The Man Booker Prize 2014 shortlist is out. Although it won’t have been chosen with this in mind, the list is a thing of perfect balance. As they sat in their last meeting the judges will have been too busy winnowing the longlisted books and arguing the case for dismissal or inclusion to have noticed what was shaping up in front of them. The realisation will have come only when they breathed out after the wrangling and found they had picked a shortlist that contains not just two women and four men but an ecumenical national representation too – three Brits (one Indian-born), two Americans and one Australian. The books’ themes show the same even-handedness: there is the future (Howard Jacobson’s J) and the past (Richard Flangan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North); the formally traditional (Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others) and the experimental (Ali Smith’s How to be Both); the modern technological (Joshua Ferris’ To Rise Again at a Decent Hour) and the imaginative twist (Karen Joy Fowler’s We are All Completely Beside Ourselves). There are even five different imprints represented on the list. The judges, clearly, are natural democrats and meritocrats.