Saturday, September 12, 2015

My Picks for the Man Booker Prize Shortlist

In preparation for this year's Man Booker Prize Shortlist, which will be announced Tuesday,  September 15, I have done almost nothing. To clarify - I had already read three of the novels from the longlist when it had been announced, and I have been a bit busy. In the past two weeks I've read the first 50-60 pages of a few of the titles, the Kindle previews of a few others, and carefully studied the descriptions of the two that won't even grace the American shores until 2016.This means my picks are not exactly equal, measured, or scientific. They are literary hunches! I should also say that never have I ever picked the right book to win the Booker prize. If I choose a book of empire, the Booker judges will be in the mood for an adventure novel, and vice versa. There is no predicting their whimsy. So I will select the six books I find to be the most interesting for this year's prize.

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

A difficult but realistic novel set in Jamaica, and I believe the first Jamaican novelist to be nominated for the prize. I heard an interview with him on the Man Booker Prize Podcast, where he read an excerpt of the novel. I went running to Audible, hoping for an audiobook read by the author, but unfortunately the reviews for the audio (read by non-Jamaican actors and not the author) were terrible.  I have only skimmed the start of this one so far, but I will not be surprised to see it make the shortlist.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara  

A Little Life is my pick to win the prize. This is a complex, dark novel about a person whose life doesn't necessarily get better. I had a review copy of this before it even came out and unlike most eBooks (despite the format) I couldn't put this down. I just devoured it, although I had to pace myself because of the violence and moments of hopelessness. I had read The People in the Trees by the same writer last year and it took me a long time to figure out if I loved or hated it, but hopefully some people can understand why I think that is such a good trait, something I want from my reading. I want to be challenged. I want people's lives to be more realistic than tied up with a bow. I want discomfort. Nobody does discomfort better than Yanagihara.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Yanagihara is a clear leader in this year's list, but do other Americans belong in the shortlist? If I am comparing Robinson with Tyler, for me Marilynne Robinson comes out on top. I read the first 100 pages or so of A Spool of Blue Thread and just didn't feel very interested. A co-worker did tell me that with Tyler sometimes you have to give her more time, that everything unwinds through the domestic stage. Robinson is also domestic, small fringe characters living small lives. This is the third book in a loosely grouped trilogy of sorts, starting with Gilead, then Home, and followed by Lila. While Gilead and Home are more traditional, with primary characters of ministers in small towns, Lila is about an outsider, a woman, almost a feral child, who becomes the minister's wife. I have been bowled over by small-life novels this year, Stoner by John Williams being the best example, and I think Robinson writes in a contemplative novel tradition. It is deeper than the length. Robinson is also the only author from this list that I have seen speak in person, and I imagine I feel more connected to her for that reason.

Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

My favorite from the Booker shortlist a few years back was McCarthy's novel C, so despite not yet fully reading this book, I am still including it in my short list. McCarthy is the opposite of Robinson in many ways - the future instead of the past, conceptual rather than practical, the writing less about dialogue and interaction than ideas. But every book I have read of his has taken me through an experience I could not have anticipated, and I think he is a brilliant writer. Compared also to the other novel of apocalypse and future disaster, The Chimes, this seems better executed with more intricacies. While I liked the premise of The Chimes, I wasn't sure about it as an overall novel. It may be hasty to award a place on the short list to McCarthy based on previous work, but we all know this happens. Now I'm guilty too.

The Green Road by Anne Enright

The Green Road by Anne EnrightI read and enjoyed this novel by Anne Enright, but for my tastes, her last Orange Prize nominated novel, The Forgotten Waltz, was even better.  While I found this novel to be too convenient with the topics of drama found in one family (a similar reason I am not including the Tyler on this list), the character of Rosaleen, the matriarch, redeems it. She is a memorable force.

I also feel like I need to keep Ireland on the list of nominees, and since most Irish novels seem to be about the past, I felt it was a good change to read something more current.

The Moor's Account by Laila Lalami

I only have a taste of this novel but even from reading the first few pages, I felt like I was reading a story that had not been told before. If I am going to read historical fiction, I do not want the kings and queens and presidents; I want a story that takes me into a time period in a way I haven't experienced before. The imagined memoirs of a Moroccan slave, exploring America in the early 1500s? You can't get much farther from my reading experience than that. So I'm including it as a book I haven't read anything like before.

1 comment:

  1. I'm looking forward to seeing which books make the shortlist tomorrow! It's always goes someplace I don't expect. My only hope (not a prediction) is that one of the three on the longest that I've read make the shortlist (Lila, Spool of Blue Thread, Did You Ever Have A Family) so I don't have to try and read six new books. P.S., I hope you like The Coroner's Lunch, I really enjoy Colin Cotterill's books!


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