The award is administered by Dublin City Public Libraries, and books are nominated by public libraries worldwide. Of the 154 books nominated for the 2013 award, 43 were American, 22 British or Irish, and 12 Canadian, while 42 were translated from 19 other languages. The long-list has been whittled down to ten titles.
Kevin Barry is the sole Irish writer on the list. Barry is nominated for City of Bohane, which the New York Times said was “an extraordinary first novel, and full of marvels”. City of Bohane is set in a mythical Irish town 40 years hence, where ganglords squabble over turf and the proceeds of crime. Barry is also the author of the short-story collections, There Are Little Kingdoms and Dark Lies the Island.
In 2012, Barry won both the Authors’ Club Award for ‘first novel’, for City of Bohane, and the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award for ‘Beer Trip to Llandudno’.
The French author, Michel Houllebecq, has lived in Ireland, but now lives in Spain. Best known for his controversial novel, Atomised, which won the IMPAC in 2002, he is short-listed, this year, for The Map and the Territory. The Map and the Territory, or La carte et le territoire, won the prestigious Prix Goncourt in 2010.
The novel is the story of a French artist who photographs Michelin maps and becomes rich and famous, Typifying the author’s mischief, the novel features the murder of a character named Michel Houllebecq.
UK author, Andrew Miller, has also lived in Ireland, though he now lives in Somerset. He won the IMPAC in 1999 for his first novel, Ingenius Pain. Pure is his sixth book. Set in pre-revolutionary France, it describes the efforts of an engineer, Jean-Baptiste Baratte, to clear the Les Innocents cemetery: over-crowding of bodies has polluted the countryside. Pure won the Costa Book Award for ‘best novel and book of the year’.
From the Mouth of a Whale is attributed to an Icelandic writer named Sjon (meaning ‘sight’). Sjon is Sigurjon Birgir Sigurosson, a prolific author and poet who collaborates with the singer Bjork and has guested with the Sugarcubes, as Johnny Triumph. From the Mouth of a Whale is set on Gullbjorn’s Island, a bleak outcrop of rock where the 17th century poet and healer, Jonas Palmason, recalls his life.
Swamplandia! is the first novel by American writer, Karen Russell. Set in a theme park in the Ten Thousand Islands, off the coast of Florida, it features the eccentric Bigtree family of alligator wrestlers. The Bigtrees must adapt to the changes of the modern world and the establishment of a rival World of Darkness theme park on the mainland.
Arthur Philips’ The Tragedy of Arthur is ingenious. It includes what purports to be a previously unpublished play by William Shakespeare. This is bequeathed to its novelist hero, Arthur, and his twin sister, by their con-artist father.
As Arthur struggles to establish whether or not the work is real, he finds strange and intriguing parallels between his own life and that of the king in Shakespeare’s alleged masterpiece.
Caesarion is the fourth novel by the Dutch writer, Tommy Wieringa. It concerns a budding concert pianist, Ludwig Unger, who lives in East Anglia with his mother, a former porn star. On her death, he searches for his celebrity-artist father in the jungles of Panama.
To describe Caesarion as a coming-of-age novel would not do justice to its inventiveness or its charm.
1Q84: The Complete Trilogy, by Haruki Murakami, weighs in a hefty 1,318 pages. Murakami is the Japanese writer whose previous credits include Norwegian Wood and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle. 1Q84 is set in Japan in an alternative version of the year 1984, and opens with its heroine, Aomane, catching a taxi. Aomane is a professional assassin. As the novel unfolds — it is told from Aomane’s point of view, as well as that of two other characters — she escapes back to a world that bears more resemblance to reality.
Julie Otsuka is an American author of Japanese descent. She is nominated for her second novel, The Buddha in the Attic, which takes as its subject the arrival in California of ‘picture brides’ from Japan. Told in the first-person plural, the novel describes their initial assimilation as they marry and have children, and then the effect on the Japanese community of the aftermath of Pearl Harbour, when entire families were taken from their homes and interned as undesirable aliens.
Kjersti A Skomsvold is a Norwegian author nominated for her debut novel, The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am, which chronicles the efforts of an introvert, Mathea Martinsen, to make her mark on the world — however modestly — after her husband dies. To this end, she goes out in her wedding-dress and buries a time capsule, but remains ‘invisible’ to her neighbours. Skomsvold’s novel is modest in size, just 140 pages or so, but it has won superlative reviews for what one critic has described as its ‘feelgood gloominess’.
The 2013 IMPAC will be judged by a panel, chaired by Eugene R Sullivan, that includes the Irish novelist, Pat McCabe, Salim Bachi, Krista Kaer, Kamila Shamsle and Clive Sinclair.
The winner will be announced in June. He or she will join a roll of honour that includes David Malouf, Nicola Barker and Colm Toibin; the last winner was Jon McGregor, who was awarded the IMPAC in 2012 for Even the Dogs.