To be honest, my favourite novel will not be announced the winner by the #manbookerprize jury. They did not put it on the short list. After having finished the entire short list (which turns out to be a feat in itself) I am even more convinced that Marilynne Robinson’s Lila is the best novel on the long list. Lila is beautifully written and conveys that a childhood of abuse, violence and fear can be extremely hard on a person. By introducing positive elements in Lila’s life as a wife and mother, Robinson subtly brings home that Lila’s life has been bleak and hard. The balance between good and bad is well-worked out.
Unfortunately the jury selected a number of novels that totally lack subtlety and balance. It is as if the jury wanted to hammer into the readers that violence and aggression are a lasting part of our lives. Apart from this overdose of violence I have another problem with three of the novels. They focus too much on the message and do not use all those literary tools that – in the hands of those gifted authors – could have given the novels real literary quality. Seven Killings has the subtlety of a violent game, the novel bludgeons the reader into submission. In A Little Life a succession of atrocities made me want to stop reading again and again. It was just too much. In The Fishermen four young brothers face a hopeless situation which grows worse and worse. The Year of the Runaways also is a succession of violence, hatred and abuse that make you feel desolate. A Spool of Blue Thread and Satin Island are the only short list novels you can read without exclaiming ‘it just cannot go on like this!’.
And yet, my favourite is not A Spool or Satin Island. They are amusing but do not even come close to the quality of previous winners. My favourite is The Year of the Runaways which, despite of its violence and cruelty, also provides the reader with mercy and generosity in the person of Narindar, the paper bride. By sacrificing her own future in order to give a young boy a chance on a better life she turns The Year into a novel in which hope prevails. The Year is a bleak novel, one in which Sunjeev Sahota manages to deliver his message by expertly combining violence and mercy. Sahato delivers the subtlety and balance I was craving so much in the others.
I realize that my choice is not a whole hearted one, it is unfortunately all I can manage in this bleak #manbookerprize year. Having read four violent and aggressive novels I can only hope that next year the jury will have grown out of its depression.