This year’s Man Booker Prize longlist included some surprises. Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina was the first ever graphic novel to be nominated, for one, but the other shocker was Snap by Belinda Bauer. As Johanna Thomas-Corr writes in The Newstatesman, “it’s the sort of commercial fiction that tends to outsell the rest of the longlist put together but which Man Booker judges are supposedly too snotty and set in their literary ways to consider.”
Reviews of Snap have been mixed. Some say this intricately plotted suspense novel has transformed the crime fiction genre; others say it’s nothing special and the Booker nod is just a way of playing to the crowd. I found it interesting that this choice occurred the same year that the Academy of Motion Pictures publically contemplated the creation of a new award category that would recognize popular firms. This too was met with a lot of blowback. In their quest to be relevant to a greater number of consumers, they seemed to anger their so-called “high-brow” core audience. It is the popular books and movies that make the big bucks and isn’t that recognition enough?
Snap stars Detective John Marvel, a character who has appeared in other books by Bauer. It also follows 11-year-old Jack, who is left in charge of his two younger siblings when their car breaks down along a highway. His pregnant mother goes in search of help but never returns. She is later found murdered. Three years later, their father, unable to cope with violent death of his wife, abandons the family. Jack, now 14, once again takes charge, turning to petty crime to support his siblings. Meanwhile, another pregnant woman wakes up to find a jagged knife next to the note, "I could have killed you." We soon find that the weapon may have been used to kill Jack's mother. Yes, it is as dark, complicated and multilayered as it sounds. Readers of Sophie Hannah, Nicci French and Ruth Rendell should definitely give it a try! But is it award-worthy?
Well, Snap didn’t actually make the shortlist when it was announced on September 18th. It was cut from the final round in favor of the Booker prizes’ traditional fare, like Washington Black by Canadian literary writer Esi Edugyan and The Overstory by Richard Powers. No harm, no foul!
Personally, I think that it is fine to include a genre title or two in awards lists -- it makes them more interesting and varied. The important thing is that the title in question is a quality representation of the genre. It must be well-written and character-driven, rather than simply plot-focused, and it needs to bring something novel to the table. I haven’t read Snap, but as far as I can tell it has all of these qualities. Just because a novel follows some genre conventions and the author isn’t well-connected in “serious” literary circles, doesn’t mean that the book is low-quality. After all, books can be both genre fiction and literary fiction (see Corman McCarthy’s westerns and Margaret Atwood’s sci-fi novels)! Does Snap fall into this unique category of genre-literary mash up? Read it and decide for yourself!
This article originally appeared in the October edition of Cover to Cover in The Napanee Guide.