Man Booker Prize longlist announced

For the most part, the judges have ignored the big names.

Man Booker Prize judges take a vow of secrecy upon initiation, so when I bumped in to one of this year's judges a couple of weeks ago, all he could tell me was that he and his colleagues had settled on what he was confident I'd think was a "very interesting" longlist. That longlist - the "Man Booker Dozen" - has just been announced, and very interesting it is too.

Here are the 12 books chosen by Sir Peter Stothard (chair), Dinah Birch, Amanda Foreman, Dan Stevens and Bharat Tandon.

Nicola Barker, The Yips (Fourth Estate)
Ned Beauman, The Teleportation Accident (Sceptre)
André Brink, Philida (Harvill Secker)
Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists (Myrmidon Books)
Michael Frayn, Skios (Faber & Faber)
Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Doubleday)
Deborah Levy, Swimming Home (And Other Stories)
Hilary Mantel, Bring up the Bodies (Fourth Estate)
Alison Moore, The Lighthouse (Salt)
Will Self, Umbrella (Bloomsbury)
Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis (Faber & Faber)
Sam Thompson, Communion Town (Fourth Estate)

Announcing the longlist, Peter Stothard said: “Goodness, madness and bewildering urban change are among the themes of this year’s longlist. In an extraordinary year for fiction the ‘Man Booker Dozen’ proves the grip that the novel has on our world. We did not set out to reject the old guard but, after a year of sustained critical argument by a demanding panel of judges, the new has come powering through.”

In trumpeting the judges' championing of the "new", Stothard was evidently anticipating some adverse comment about the absence from the list of those members of the "old guard" (and other big names) who have published, or are about to publish, novels this year. Among the notable absentees are Martin Amis, John Lanchester, Zadie Smith and Ian McEwan - though none of their novels, perhaps with the exception of Smith's forthcoming NW, are among the best these writers have published. In any case, it'd be a pity if everyone was talking about the books that didn't make it, rather than those that did. Click on the links above to read the NS's reviews where available. Forthcoming issues of the magazine will contain reviews of the novels by Nicola Barker and Will Self.

The shortlist will be announced on 11 September and the prize awarded at a ceremony at the Guildhall in the City of London on 16 October.

Hilary Mantel celebrates her Man Booker Prize win in 2009. Will she win again? (Getty Images)

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

Iain Cameron
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Meet Scotland's 300-year-old snow patch, the Sphinx

Snow patch watchers expect it to melt away by the weekend. 

This weekend, Scotland's most resilient snow patch, dubbed Sphinx, is expected to melt away. The news has been met with a surprising outpouring of emotion and nationwide coverage. Even The Financial Times covered the story with the headline "The end is nigh for Britain's last snow". The story has also gone international, featuring in radio reports as far away as New Zealand.

So what is it about Sphinx that has captured the public’s imagination?  Some have suggested it could be symbolic. The Sphinx represents how we all feel, helpless and doomed to a fate determined by leaders like Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. 

Regular contributors to the Facebook page “Snow Patches in Scotland”  have their own, more prosaic theories. One tells me that the British are “generally a bit obsessed with weather and climate”, while another says snow-patches are "more interesting than anything Trump/May/Boris or Vladimir have to say”.

Those more interested in patches of snow than the existential consequences of international relations could be dismissed as having seriously skewed priorities, but there's more to the story of Sphinx than lies on the surface. 

For a start it's thought to be 300 years old, covering a small square of the Cairngorms for centuries with just six brief interruptions. Last time the Sphinx disappeared was 11 years ago. Though it may melt away this weekend, it is expected to be back by winter. 

Iain Cameron, the man who set up the Facebook page "Snow Patches in Scotland" and someone who has recorded and measured snow patches since he was a young boy, says that Sphinx has shrunk to the size of a large dinner table and he expects it will have melted entirely by this Saturday.

It came close to disappearing in 2011 as well, he adds. In October of that year, Sphinx at around its current size and only a heavy snowstorm revived it.

"They tend to keep the same shape and form every year," Cameron tells me. "It might sound weird to say, but it’s like seeing an elderly relative or an old friend. You’re slightly disappointed if it’s not in as good a condition."

But why has Sphinx survived for so long? The patch of land that Sphinx lies above faces towards the North East, meaning it is sheltered from the elements by large natural formations called Corries and avoids the bulk of what sunlight northern Scotland has to offer. 

It also sits on a bid of soil rather than boulder-fields, unlike the snow patches on Britain's highest mountain Ben Nevis. Boulder-fields allow air through them, but the soil does not, meaning the Sphinx melts only from the top.

Cameron is hesistant to attribute the increased rate of Sphinx's melting to climate change. He says meterologists can decide the causes based on the data which he and his fellow anoraks (as he calls them) collect. 

That data shows that over the past 11 years since Sphinx last melted it has changed size each year, not following any discernable pattern. “There is no rhyme or reason because of the vagaries of the Scottish climate," says Cameron.

One thing that has changed is Sphinx's title is no longer quite so secure. There is another snow patch in near Ben Nevis vying for the position of the last in Scotland. Cameron says that it is 50:50 as to which one will go first.