The first time I remember going out an buying a book because it won what was then called the Booker Prize was in 1981, when Salman Rushdie’s “Midnight’s Children”, a long, digressive novel about post-independence India, won. It was a beautifully written and rambled wonderfully but I wouldn’t have found if it hadn’t been for the prize. Sadly, it set an expectation that the prize wasn’t able to sustain.
I couldn’t bring myself to read the 1982 winner “Schindler’s Ark” (released as “Schindler’s List” in the States – yes, the one they made the movie of) because the subject matter was too stark. I skipped Coetzee’s “Life and Times of Michael K” because I’d been so lost and repelled reading his “Waiting For the Barbarians” .Ok, so he later won the Nobel Prize for Literature but I still don’t want to read him.
In 1984, I decided to try again. Unfortunately, this was the year when Ian Banks’ innovative and daring “The Wasp Factory” was passed over for Anita Brookner’s extraordinarily bloodless exploration of love amongst white middle class English people, “Hotel Du Lac”.
In 1985, Keri Hulmes “The Bone People” , a novel set in New Zealand that explored how solitude can slip into isolation, gave me hope that the Booker Prize would lead me to great writing, but when the 1986 winner was Penelope Lively’s “Moon Tiger”, a retrospective look at love and incest before and during World War II that still managed to be dull, I gave up.
Now, thirty years on, I’m taking another look, partly because I’m still hoping to be pointed at writers and don’t know and partly because the Longlist includes books I’ve already bought
The 2017 Mann Booker Prize Longlist is:
4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (US) (Faber & Faber)
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Ireland) (Faber & Faber)
I like Paul Auster’s writing but I get lost in his complexities.
This one tells the story of four different versions of Archibald Isaac Ferguson born in Newwark, New Jersey in 1947.
I’m sure it will be closely observed and clever and very human but I don’t think I can bring myself to devote thirty three hours of listening time to it.
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) is has been in my TBR pile since February. Maybe I’ll get to read it before the Mann Booker judges make their minds up.
It’s the story of an isolated fifteen year old girl, daughter of aging hippies still living in a shack and subsisting off the land, who deparately wants to belong to something normal.
I loved the title and the graphics. Now I’m hoping I didn’t buy something pointlessly arty by mistake
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (US) (Fleet)
This is one of those books I think I should read but know that I won’t because I read for pleasure and this will not be fun.
I find slavery very easy to imagine and fundamentally repugnant.
If your in the mood for an historical drama on slavery and escape and what it means to be human then this may be for you. The critics liked it and Oprah endorsed it
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK) (Hamish Hamilton). This is about two young lovers and how their flight from danger costs them their past. It explore what it means to migrate: what it gives and what it takes away.
I’m tempted by this one. I’ve been living as a (comfortable, very welcome) immigrant for more than an decade and I’d like to consider what it means. This quote is part of what calls to me:
“When we migrate, we murder from our lives those we leave behind.”
I recommend this review of the book.
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Ireland) (Canongate) This is what the publisher says:
Funny and strange, McCormack’s ambitious and other-worldly novel plays with form and defies convention. This is profound new work is by one of Ireland’s most important contemporary novelists. A beautiful and haunting elegy, this story of order and chaos, love and loss captures how minor decisions ripple into waves and test our integrity every day.
Apparently it is “a single, novel-length sentence. Perhaps I’m shallow and unadventurous but I’d take that as a warning to read something else.
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (UK) (4th Estate) is on my TBR pile. I bought the audio book version because I think it will help me focus on the long, atmospheric meditation on the loss caused to a village by the disappearance of a young girl.
Not joyful stuff but the writing style appeals to me.
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK) (JM Originals)
I haven’t been able to find out much about this one. It’s a debut novel. There’s no audiobook version yet. The blurb says:
Atmospheric and unsettling, Elmet is a lyrical commentary on contemporary society and one family’s precarious place in it, as well as an exploration of how deep the bond between father and child can go.
It could be good but I’ll wait until I can see how it’s received.
Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton). This wasn’t on my TBR pile before the Mann Booker longlist but it is now. I listened to the audiobook sample HERE and got caught up in the prose. Also, it’s set in post-brexit Britain and isn’t afraid to kick around politics and pop-art.
This is the first of four “seasonal” books, so if this flies, I have more to look forward to.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan) (Bloomsbury) sounds promising. The blurb describes it as:
a nuanced, searing, and exceedingly timely novel about love and loyalty, ideology and identity, what we choose to sacrifice for and why. With uncanny insight, Kamila Shamsie reflects our world back at us, dramatizing the complicated humanity behind the headlines.
So it could be something or nothing. Again, the clash of culture thing appeals but I’ll wait to hear more about this one
The remaining three on the list just don’t appeal to me at all.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US) (Bloomsbury) The blurb says:
“The captivating first novel by the best-selling, National Book Award nominee George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War”
It’s just too much: Lincoln, dying children. The wisdom of hindsight and probably a lot of symbolism. Too worthy for me.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton) The blurb says:
“Dazzlingly energetic and deeply human, Swing Time is a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots, about how we are shaped by these things and how we can survive them. Moving from northwest London to West Africa, it is an exuberant dance to the music of time.”
I’ve never been able to connect with Zadie Smith’s writing. I wouldn’t expect this time to be any different. Sounds like a lot of intense emotion and exploration of identities that I have no frame of reference for.
The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (India) (Hamish Hamilton)
I gave up on “The God Of Small Things” when it came out twenty years ago (and won the Booker). The description of this latest book just fills me with the anticipation of wading through page after page of dense but undisciplined text covering themes rather than people. I haven’t read it. It could be wonderful. Life’s too short for could bes to get a second chance.
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