I was quite excited to see the authors who appear on the Booker Prize Longlist. A.S. Byatt is one of my all-time favorite authors, and I recently developed an addiction to Sarah Waters, as we stock all of her novels at BookWoman. I think she's a fantastic writer and definitely deserves a place on the list.
My boss and I were discussing Waters' inclusion on the longlist, and she expressed some frustration that the first Waters book to make the list was also the first one that did not include lesbian relationships and sexuality. The Little Stranger is indeed a departure from the rest of her novels, in that lesbian love is simply not part of the plot. This is not to say that the rest of Waters' works are simply romance novels. They are all works of literary fiction, and my boss makes a point of keeping them in stock because many of our customers want to read lesbian fiction, but don't want to read generic romance. They want literary works, and they find that in Sarah Waters.
I'm not faulting Waters for writing a novel that is largely different from her previous work. The Little Stranger is a wonderful book, and of course it makes sense that she would like to branch out and try new ideas. And no matter what the book, I'm thrilled she made it to the Booker longlist. But some of her previous works are just as good as The Little Stranger - and yet they didn't have a place on the list.
Of course, I can't definitively say that her other works have been less prominent because of their lesbian themes. The publishing industry and the awards industry are both flighty and fickle, and there could be any number of reasons. That being said, it's interesting that Waters gets longlisted once she writes a book that has nothing to do with lesbianism. Certainly homophobia isn't the only thing at play here - but I wouldn't doubt it has a small presence.