The acclaimed thriller Child 44‘s appearance on the ‘longlist’ of nominees for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction has upset some high-minded literary types.
Tom Rob Smith’s masterful book, set against the bleak backdrop of 1950s Russia, follows respected secret policeman Leo Demidov and his wife Raisa.
His first novel, it caused a fierce bidding war at the London Book Fair.
Child 44 follows Leo as he struggles to track down a child-murdering serial killer whilst facing the Soviet system that refuses to believe crime exists unless committed by so-called ‘deviants.’
In the poverty-stricken era of Stalin’s cruel regime, homeless drunks and homosexuals are arrested for non-existent offences while paranoid citizens are pressured into denouncing suspected criminals, including friends and family members.
Since the release of Child 44 in February, Smith has been thrust rather rapidly into the limelight of the literary world.
His nomination for the Booker, one of the most prestigious prizes in literature, has unleashed a flurry of bitching among the notoriously bitter denizens of the book world.
On the Man Booker forum Jamie Byng wrote:
“I cannot respect a judging committee that decides to pick a book like Child 44, a fairly well-written and well-paced thriller that is no more than that, over novels as exceptional as Helen Garner’s The Spare Room or Ross Raisin’s God’s Own Country.”
He adds: “I will declare my bias – as the publisher at Canongate I had a vested interest in seeing The Spare Room make the shortlist.”
Another poster, called Gobsmacked, commented:
“This is more Richard and Judy than Booker and the airport novel has finally been recognised with Child 44.”
The reference to the highly popular Richard and Judy book club, now a mainstay of their Channel 4 show, might puzzle some of the other nominees this year, among them Salman Rushdie and gay journalist Philip Hensher.
Mr Hensher won the Stonewall Award for Journalist of the Year in 2007.
Not everyone in book land is upset that Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 has been nominated.
“Is the real issue the fact that there is a thriller on the list at all?
“Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 … received impressive reviews … and has already been awarded the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger for the year’s best thriller.”
The 2008 shortlist will be announced on 9th September and the winner on 14th October at an awards ceremony at Guildhall, London.
Chair of judges, former Cabinet minister Michael Portillo, commented:
“With a notable degree of consensus, the five Man Booker judges decided on their longlist of 13 books.
“The judges are pleased with the geographical balance of the longlist with writers from Pakistan, India, Australia, Ireland and UK.
“We also are happy with the interesting mix of books, five first novels and two novels by former winners. The list covers an extraordinary variety of writing.
“Still two qualities emerge this year: large scale narrative and the striking use of humour.”
The judging panel for the 2008 Man Booker Prize for Fiction is: Michael Portillo, Alex Clark, editor of Granta; Louise Doughty, novelist; James Heneage, founder of Ottakar’s bookshops and Hardeep Singh Kohli, TV and radio broadcaster.
See the longlist here.