Summer can be a painful time of waiting, with little to do but frolic in the sun, drink things with umbrellas in and burn meat outdoors, all while awaiting the onset of Autumn and the longed-for unveiling of the Booker Prize shortlist. Sorry, the Man Booker Prize – it's been sponsored by an entire gender as a reaction against the rampant sexism of the Orange Prize for Fiction. Actually, I just checked that one, and actually it's now the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction. Presumably this means future awards will go to whichever book makes the best use of Youtube clips, iPlayer extracts, copyright infringement, pornography, and any other valid uses of broadband.
Anyway, for those who are in anguish awaiting the Booker results, I have good news: this year’s shortlist (because a whole longlist would be far too much like hard work) now consists entirely of books that don't exist (after all, it is a prize for fiction), and here they are:
The Pebbled Path Past Pontypridd
Terry Evans is a successful television producer who has not seen his father for twenty years after declaring his homosexuality. Now he is driving home to the small Welsh mining village where his father lies dying. As he travels, Terry relives his youth and the trials of a young gay man in a traditional, provincial town. A tale of family love and redemption, spanning forty turbulent years and eleven different regional accents. One chapter is written entirely in Welsh. Described by the Times as 'an honest, moving, thought-provoking tale of our times'. Decidedly dull.
An author abandons his wife and moves to a nameless city, where finds himself investigating a crime apparently committed by one of his characters. Questions the boundaries of reality and fiction, and raises issues of identity, reality, sanity and the self in a post-structuralist world. Full of unexplained symbols and events that lead towards an inexplicable and deeply unsatisfying ending, this is a journey through the disintegration of the self, as well as of any sense of narrative coherence. Described by the Independent as 'an intelligent and moving exploration of the metaphysical questions that affect all our lives.' Entirely baffling.
The Non-Commissioned Officer's Second Niece
Set in a Finnish border town during the Second World War, this is the romantic tale of two cousins and the soldiers they fall in love with as the fortunes of conflict leave their town occupied first by one army, then another. The only title that will have sold more than 200 copies before it is shortlisted, this would be found in the erotica section were it written by a less established member of the literary mainstream. Extensive descriptions of snow and legs. Described by the Telegraph as 'a moving, sensual tale of loss and the cruelties of human nature.' Frankly wanton.
A preternaturally ancient Indian woman recounts her life to her great-great-grandchildren, weaving an artful picture of colonial rule, and economic and political upheaval through the medium of fairy tale and legend. Packed full of poetic imagery, extraordinarily protracted sentences, bizarre twists of imagination and vague references to historical events that the author couldn't be bothered to research properly. So long that each copy has a carbon footprint the size of an airliner. Described by the Daily Mail as 'an insulting and moving attack on our proud British history.' Trippy.
Set in a hellish London sink estate, this is the story of Paddy, an ageing, unemployed, alcoholic ex-IRA activist, and Muhammad, a young, unemployed, gang member with a drug dependency. Battling against the wrongs of their society and their impossibly stereotypical collection of vices, the duo form an unlikely friendship, as Paddy tries to keep Muhammad from the temptations of fundamentalism and violence, and Muhammad tries to save Paddy from drink, depression and crippling Catholic guilt. Described by the Guardian as 'a moving and inspiring tale of the questions society refuses to answer.' Impressively patronising.
A meticulously researched historical novel of British society in the early years of the twentieth century, as seen through the eyes of Caroline, a penniless spinster from a once-noble family. Trying to reconcile her privileged youth with her wasted life, Caroline becomes involved in the suffragette movement, and dedicates her fading years to overthrowing the Victorian moral values that led to her repressed and wretched life, while in the background fall the shadows of Europe's encroaching war. Described by the TLS as 'a moving portrait of fading beauty and lost time'. Hideously depressing.
PS: I do love the Booker really, but come on - is anyone still turned on by emotional difficulties in rural villages? Yes, the prize generally goes to something pretty snazzy, but sometimes it does all get a bit silly. I’d love to have my own go at selecting a few things that I reckon deserve recognition, but I’m rubbish at knowing what came out when, and at being up-to-date with my reading, so I have no idea what’s actually in the running, aside from the obvious ones (Mitchell, who's overdue a victory, Amis, McEwan).