Man Booker Prize shortlist announced

No Hollinghurst; Barnes the early favourite.

At a press conference held this morning at the London headquarters of the Man Group, Stella Rimington, chair of the judges for this year's Man Booker Prize, announced the six shortlisted novels. They are:

Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape)

Carol Birch, Jamrach's Menagerie (Canongate)

Patrick deWitt, The Sisters Brothers (Granta)

Esi Edugyan, Half Blood Blues (Serpent's Tail)

Stephen Kelman, Pigeon English (Bloomsbury)

A D Miller, Snowdrops (Atlantic)

The most notable absentee from that list is, of course, Alan Hollinghurst's The Stranger's Child, tipped by many observers as a shoo-in, not just for the shortlist but for the prize itself - though it should be said that Leo Robson's review of the novel for the NS sounded a note of scepticism largely absent from the other, mostly gushing notices it received. Robson was ambivalent, too, about Julian Barnes's The Sense of an Ending (installed by the bookmakers Ladbroke's as the early favourite to win the prize, which will be awarded on 18 October), described by one of the judges, Gaby Wood, as "the most masterful thing Barnes has ever written":

Yet you don't need [Gabriel] Josipovici's allegiances and antipathies to feel enervated by Barnes's "smartness". Like [Martin] Amis, especially in The Information and The Pregnant Widow, and Craig Raine in Heartbreak, Barnes possesses not just an ironic but an almost post-novelistic sensibility. I say almost: theirs is a form of scepticism about artifice and stories - but with a strain of sentimentalism, a taste for the plaintive and dewy-eyed when it comes to sex, fading vitality and death. But knowingness predominates.

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

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How Dame Vera Lynn was told to “posh her accent up”

Radio 2’s 100th-birthday tribute reveals how Lynn was forced to change her voice.

“I remember seeing her near an elephant, and this elephant rolled over a bit and she had to get out of the way . . .” Vic Knibb, the vice-chairman of the veterans’ group the Burma Star Association, was one of the thousands of British soldiers serving in the Far East during the Second World War who came across Vera Lynn in the jungle, singing from the back of a Jeep, accompanied by an out-of-tune piano.

Speaking in Radio 2’s celebration of the singer’s 100th birthday, Vera Lynn: the Sweetheart of the United Kingdom (Sunday 19 March, 8pm), Knibb and others recalled what it meant to them that Lynn travelled so far to perform for the so-called Forgotten Army in Burma. Unlike other entertainers, who stayed in Europe or visited only military hospitals in the UK, she deliberately went where few others did – where she felt she was needed by “the boys”.

The programme, which featured a rare interview with Lynn herself, was dominated by clips of her recordings from the Thirties and Forties. We heard frequent extracts from “The White Cliffs of Dover”, “We’ll Meet Again” and “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square”. The contrast between these two voices, separated by more than six decades, was the most arresting thing this otherwise pedestrian documentary had to offer. The now gravelly-voiced centenarian sang, in her youth, with a smooth, effortless-sounding tone and crystal-clear diction. But how did the cockney daughter of a plumber from East Ham end up singing with received pronunciation?

The answer, as ever in Britain, is class. Lynn had no formal musical training, and as she had been performing in working men’s clubs from the age of seven, she was considered closer to a musical-hall crooner than a “proper” singer. But with her small vocal range and flawless self-taught technique, she chose her own songs to suit her voice. The BBC, for which she made her hugely popular radio show Sincerely Yours, requested that she take elocution lessons to “posh her accent up” and even at one point took her show off air for 18 months. “Every­body’s Sweetheart” wasn’t immune from snobbishness, it seems. 

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

This article first appeared in the 23 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump's permanent revolution