Fifteen Excellent Novels Since 1969 That Did Not Make the Booker Prize Short List

Man_Booker (1)There has been a lot of talk about novels that were overlooked by the Man Booker judges this year.   However this talk is not new. The Booker has overlooked great novels from its very beginning in 1969.  Neither Graham Greene nor Angela Carter were ever shortlisted, although in Greene’s case most of his great work was done before 1969.

I have read each of the novels below.  Each is so well done that it is a mystery to me why these eligible novels would not have made the Booker Prize short list.  The novels are listed in chronological order.

42864‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ by John Fowles (1969)    This Victorian novel influenced A. S. Byatt to write ‘Posession’ which did win the Booker in 1990.

‘Fifth Business’ by Robertson Davies (1970)   This amazing Canadian novel was the one that got me started down the path of world literature.

‘The Eye of the Storm’ by Patrick White (1973)  For whatever perplexing reason this Australian masterpiece did not make the Booker short list, although White’s previous novel ‘The Vivisector’ did make it in 1970.

9780143116950_p0_v1_s114x166‘Money: A Suicide Note’ by Martin Amis (1981)   Instead of shortlisting one of Amis’s wonderful wild early novels, the Booker shortlisted one of his lesser later novels, ‘Time’s Arrow’ in 1991.

‘A Good Man in Africa’ by William Boyd (1981)  This one did not get shortlisted, but Boyd’s equally good ‘The Ice-Cream Wars’ got shortlisted the following year.

‘Time After Time’ by Molly Keane (1983)   Although Booker did shortlist her equally good previous novel ‘Good Behavior’ in 1981.

‘Golden Gate’ by Vikram Seth (1986)   This delightful novel-in-verse was never shortlisted nor was Seth’s 1349-page ‘A Suitable Boy’ which I have not read.

41NC8M1pXDL._SL160_‘A Far Cry from Kensington’ by Muriel Spark (1988)  – Spark was shortlisted three times but not for this great novel.

‘Cloudstreet’ by Tim Winton (1991)     This Australian favorite was not shortlisted, but two of Winton’s later novels were.

‘Trainspotting’ by Irvine Welsh (1993)   Another novel that apparently was too wild, too gross, too risqué for the Booker.

‘The Blue Flower’ by Penelope Fitzgerald (1995)   Fitzgerald was shortlisted four times which is a record, but it is still hard to imagine why this novel wasn’t.

landgirls ‘Land Girls’ by Angela Huth (1995)   Barbara Pym used to be England’s most overlooked writer; now it must be Angela Huth.

 ‘The Englishman’s Boy’ by Guy Vanderhaeghe  (1996) –  Vanderhaeghe is a Canadian writer who somehow hasn’t been shortlisted yet.

‘Miss Garnet’s Angel’ by Salley Vickers  (2000) –  Salley Vickers is a well-kept secret apparently even to the Booker.

 ‘The City of Bohane’ by Kevin Barry (2011) – Too edgy for the Booker?


10 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by kaggsysbookishramblings on July 27, 2014 at 3:01 PM

    Good post and good point – I remember now why I really don’t pay much attention to the Booker!


    • Hi Kaggsy,
      I don’t pay as much attention to the Booker as I used to either. In my early years of novel reading, the Booker gave me some great leads, but now I find the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award a better guide.


  2. As a number of your examples show, the Booker does have a tradition of “lifetime achievement” listings that feature lesser works from authors whose better ones have not made the list.

    And I am sure that if the Booker wasn’t there I would find something else to grumble about in late July and early August — I’m just not sure what it would be.


    • Hi Kevin,
      Yes, there is the Lifetime Achievement syndrome, which doesn’t work well for authors who write their best books early in their careers. There is also the Respectable List syndrome which leaves out books that might cause controversy like ‘Trainspotting’ or ‘Money’.
      This year I’ve read only one on the 2014 Booker long list. That is ‘Orfeo’ by Richard Powers which I didn’t think was one of his best. I expect to read the Richard Flanagan soon. Since they are going so heavily in for American writers, they probably should have included ‘Euphoria’ by Lily King. That would probably be my complaint this year.


  3. The Booker meant more to me in the past when I needed suggestions for good contemporary novels to read, but now that I have so many great bloggers sharing their reviews online, I find that (a) there are more books that I want than I can reasonably read and (b) my blogging friends are more reliable guides to what I will enjoy anyway.


    • Hi Lisa,
      I’m finding that I’m not following the Booker quite so closely this year either. Being from the United States this is probably a dumb thing to say, but I liked the Booker better when it was all British empire. That made it distinctive. Besides I still see England as the literary capital of the world, certainly not the United States.


      • Woo hoo! Brave man, that’s a provocative statement! Why do you think that is so?


        • Lisa,
          First just count the number of fiction blogs in Great Britain including Ireland and Scotland. There is a real interest in fiction in that entire area. I know Australia has a number of blogs, and they are definitely moving up in the literary world. If anything, the United States is going downhill with so many people here priding themselves on their ignorance, the Tea Party phenomenon.


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