Thursday, 27 February 2014

IFFP 2014 - Longlist Predictions

A week on Saturday, the longlist for the 2014 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize will be announced, putting my anxious wait to an end (I take literature in translation *very* seriously!).  Once again, I'll be part of an elite team of ninja reviewers, led by our esteemed leader, Chairman Stu, which will shadow the real judges, forcing them to glance nervously over their shoulders before they make any rash decisions that will bring the wrath of the Shadow Panel down on their unwary heads (note to lawyers - I'm only speaking metaphorically, I promise...).

Before those five excellent individuals announce their longlist choices to the world though, I thought it was time to put my neck on the line and give you all some ideas as to books I've already read which I'd like to think will make the cut.  If I'm right, please feel free to praise my perspicacity; if not, blame the judges (the shadowy ninja reviewers are on the case...).

First up then is Strange Weather in Tokyo (Portobello Books, translated by Alison Markin Powell), Hiromi Kawakami's delightful novel about a May-to-December romance.  I'd love to see this on the longlist, even if I do loathe the name change (from the American version entitled The Briefcase) and the tacky, cutesy cover.  An equally-good book (with a much nicer cover) is Birgit Vanderbeke's novella The Mussel Feast (Peirene Press, tr. Jamie Bulloch), a short tale of seafood and domestic rebellion which I tipped for the shortlist a whole year ago :)

Continuing the trend of female submissions (or domination, if you prefer) are two excellent books from Europa Editions.  The first, Viola Di Grado's 70% Acrylic 30% Wool (tr. Michael Reynolds),is a biting, sarcastic novel set in Leeds, where the mood is as dark as the wintry northern skies (if only the American translation didn't intrude on a very English canvas...).  The second is by a writer whose fame seems to have soared over the past year; Elena Ferrante's The Story of a New Name (tr. Ann Goldstein), the sequel to My Brilliant Friend, is a book which deserves to be around at the pointy end of the competition.  You never know - if her novel takes out the prize, the mysterious Ms. Ferrante might even be tempted to make an appearance in London...

But, you might ask, are there any books from the boys?  Where are the men?  Well, a couple of likely lads appear courtesy of MacLehose PressAndreï Makine's Brief Loves that Live Forever (tr. Geoffrey Strachan)is a beautiful little work which looks at love in a cold (and ideologically-depressing) climate, painting a picture of romance and friendship in communist-era Russia.  Still, compared to Jón Kalman Stefánsson's The Sorrow of Angels (tr. Philip Roughton), Makine's novella is positively radiant.  In the sequel to Heaven and Hell, the Icelandic writer's characters battle across a most inhospitable terrain in order to get the mail delivered on time.  Remember that the next time you whinge about your post being late ;)

Finally, there are a couple of familiar names, real IFFP heavyweights.  Karl Ove Knausgaard is back with A Man in Love (Harvill Secker, tr. Don Bartlett), the second in the six-part My Struggle cycle.  Just as detailed as the first, but much more successful, it would be a huge surprise if this didn't lift Knausi (as I like to call him) onto the longlist.  And the same is true for a certain Javier Marías and his latest book The Infatuations (Hamish Hamilton, tr. Margaret Jull Costa).  A clever tale of love, trust and deception, many have picked it to do well this year.

So there you are - eight suggestions for what should be on the list next Saturday.  It's doubtful that they'll all make it to the longlist (I'm not even sure that they're all eligible - or have even been entered...), but each of them would be a worthy contender for the prize.  Rest assured - once the list is public, I'll be letting you know my thoughts and looking briefly at any which I may already have tried.

And then, of course, it'll be time to start reading ;)