The Irish Book Awards shortlists – all 12 of them – were announced during my long Long Weekend sabbatical, and the Novel of the Year award was the one that first attracted my attention.
That inclination is natural, perhaps. Fiction is the most substantial section of any general-purpose bookshop, and novels are the primary focus of the fiction shelves. Also, from Booker to Costa to Orange and many, many more, novels and awards are the cosiest of bedfellows – given the proliferation of prizes these days, any novel of literary ambition without some decoration or garland is a sullen child.
So I was interested to see what lay behind the Eason Novel of the Year link. Imagine my surprise, then, when the first title that met my eyes was Astray, the collection of short stories from Emma Donoghue.
If that raised an eyebrow, the next book on the list made me do a double-take to make sure I hadn’t stumbled across a completely different page. Kevin Barry’s Dark Lies the Island is also a collection of short stories. As is Where Have You Been?, Joseph O’Connor’s book, which also makes the shortlist.
So half of the books shortlisted for the Novel of the Year category are not novels at all? While this is a compliment to the quality of short stories published by Irish writers this year, it’s surely an indictment of this particular award, which is effectively the flagship prize at the Irish Book Awards evening at the RDS on November 22nd.
I suppose it shouldn’t be wholly surprising that an award sponsored by Eason should be so manifestly misrepresentative in its categories. Although maybe Eason’s marketing gang have it all planned: three books each from two separate genres in one award.
It’s set up perfectly for a “3 for 2” one-table promo in the run-in to Christmas.
(For the sake of completion, the final three books on the shortlist for the Eason “Novel” of the Year award are Hawthorn & Child by Keith Ridgway, John Banville’s Ancient Light and The Light of Amsterdam by David Park.)