Entertainment & Arts

Man Booker Prize 2014: At a glance

Booker authors Image copyright Man Booker
Image caption Man Booker authors: (clockwise from top left) Joshua Ferris, Richard Flanagan, Neel Mukherjee, Ali Smith, Howard Jacobson, Karen Joy Fowler

This year's Man Booker Prize includes writers from Britain, the United States and Australia. It is the first year that the prize is open to all authors writing in English, regardless of nationality.

"It is a strong, thought-provoking shortlist which we believe demonstrates the wonderful depth and range of contemporary fiction in English," said AC Grayling, chair of judges.

Here is a brief guide to the six books, and their authors.

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

By Joshua Ferris

Image copyright Viking

Published by Viking

About the book: Paul O'Rourke, a successful New York dentist, wants more out of life, and is puzzled when someone sets up an online Facebook and Twitter account in his name.

About the author: Joshua Ferris was born in Illinois in November 1974. His previous novels are Then We Came to the End and The Unnamed. In 2010, he was selected for The New Yorker's 20 Under 40 list of fiction writers.

The judges said: "It was a book that made the judges laugh out loud. It has a mordant overbite of wit and a black tongue of satire directed at our social media-mediated modernity."

The reviews said: "To Rise Again at a Decent Hour at times struggles to bear the weight of its conceit... but at its best it is enormously impressive: profoundly and humanely engaged with the mysteries of belief and disbelief, linguistically agile and wrong footing, and dismayingly funny in the way that only really serious books can be." Alex Clark, The Guardian

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

By Richard Flanagan

Image copyright Chatto and Windus

Published by Chatto & Windus

About the book: Taking its title from a book by the haiku poet Basho, Flanagan's novel is a love story set against the construction of the Thailand-Burma Death Railway in World War Two. In a Japanese POW camp, surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle's young wife two years earlier.

About the author: Richard Flanagan was born in Tasmania in 1961. His previous novels include Death of a River Guide, The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Gould's Book of Fish, The Unknown Terrorist and Wanting. His father, a survivor of the Burma Death Railway, died the day Flanagan finished The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

The judges said: "An extraordinary examination of the motivation of people who are caught up in a war and the acts of extreme cruelty they can be driven to... it's a highly readable page-turning novel, but complex in its narration. It's sophisticated in structure and we think it is a fairly profound book about the nature of being Australian."

The reviews said: "Flanagan's writing courses like a river, sometimes black with mud, sludge and corpses, sometimes bright with moonlight. Danger is omnipresent, even after combat recedes; nature careless and monumental in its rains, its bushfires. The hallucinations caused by privation, be it physical hunger or erotic yearning, are unapologetically evoked. The stories of these casualties of fate catch at the soul." Catherine Taylor, The Telegraph

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

By Karen Joy Fowler

Image copyright Serpent's Tail

Published by Serpent's Tail

About the book: Narrated by Rosemary while at college, the book tells the story of her family and in particular her unique "sister", Fern, who is no longer in her life.

About the author: Karen Joy Fowler is the author of six novels including The Jane Austen Book Club. Born in Indiana in 1950, her other novels include Sister Noon and Sarah Canary. Her short story collection Black Glass won the World Fantasy Award in 1999, while her collection What I Didn't See won the same award in 2011.

The judges said: "A book that bears re-reading despite its twist. It seems to be quite a simple book, narrated clearly and plainly, but it's a deeply sophisticated book not only about families but also about stories and the nature of storytelling."

The reviews said: "What does it mean to be human, she asks, and what does it mean to be humane? Although there's little doubt where her sympathies lie, Fowler manages to subsume any polemical motive within an unsettling, emotionally complex story that plumbs the mystery of our strange relationship with the animal kingdom — relatives included." Ron Charles, Washington Post

J

By Howard Jacobson

Image copyright Jonathan Cape

Published by Jonathan Cape

About the book: A satire set in a Britain of the future after a catastrophe referred to as What Happened, If It Happened.

About the author: Howard Jacobson is in the running to be the first British man to win twice. Born in Manchester in 1942, his books include: The Mighty Waltzer, Kalooki Nights, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and The Finkler Question, which won him the Booker in 2010.

The judges said: "It's a novel about things that may or may not have happened, with historical echoes of tragedies going back through time... it says things which are not really said in polite discourse in this country."

The reviews said: "A provocative dystopian fantasy to stack next to Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, J has the kind of nightmarish twist which makes you want to turn back to page one immediately and read the whole thing again.

"On a first reading, much of the novel is perplexing, slow, and perversely humourless, given that its author is a revered humorist. However once you know the story's secret, it takes on an electrifying power and when you get close to the end, it's all worth it." Nicholas Barber, The Express

The Lives of Others

By Neel Mukherjee

Image copyright Chatto and Windus

Published by Chatto & Windus

About the book: A sweeping account of life in 1960s Calcutta which focuses on the secrets and rivalries within the Ghosh family.

About the author: Neel Mukherjee was born in Calcutta in 1970. His first novel, A Life Apart (2010), won the Writers' Guild of Great Britain Award for best fiction, and was shortlisted for the inaugural DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.

The judges said: "A rich, multi-layered, fascinating novel which explores the relationships within the family against the background of a tumultuous political scene in that part of India."

The reviews said: "One of Mukherjee's great gifts is precisely his capacity to imagine the lives of others. He can move from inside one head to inside another in a conversation or conflict and take the reader with him. He isn't really an omniscient narrator, there is no authorial voice - just an imagination that is more than adequate to its task." AS Byatt, The Guardian

How to be Both

By Ali Smith

Published by Hamish Hamilton

Image copyright Hamish Hamilton

About the book: The two-part novel focuses on two lives: a teenage girl in the present day wrestling with grief and a renaissance artist in the 1460s. The book comes in two versions, with the same cover but with the main parts switched. It doesn't matter which part is read first.

About the author: Ali Smith has been shortlisted twice before, with The Accidental (2005) and Hotel World (2001). Born in Inverness in 1962, her first novel, Like, was published in 1997.

The judges said: "It is about starting over, the consolations of art, the exhilaration of imagination, the joy of breaking down barriers between different people and different historical eras - and even different books."

The reviews said: "There is no doubt that Smith is dazzling in her daring. The sheer inventive power of her new novel pulls you through, gasping, to the final page." Elizabeth Day, The Observer

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