Lawyers & the Booker Prize

Since the Booker prize, awarded to the best novel of the year, was launched in 1969, it has been fascinating to see which novels get nominated. Not only is the prize prestigious but the winner receives the substantial sum of £50,000 (just shy of $85,000), shortlisted authors receive £2,500 (about $4250).

Every year around this date the longlist of twelve or thirteen novels is announced; on September 10 the semifinalist shortlist will be announced and on October 15 the winner will be announced.

For the first time this year the rules have expanded to include not only books published in England or Commonwealth countries but also books published anywhere in the world so long as they are written in English. This year’s longlist includes four novels by American authors, six by British authors, two Irish writers and one Australian.

One of the books in this year’s longlist, The Dog was written by an Irish lawyer, Joseph O’Neill. It follows the fortunes of a New York lawyer who relocates to Dubai to oversee a family fortune. O’Neill is the author of two other books one of which, Netherland, was also longlisted for the Booker prize in 2008. A 2009 New York Times Magazine interview with President Obama, Netherland received substantial literary notoriety when the President noted in passing that instead of reading briefing books in the evenings he was reading Netherland.

The Dog, joins a number of other Booker Prize books with a legal angle. Here are a few titles from recent Booker selections for your consideration.

The conceit of Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending (shortlisted in 2011) centers on the receipt of a lawyer’s letter which causes the book’s protagonist to review his early memories.

Two books by Tan Twan Eng, a Malaysian by birth and a law graduate of the University of London who formerly practiced intellectual property law, were listed for the Booker prize. In 2007 The Gift of Rain was longlisted and The Garden of Evening Mists was shortlisted in 2012. Of his education as a lawyer Eng says in an interview in The Spectator: “It trained me to evaluate every word I use, to appreciate the nuances of language. A lawyer has to see all sides of the issues, and so must a writer. My characters are morally ambiguous and complex because life isn’t clear-cut black and white. It’s more interesting – and challenging – to write about such characters.”

In A.D. Miller’s Snowdrops, a 2011 longlisted title, a British lawyer in wild post-communist Moscow brokers a deal to exchange a city apartment for a country home only to find himself on the road to moral darkness.

Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (winner in 2009) and Bringing Up the Bodies (winner in 2012) look at the dissolution of Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon and later marriage to Anne Boleyn through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell a lawyer serving as chief Minister in Henry’s court.

 Carl Yirka

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