Self-interest

NS columnist is the bookies' favourite for the Man Booker Prize.

According to the latest bookmakers' odds, the New Statesman columnist Will Self is the favourite to win this year's Man Booker Prize with his novel Umbrella. The book was reviewed in the NS earlier this year by Brian Dillon. Umbrella, Dillon wrote, "is a complexly textured, conceptually forbidding thesis about the modern, its art and their discontents", with echoes of great modernists such as Joyce and Eliot, and also of Flaubert. "This being Self," Dillon went on, "there is also a great deal of humour".

Second favourite with the bookies is Hilary Mantel's historical novel about Thomas Cromwell Bring Up The Bodies, the sequel to the Booker-winning Wolf Hall, and the second novel in a projected trilogy. Bring Up the Bodies was reviewed for the NS by novelist Amanda Craig, not a fan of Wolf Hall. "What makes Bring Up the Bodies so different from its predecessor?" Craig asked. "I think it’s the emotional intelligence with which Henry, Boleyn, Crom­well and the rest are depicted as characters we can feel for, as opposed to just know about." Craig ended her review with a prediction: "Bring Up the Bodies should net its author another Booker Prize – deservedly, this time."

Mantel was profiled in a recent issue of the New Statesman by Sophie Elmhirst. Elmhirst tells a story about the night in October 2009 when Mantel won the Man Booker Prize.

“I worry about people who can’t make their voices heard . . . People like me from working-class backgrounds could sort of weasel through and I’m not sure that applies any more.” On the night of 6 October 2009, when Mantel won the Booker Prize for Wolf Hall, she sat at the Fourth Estate table with [her editor Nicholas] Pearson and, minutes before the announcement of the winner was due, she told him about a young writer she thought he should read. They were both anxious, hyper-aware that this was the career-transforming moment, that she was on the cusp of industry recognition long overdue, but she thought she would use the time and the opportunity to recommend a new author to her publisher.

The other novels on this year's Man Booker Prize shortlist are:

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy

The Lighthouse by Alison Moore

Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil (reviewed for the NS by Anita Sethi)

The winner of the prize will be announced at a ceremony tonight at the Guildhall in London. The judges are Sir Peter Stothad (chair), Amanda Foreman, Dan Stevens, Bharat Tandon and Dinah Birch.

Frontrunner: Will Self, favourite for this year's Man Booker Prize (Photo: Man Booker Prize)
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Harry Styles: What can three blank Instagram posts tell us about music promotion?

Do the One Direction star’s latest posts tell us about the future of music promotion in the social media age - or take us back to a bygone era?

Yesterday, Harry Styles posted three identical, captionless blank images to Instagram. He offered no explanation on any other social network, and left no clue via location serves or tagged accounts as to what the pictures might mean. There was nothing about any of the individual images that suggested they might have significance beyond their surface existence.

And, predictably, they brought in over a million likes – and thousands of Styles fans decoding them with the forensic dedication of the cast of Silent Witness.

Of course, the Instagrams are deliberately provocative in their vagueness. They reminded me of Robert Rauschenberg’s three-panelled White Painting (1951), or Robert Ryman’s Untitled, three square blank canvases that hang in the Pompidou Centre. The composer John Cage claimed that the significance of Rauschenberg’s White Paintings lay in their status as receptive surfaces that respond to the world around them. The significance of Styles’s Instagrams arguably, too, only gain cultural relevance as his audience engages with them.

So what did fans make of the cryptic posts? Some posited a modelling career announcement would follow, others theorised that it was a nod to a Taylor Swift song “Blank Space”, and that the former couple would soon confirm they were back together. Still more thought this suggested an oncoming solo album launch.

You can understand why a solo album launch would be on the tip of most fans’ tongues. Instagram has become a popular platform for the cryptic musical announcement — In April, Beyoncé teased Lemonade’s world premiere with a short Instagram video – keeping her face, and the significance behind the title Lemonade, hidden.

Creating a void is often seen as the ultimate way to tease fans and whet appetites. In June last year, The 1975 temporarily deleted their Instagram, a key platform in building the band’s grungy, black and white brand, in the lead up to the announcement of their second album, which involved a shift in aesthetic to pastel pinks and bright neons.

The Weekend wiped his, too, just last week – ahead of the release of his new single “Starboy”. Blank Instagrams are popular across the network. Jaden Smith has posted hundreds of them, seemingly with no wider philosophical point behind them, though he did tweet in April last year, “Instagram Is A BlackHole Of Time And Energy.”

The motive behind Harry’s blank posts perhaps seems somewhat anticlimactic – an interview with magazine Another Man, and three covers, with three different hairstyles, to go along with it. But presumably the interview coincides with the promotion of something new – hopefully, something other than his new film Dunkirk and the latest update on his beloved tresses. In fact, those blank Instagrams could lead to a surprisingly traditional form of celebrity announcement – one that surfaces to the world via the print press.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.