession and expect that, even if I couldn’t find the motivation to read all seventeen in a single month, I can see my way to reading all titles before the award ceremony on May 8th.

I have also been wondering whether it may be prudent to read Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain prior to reading Paweł Huelle’s Castorp. With it being a prequel of sorts, it’s a harder decision than that surrounding the reading of Hjalmar Söderberg’s Doctor Glas as Bengt Ohlsson’s Gregorius takes that classic novel and tells the story from another character’s point of view.

Antonia Byatt, Director of Literature Strategy at Arts Council England said:

“The judges had a hard task getting down to the final six, but have chosen a shortlist of very accomplished books that demonstrate a huge variety of ideas, stories and adventurous writing from around the world. The authors’ ability to introduce readers to the rich diversity of life illustrates why making international writing in translation available to everyone is so important.”

As far as “around the world” goes, the shortlist feels very similar in terms of language, since five of the six are translated from Germanic languages. And in terms of geography, all authors’ respective countries are huddled together with the exception of Marlene van Niekerk’s. South Africa, however, shares a similar longitude. It seems more like adventurous writing from a wedge of the world. But, regardless, the shortlist is an interesting mix of titles and, despite the absence of Bi Feiyu’s The Moon Opera, which I truly enjoyed, I look forward to being surprised by what has been shortlisted and to mopping up a few other titles along the way.

February 29, 2008

2 responses to The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2008 – Shortlist

  1. jem said:

    Good to see how this is shaping up.

    If you don’t mind me asking, what went wrong for you with ‘Shutterspeed’ – I thought it sounded quite good, and was tempted to get it, but perhaps you’ll have inside information to put me off.

    ‘Omega Minor’ sounds interesting too – its just very long.

  2. Stewart said:

    Nothing went wrong with Shutterspeed. It just felt like I was half asleep the morning I read it and, thirty pages in, I hadn’t remembered a thing. I do intend to return to it and I also bought Mortier’s first novel, Marcel.

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2 responses to The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2008 – Shortlist

  1. jem said:

    Good to see how this is shaping up.

    If you don’t mind me asking, what went wrong for you with ‘Shutterspeed’ – I thought it sounded quite good, and was tempted to get it, but perhaps you’ll have inside information to put me off.

    ‘Omega Minor’ sounds interesting too – its just very long.

  2. Stewart said:

    Nothing went wrong with Shutterspeed. It just felt like I was half asleep the morning I read it and, thirty pages in, I hadn’t remembered a thing. I do intend to return to it and I also bought Mortier’s first novel, Marcel.

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