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Longlist for Literature's Richest Prize Announced
Wednesday November 23, 2005
The IMPAC longlist has been announced and, once again, it's huge - in every. The 132-strong list reads like an alphabetti of authors, from Chris Abani to Carlos Ruiz Zafon, and a the full gamut of genres are represented. There's chick lit in the form of Cecilia Ahern's PS I Love You, a thriller from Ken Follett, crime fiction courtesy of Walter Mosley, and masses of literary fiction, too. Books in translation make up 31 of the titles, with 15 languages covered - not altogether surprising given that the nominations for the longlist come from a staggering 180 libraries from 124 cities in 43 countries. And with a purse of €100,000, the International IMPAC Dublin literary award, to give it its full name, is also one of the world's richest prizes. It truly is a monster.
Predicting which novels will make it on to the whittled-down shortlist of around 10 books is a tricky business, as the number of nominations each book receives from the participating libraries is not necessarily taken into account by the judges. However, Alan Hollinghurst's Booker winning tale of homosexuality and Thatcherism, The Line of Beauty, which was appreciated by libraries in Scotland, Switzerland, Slovenia and the Czech Republic, may be a frontrunner, while Andrea Levy's Small Island, which scooped the 2004 Orange prize and Whitbread book of the year, must also be in the running.
Looking further afield, French novels have a good showing on the longlist, including Frédéric Beigbeder's 9/11 novel Windows on the World and Jean Echenoz's comedy Piano, and a quota of American big-hitters (Tom Wolfe, Anne Tyler, Joyce Carol Oates) are present and correct.
Books set in Asia feature strongly this year, from Amitav Ghosh's The Hungry Tide, a tale of adventure and love set in the tiny islands of the Bay of Bengal, to War Trash by Ha Jin, set during the Korean war, and Xiaolu Guo's study of disaffected youth in modern Beijing, Village of Stone. There are also three books by writers from Sri Lanka - all nominated by Colombo Public Library, Sri Lanka - while Vyvyane Loh's Breaking the Tongue tackles the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in world war two.
The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany may be the strongest offering from the Middle East. An ambitious political melodrama set in Cairo, it has been the world's best selling novel in the Arabic language since its publication in 2002.
Orhan Pamuk, a previous winner of the prize is back on the list with Snow, his study of an exiled poet who returns to Turkey, while his compatriot Moris Farhi gets a mention for his erotic tale of a group of teenage friends set against the backdrop of Nazism in wartime Turkey.
Part of the fun of the list is finding out where UK writers have their fans abroad. Alexander McCall Smith gets a nomination not from Scotland but from South Africa, and they dig Jeanette Winterson and Toby Litt in Belgium, AL Kennedy in Switzerland and Ruth Rendell in Russia. The breadth of appeal of some books is also remarkable. Carlos Ruiz Zafon's bestseller The Shadow of the Wind, which is translated from the Spanish is appreciated from Northern Ireland to New Zealand.
Aside from its remarkable diversity and large coffers, the IMPAC also stands out from the crowd for its long lead-time. Books first published in English between January and December 2004, or first published in a language other than English between January 2000 and December 2004, are eligible for consideration.
This means that books which have already done the round of literary prizes (such as David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell) have a final chance to pick up a gong, while books which may have drifted from public consciousness (Muriel Spark's The Finishing School, Jonathan Coe's The Closed Circle) are granted a second wave of publicity.
The shortlist and the winner are chosen by an international panel of judges. This year's panel includes the writers Percival Everett and Andrew O'Hagen and poets Mary O'Donnell and Paolo Ruffilli. The chair of judges is Eugene Sullivan, a former US court of appeals chief judge.
The shorlist will be announced on April 5 next year, and the winner on June 14. Last year's winner was The Known World by Edward P Jones; previous winners include Orhan Pamuk (My Name is Red), Tahar Ben Jelloun (This Blinding Absence of Life) and Michel Houellebecq (Atomised).
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