Criteria: Books are nominated for the Award by invited public libraries in cities throughout the world. Titles are nominated on the basis of ‘high literary merit’ as determined by the nominating library. Each nominating library can select up to three English-published novels for the award.
Each year a panel of distinguished international judges is put in place under a non-voting chair. They have the task of considering each book from the longlist and narrowing it down to a shortlist of up to 10 titles. They must then enter deliberations to come up with the final winner by June of each year.
International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award Shortlist:
Predictions: My bets are being placed on either 1Q84 or perhaps Pure if the committee were more inclined to offer Andrew Miller a second accolade. However I think Murakami deserves it. KL is going for Swamplandia! based on its previous success and narrative.
I think you could be forgiven, just, if you were not familiar with the IMPAC’s place among prestigious literary awards. It would be unforgivable, however, to disregard it entirely. Unlike many others, the award is not flashy nor is it arrogant. For example the website is simple, ergonomically dynamic and actually interesting to explore. It has been designed with the reader in mind, a concept somewhat satisfying to find in this nonchalant literary age. Its mouthful of adjectives describe it well: the IMPAC is an international prize, but it is also perhaps more importantly a Dublin prize. It showcases global literature whilst bearing in mind the rich literary history of Dublin itself – the website names the city as the ‘home of literature’.
The prize is one of the world’s biggest awards both in reputation and monetary prize. A cool $100,000 is bestowed on the winner and translator, if there is one. The prize was established in 1994, to rectify Dublin’s lack of a counterpart literary award to match its history. The award’s Civic Charter stated that the prize ‘would attract national and international interest’. A grand, slightly vague notion, but one that has surely been fulfilled. Nowadays the award’s tagline has been to represent ‘fiction at its finest’, again, whatever that means.
Due to a unique selection process, the award is regularly eccentric and variable. (Where else would you find a music journalist up against a Nobel winning Chinese émigré and a British Conservative politician?) Each nominees are put forward by public libraries themselves, in what truly is an international effort – over 400 libraries from 177 countries worldwide were invited to nominate for next year’s award. That is a lot of librarians.
Which brings me onto a logistical point – no doubt it is extremely difficult to coordinate such a global event. Indeed, that must explain why the award runs a little late, with each year’s award given to a book published two years previously. Many of the listed novels are not books you are likely to see on other current literary awards. This is not so much a negative as it is a whole new way of looking at the award. By the time the short and longlist are drawn, the literary community has already decided, in some way, on the book’s staying power. All the hype and initial excitement has been given enough time to subside – or indeed carry on further. More beneficially it means that there is more time for the nominated books to be in circulation, to be read by readers.
IMPAC are also surprisingly open about their award process. Amongst all the information offered I found myself getting quite lost reading all the nominations broken down by library, in what is a fascinating insight. And though knowing that Cape Town Central Library nominated 1Q84 this year will not help me pass my exams, nor win any pub-quizzes, it does offer context that I am glad the organisation has decided to share. Did you know The Free Library of Philadelphia (this one is for you KL) nominated The Art of Fielding, as did Pittsburgh and Portland? Biblioteca Nazionale di Napoli preferred Palahniuk, whilst Greece much preferred Eugenides, Barnes and Hollinghurst. The National Library Service of Bridgetown, Barbados nominated South Korean writer Kyung-Sook Shin – and you can see how this can start to become addictive.
Fundamentally the award goes back to this idea of ‘international literature’, something that the IMPAC are keen to highlight in their press article: 154 nominations from 120 cities in 44 countries; 42 titles in translation; the longlist spans 19 languages; highest number of translated authors in the award’s history; 47 debut novels. People will forgive me for not writing out the entirety of the longlist nominations but curious readers can find a berth of information on the website, including details on each novel, author details, and even librarian comments.
As I was scrolling through the list I was pleased to spot both familiar and unfamiliar novels, with the latter composing much of the list. Interestingly the most nominated book was by Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending, which oddly did not end up in the shortlist given its past celebrity. Other books that were nominated, but did not make the shorlist of ten, include The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco, The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht.
It would be too easy to say that this year looks especially difficult to judge because I imagine every year presents this difficulty. There is no question that the nominees are widely divergent, in terms of nationality and subject matter and setting. It is then worth wondering what the judges mean by ‘literary merit’, and how exactly they will come to their decisions. Winners in the past have been a little subversive in some respects. Bar the Nobel laureates, Pamuk and Müller, and a few of the more recent winners, the winning novels have been comparatively low players in the grand scheme of literature. French awards seem to be the next common ground amongst the winners, as well as American awards such as the National Book Award for Fiction, and the Pulitzer. Does this undermine the IMPAC then? Not necessarily, because inevitably the novels are supreme works of writing; you need only take a look at the shortlist to see the quality of the competition. Other writers include José Saramago, Toni Morrison and J.M. Coetzee, Atwood, Rushdie, Díaz, Roth, V.S. Naipaul etc.
As I predicted above, I believe Andrew Miller’s historical novel about a Parisian engineer stands a good chance: Pure won both 2012 Costa Prizes for Best Novel, and Book of the Year. On top of that Andrew Miller was awarded a previous IMPAC in 1999. Apart from Miller, Houllebecq is another nominee who has won it before, for his controversial yet acclaimed Atomised. Whether this puts both nominees at an advantage, or otherwise, is a mystery left to the judges… 1Q84 is another strong bet, gathering a lot of support on the website from libraries. I feel that perhaps, as his magnum opus, Murakami might cinch the deal; the book is epic and sprawling, and that alone could make Murakami’s novel worthy of attention- something that has, surprisingly, been lacking. Of course 2013 may be Murakami’s year with regards to the Nobel Prize which he is tipped to pick up, so perhaps the IMPAC might foreshadow this. Swamplandia! was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer prize as well as an Orange Prize for Fiction (now the Women’s Prize for Fiction) nominee in 2011. Cited often one of the best books in 2011 I have a feeling this has the potential to do well; it certainly seems to be the ‘popular’ vote, with the novel gaining a lot of press, readership and opinions when it was published.
However it is worth remembering that overall predictions mean little in reality: these are all fine and deserving novels and getting too bogged down into second-guessing and ‘pattern watching’ defeats the purpose of the prize.
The winner will be announced on 6th June 2013, by the patron of the award, the Lord Mayor of Dublin.
An article, via the Guardian, by Alison Flood, covering the shortlist entitled ‘Murakami and Houellebcq lead 2013 Impac award shortlist‘.