The IMPAC Award shortlist was announced today. The IMPAC sets itself apart with its unique approach. Its massive longlist is compiled by libraries all over the world before being whittled down by judges. This makes for a more egalitarian selection. It’s also got a long lead time. Books up for the current prize (to be named June 6th) were mostly published in 2012, putting the IMPAC more than a year behind other big literary awards. There’s a distinct upside in this. By now, nearly all the shortlisted books are available in paperback in the U.S. The IMPAC also tends to be interesting for the breadth of books it considers.
This year’s shortlist is remarkable because half of its titles are works in translation.
Caesarion by Tommy Wieringa
Pure by Andrew Miller: In 1785, a young man sits in a cold anteroom in the decrepit and nearly empty palace of Versailles. He was born in a mining town, received an education, and is now an engineer who believes in Voltaire, science, and the virtue of civic works. His fondest hope is to receive a commission to build a bridge. Instead, he is charged with removing the remains from a putrefying Paris cemetery. He is naive. He befriends revolutionary agitators. They appropriate his work as an emblem of the French Revolution — the removal of corruption — and our engineer lives through a time when rationality slides into the madness that will bring on the Terror. There are some missteps in the story. The ways in which the engineer himself succumbs to madness, and recovers, may be too obviously drawn. No book is perfect; but this one comes close for this reader. The writing is exquisite yet (deceptively) simple. The scenes progress cinematically. The narrative pacing draws you along without resorting to tricks. It is the sort of book that makes you want to clear your day of obligations, sit down to read in the morning, break only for lunch and dinner, and come to the final page by sundown.
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