THE shortlist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award was announced today. Included are novels by an American musician, a former Israeli intelligence officer, and an Englishman who financed his early writing by washing dishes in a vegetarian restaurant.
The IMPAC award is worth €100,000, and is one of the world’s richest prizes for a work of fiction. It is annually presented for a novel in English or translated into English, from a list nominated by libraries in cities worldwide. This year, 147 books were submitted by libraries in 122 cities in 45 countries. These were whittled down to ten titles by a panel of judges, who will now decide on a winner.
The judges include the Irish novelist and short story writer, Mike McCormack; the distinguished professor of English at Hunter College, New York, Elizabeth Numez; the English author Tim Parks; the Austrian poet and novelist Evelyn Schlag; and the Amsterdam-based writer Dubravka Ugresic. The non-voting chair of the judging panel is thriller writer and former chief judge of the US Court of Appeals, Eugene R Sullivan.
Last year’s IMPAC was won by the New York-based Irish writer Colum McCann for his novel Let the Great World Spin. Irish writer Colm Toibin won in 2006 for The Master. Other notable winners include David Malouf for Remembering Babylon; Alistair MacLeo for No Great Mischief; and Michel Houellebecq for Atomised.
The best-known of this year’s contenders may be the British author Jon McGregor, whose debut novel If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things was nominated for the Booker Prize. McGregor lives in Nottingham. He studied media production at Bradford University, then worked part-time in a vegetarian eatery while writing on the side. McGregor was praised for both If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things and its successor, So Many Ways to Begin. He is nominated for the IMPAC for his third novel, Even the Dogs. The book centres on the death of an alcoholic named Robert and the characters who hung out in his flat, among them his daughter Laura and the heroin addict, Danny.
McGregor is one of four authors on this year’s shortlist who were born or grew up in Britain. Another is Tim Pears, who is nominated for his novel, Landed. Pears left school at 16 and worked menial jobs, including as a farm labourer and a nurse in a mental hospital. He lives in Oxford. Landed is his sixth novel, and is about the misadventures of Owen Wood, who lost his hand in an accident and copes with phantom pains, estrangement from his wife and children, and not being able to continue working as a gardener.
John Bauer is English, but has lived in Australia for 12 years, and is a citizen there. He has written short stories and plays, but Rocks in the Belly is his first novel. Published in Australia in 2012, it won the Indie Award for best debut novel, as voted by the country’s independent booksellers. Rocks in the Belly follows an eight-year-old boy whose mother fosters children. The mother’s fondness for one foster child, Robert, triggers jealousy and rage in her son. Later, at 28, he revisits his aging mother and cannot resist abusing the power he has over her.
Aminatta Forna, who is nominated for The Memory of Love, was born in Scotland to a Sierra Leonean father and a Scottish mother. The family moved back to Sierra Leone when she was a baby and her father worked as a physician before winning election to government. He was imprisoned for three years and hanged for treason in 1975. Forna made his life and death the subject of her first book, a memoir, The Devil that Danced on the Water. Her first novel, Ancestor Stones, won the Hurston-Wright Award for a debut work of fiction in the US and was nominated for the IMPAC in 2007. The Memory of Love has won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best Book Award 2011. The book is set in Sierra Leone, and concerns three men caught up in failed love affairs. Forna lives in London.
Of the other shortlisted authors, three are American and one Canadian. Jennifer Egan grew up in San Francisco, studied English at the University of Pennsylvania, and lives with her husband and family in Brooklyn, New York. Egan is the author of four novels and one collection of short stories. She is nominated for A Visit from the Goon Squad. The novel was published in 2010 and won both the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction that year and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2011. A Visit from the Goon Squad is loosely based around the lives of rock music executive Bennie Salazar and his former assistant Sasha, and is set in New York, California, Italy and Africa.
Karl Marlantes is nominated for his epic, Matterhorn, a novel inspired by his experiences as a marine in the Vietnam war. Marlantes studied at Yale University and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. He lives in the countryside in Washington. Matterhorn is his first novel and took him 30 years to complete. The book is centred around Waino Mellas, a young lieutenant in the jungles of Vietnam and his comrades in Bravo Company.
For many years, Willy Vlautin was best known as the frontman of the country rock outfit Richmond Fontaine. The band is still active — their latest album is We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River — but Vlautin’s career as a writer has fast-eclipsed his success as a musician. Vlautin’s first novel, The Motel Life, was published in 2007 and was quickly followed by his second, Northline. He is nominated for his third book, Lean on Pete, an account of a teenage boy who falls for the horse of the title when he goes to work as a groom with an embittered old trainer.
David Bergen is the author of six novels and one collection of short stories and is nominated for his latest book, The Matter With Morris. Bergen was shortlisted for the IMPAC in 2007, for his novel The Time In Between. Bergen was born in Port Edward in British Columbia. Raised as a Mennonite, he attended Bible college and later taught English and creative writing. The Matter With Morris is about a middle-aged man whose his son has been killed in Afghanistan and who has been put on indefinite leave from his job as a newspaper columnist. His wife, a psychiatrist, seems about to leave him, while he believes his daughter is having an affair with one of her professors.
Morris seeks solace in the writings of Plato and Socrates and in the services of an online dating agency.
The last two nominees, Cristováo Tezza and Yishai Sarid, are Brazilian and Israeli respectively. Tezza is nominated for his autobiographical novel, The Eternal Son, about the relationship between a father and his Down’s Syndrome son. The novel is translated by Alison Entrekin. Tezza’s early years saw him act in the theatre, join the merchant navy and wander through Europe for a year. He teaches Portuguese at the Federal University of Parana. The Eternal Son is his 13th novel.
Yishai Sarid is nominated for his novel, Limassol. Sarid served as an officer in the intelligence service of the Israeli army. Later, he studied law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and public administration at Harvard. He works as an attorney and journalist. Limassol is his first novel.
It was written in Hebrew and translated by Barbara Harshaw. The book is an espionage thriller, centred on a secret agent who goes undercover, posing as a writer to entrap the son of a Palestinian poet who is wanted as a terrorist leader.
The Lord Mayor of Dublin will announce the winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award at the Mansion House on Jun 13.