This week’s glittering ceremony in Sweden, where Kazuo Ishiguro was presented with the Nobel Prize for Literature, marked the culmination of a series of prestigious and occasionally controversial Awards during 2017. Does the best book always win? That inevitably depends on who you ask. Whilst judges may arrive at consensus, as any book club member will tell you, individuals are way more fickle. For me the highlights are the short (and long list) of books nominated for each awards. There, almost always, you encounter exciting authors or books you may not have read before. For example, four of my favourite 2017 reads, Ayobami Adebayo’s Stay With Me, Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream, Roy Jacobsen’s The Unseen and Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor were on shortlists but didn’t win. Below are the major prizes for books written in, or translated into, english, during the past 12 months.
Kazuo Ishiguro, according to the Nobel awards panel “… in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”. Ishiguro who has written eight novels as well as plays and short stories, was born in Nagasaki, Japan but has lived in the UK since he was five. His work includes Remains of the Day, The Unconsoled, An Artist of the Floating World and Never Let Me Go. Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy described Ishiguro’s writing style as a mix of “Jane Austen and Franz Kafka.”But you have to add a little bit of Marcel Proust into the mix and then you stir.”
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. While the American civil war rages US President Abraham Lincoln is devastated by his own personal tragedy the death of his young son Willie. Night after night he visits the crypt and holds his son not realising that the boy is caught in the Bardo, the strange netherworld between life and the hereafter.
Shortlist: 4321 by Paul Auster, History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund, Exit West by Moshin Hamid, Autumn by Ali Smith and Elmet by Fiona Mozley
A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman translated from Hebrew by Jessica Cohen. Set in a comedy club in a small Israeli town, an ageing comedian deliberately self-destructs on stage in a tragi-comedy that repels but also mesmerises the audience. Nick Barley, chair of the 2017 judging panel, said: “We were bowled over by Grossman’s willingness to take emotional as well as stylistic risks: every sentence counts, every word matters in this supreme example of the writer’s craft.”
Shortlist: Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, Judas by Amos Oz, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors, The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen, Compass by Mathias Enard
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Whitehead story of Cora, a 15-year-old black slave, following in the footsteps of her mother and risking all by running away to find the Underground Railroad to freedom. It was praised by the judges “for a smart melding of realism and allegory that combines the violence of slavery and the drama of escape in a myth that speaks to contemporary America.”
Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslet and The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward Jesmyn Ward’s described by the judges as “a
narrative so beautifully taut and heartbreakingly eloquent that it stops the breath. Through fully imagined characters both living and dead, this road novel moves beyond the road into the bigger story of what it means to be an American in the rural South both now and decades before this moment. From the elderly, loving Pops, to the clairvoyant toddler, Michaela, the living and the dead confront racism, hope, and the everlasting handprint of history.”
Elliot Ackerman, Dark at the Crossing (Knopf / Penguin Random House, Lisa Ko, The Leavers (Algonquin Books / Workman Publishing), Min Jin Lee, Pachinko
(Grand Central Publishing / Hachette Book Group), Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties: Stories (Graywolf Press)
Dagger Awards (for Crime Writing).
Gold Dagger: The Dry by Jane Harper, Steel Dagger Spook Street by Mick Herron, New Blood Dagger Tell Oaks by Chris Whitaker, Historical Dagger A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee, International, The Dying Detective by Leif G W Persson Trs Neil Smith, Short Story The Trials of Margaret by L C Tyler, Debut Dagger Sherry Rankin Strange Fire
Extinctions by Josephine Wilson, described by judges as: “”compassionate and unapologetically intelligent … a meditation on survival: on what people carry, on how they cope, and on why they might, after so much putting their head in the sand, come to a decision to engage, and even change.”
Finalists: An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire, The Last Days of Ava Langdon by Mark Flynn, Their Brilliant Careers by Ryan O’Neill and Waiting by Philip Salom.
The winner of the UK’s prestigious Costa award will be announced on January 2, 2018.
Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada translated by Susan Bernofsky about three
generations of writers and entertainers who just happen to be polar bears. It was described by the judges as “unusual, funny and sad at the same time, and yet, very political.”
Finalists: Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg, translated from Polish by Eliza Marciniak (Portobello), Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada, translated from German by Susan Bernofsky, Second-hand Time by Svetlana Alexievich translated by Bela Sheyavich (Fitzcarraldo Editions), Swallow Summer by Larissa Boehning, translated from German by Lyn Marven (Comma Press), Clementine Loves Red by Krystyna Boglar, translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones and Zosia Krasodomska-Jones (Pushkin Children’s Books) and The Coast Road by Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh, translated from Irish by a host of translators (The Gallery Press).
Power by Naomi Alderman set in a dystopian future where the balance between men and women has been fundamentally altered. Tessa Ross, 2017 Chair of Judges, said: “The judges and I were thrilled to make this decision. We debated this wonderful shortlist for many hours but kept returning to Naomi Alderman’s brilliantly imagined dystopia – her big ideas and her fantastic imagination.”
Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀̀
The Power Naomi Alderman
The Dark Circle by Linda Grant
The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan
First Love by Gwendoline Riley
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
The finalists for the 2017 PEN award will be announced on January 18, 2018 and the winner announced on February 27.