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The Booker Re-Run

In 1971 the Booker switched from being a retrospective of the previous year’s pile of letters to the cutting edge taking of the literary pulse it aspires to be. So, while the prize was still run in 1970 and 1971 – the books that were shortlisted came from 1969 and 1971.

A year was missed out.

The Booker’s archivist, Peter Straus, is resurrecting the lost prize, with a long list drawn from the best novels of 1970.

The intriguing thing about this exercise is just how packed the list is with names you actually know, rather than reading room debutantes you’d usually have to Google.

Giants like Iris Murdoch, Christy Brown, Joe Orton, Shiva Naipaul and H.E. Bates. It’s like a greatest hits list. There’s also more than a little nod in the direction of populism with Melvyn Bragg, David Lodge, Ruth Rendell and Len Deighton appearing.  Christ, Brian Aldiss is even on there.

Brian W. Aldiss. The Science Fiction author who wrote the critically acclaimed “Barefoot in the Head”.  Imagine Iain Banks getting on the list now?

This stellar list is possible because, ironically, Straus stuck to Booker rules. All the novels in this re-run competition are still in print.

A couple of thoughts bubble up. The first is, what incredible work may we have missed due to the absence of the Booker that year? Which first time novelist, in an alternate reality, parlayed the attention they received into an entire career?

Of course, we could have missed some awful dross too.

This is a Darwinian Booker list. There may have been more novels eligible for the list in 1970, but perhaps the lack of demand for them 40 years on says something about their quality. This list has been chosen by time. By survival.  And so,  for once, it’s a Booker long list that you might actually want on your bookshelf.

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