Predicting The Man Booker 2013 Book Prize Winner

manbooker betting oddsSix novels compete for the Man Booker 2013 book prize, one of the world’s most prestigious literary prizes, to be announced on October 15th 2013. We caught up with value betting aficionado and literary enthusiast Michael Dowling for his thoughts on the betting market.

The strong favourite is Jim Crace’s historical fiction novel The Harvest available at a best priced 7/4 with Corals.

Crace’s pre-eminence in the betting is in part due to him announcing this as his last book before retirement, along with a general sense that he has previously been overlooked (he made the shortlist before in 1997, and most of his books have been viewed as reasonable contenders). The thought is that he might get the award this year as a sort of lifetime recognition award.

One problem: a lot of the reviews for Harvest have struggled to describe it as anything other than boring. Thus, the respected Philip Womack, reviewing in the UK’s Telegraph uses terms such as “slow novel”, “This is a novel tackling large themes: life, death, change and renewal. Whether it succeeds is another matter.”, “a book of frustration”, “The novel’s very tentativeness, and torpidity, militate against any such insight. It’s as if the sheen of the writing has put up a barrier. The reader is as thwarted as the novel’s powerless narrator.”.

That is hardly the review of a spectacular book. You’re not running down to the bookshop demanding to be allowed a copy to devour after reading that. It definitely doesn’t seem, at the least, in the same category as previous winners such as Life of Pi or Vernon God Little.

And the bookies aren’t actually that great at predicting the winner of the Man Booker. The favourite in Ladbrokes betting for the Man Booker has only won three of the last nine years.

Now maybe the desire to recognise a lifetime’s achievements will win out over the book itself, but judged purely as a literary prize, it seems that it’s not going to do the Man Booker much favours in terms of reputation to be telling people to go out and buy Harvest. This suggests its worth exploring the other contenders.

The remaining five books start at 4/1 odds – for Colm Toibin ‘The Testament of Mary’ with Coral; and Eleanor Catton ‘The Luminaries’ with Ladbrokes.

Colm Toibin’s latest effort looks at a religious theme and has been commonly reviewed as being an incomplete novel. ‘Doesn’t have the weight to be a legitimate Booker shortlist book’ said one reviewer, while a forum poster described it as more of an outline of a novel than a novel itself. Those comments might in part be due to the 101 page length of the book. Testament of Mary doesn’t seem to be Toibin’s best effort.

Catton’s The Luminaries, on the other hand, set in the 19th century New Zealand gold rush, has received high praise. A problem though is the size of the book. It’s monstrously huge, just the first chapter alone is 373 pages. But readers who get through the book do enjoy the read. Catton does also have links to a number of countries who can all claim the award for their country, helping the planned internationalisation of the Man Booker in future years. It is though another historical novel, and two of the last four year’s prizes have gone to historical fiction in the form of Hillary Mantel.

The remaining three contenders are Jhumpa Lahiri – The Lowland; NoViolet Bulawayo – We Need New Names; and Ruth Ozeki – A Tale for the Time Being. All are available for between 7/1 and 8/1 with Bet365.

Lahiri’s work has India as a backdrop, while Bulawayo choose Zimbabwe, and Ozeki plucks for Japan.

Lahiri’s book is well-reviewed, but there’s nothing that jumps out from the reviews that suggests a title contender. Ozeki’s work on the other hand is perplexing. It receives the highest reviews on Goodreads (4.06/5.00) amongst all the shortlist and is also the most-reviewed with 4,860 ratings. A similar picture emerges when looking at Amazon ratings. People genuinely enjoy reading A Tale for the Time Being, yet critics have written it off perhaps through viewing the storyline as a bit too contrived and heavily pushing a ‘zen’ concept (Ozeki is a zen buddist priest). Man Booker has shown itself to be populist in the past though.

That leaves us with NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names. Many of the reviews of this Zimbabwe-set novel describe it as slightly clumsy in its treatment of Zimbabwe (NoViolet has been based in the US since moving there at the age of 18 in 2000). The 978 Goodreads.com ratings give the novel just a 3.70/5.00 rating (down near the lowly ranked Crace at a 3.61 rating).

Speaking in the novel’s favour though are these comments from Philip Hensher, who has an excellent track record of predicting the Man Booker, and who says about the award that the awarding panel ‘prefers a moderately able tackling of a big theme over an exquisitely polished and insightful domestic study’. NoViolet brings with her the first African woman’s treatment of life in Africa – that’s a big theme for an award that is trying to be more international. The African theme is also highly popular at the moment as the West seeks to read more about the daily way of life on the forgotten continent. There is also the small matter that the book cover is by far the most appealing among the shortlist (judging a book by its …).

To summarise before getting on to the betting recommendation. Crace can only get the award as a lifetime achievement and at the risk of damaging the Man Booker reputation through encouraging people to read a boring book. Toibin is viewed as an incomplete book. Catton is excellently reviewed, but will the award go to another historical novel? Lahiri seems like an excellent book, but hasn’t been sufficiently noticed. That leaves the two outliers in the betting of Ozeki and NoViolet, both slightly flawed but interesting reads and a populist appeal.

My bets are on the best novel and the best theme. The main bet is Elizabeth Catton’s The Luminaries at 4/1, as being the best novel. A smaller bet on NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names at 7/1 as the best theme.

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