Tomorrow the jury of the Bailey’s Prize announces its winner. My favourite will not be chosen, it did not make the short list. I predict that Hanya Yanagihara will win for her much debated A Little Life. I read the novel last year and was quite adamant about it: I found the level of explicit almost extreme violence disturbing. A Little Life felt as if I had been bludgeoned into submission by the author. A critic I deeply respect stated that Yanagihara by bludgeoning me into oblivion made a parallel with main character Jude’s life: a succession of rape, beatings and abuse. I can see his point, nevertheless I still feel that Yanagihara could have gotten her message through using a more subtle method. Even a fraction of Jude’s misery would have sufficed for me to understand that he might chose death over life.
I fear that A Little Life will win not because it is the best written novel on the short list, it’ll win for being such a brave story, daring in its explicit descriptions of abuse, beatings and rape. Call me old-fashioned, faint-hearted or whatever, I prefer the more subtle approach. I do not need gallons of blood being spilt, I do not need vivid accounts of gang bangs; spare me, please. I prefer the subtle hint at abuse, incest and violence as occurring for example in My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout. Strout in this novel adds a mere two or three sentences which make it very clear that Lucy Barton in her childhood has been subjected to a harsh and violent upbringing, almost certainly including incest. These references in an almost aloof novel hit me unexpectedly, hard. They also made me pay even more attention to what Strout was telling me. I read every sentence in Lucy Barton with great attention whereas I started skipping complete phrases in A Little Life in order to avoid even more painful scenes.
If I am right and Yanagihara wins the Baileys explicit beats subtle. After having read a large number of increasingly violent novels this year, it makes me wonder whether the jury has gone along with a general demand for the explicit and the extreme. One might argue that the jury went along with a world getting used to terrorists decapitating people on the internet, to people being blown apart on an almost daily basis, to sports and games becoming more and more extreme, to levels of tolerance decreasing ever more, in offering this world a short list that caters for the explicit and the extreme. I on the other hand find that this world we live in makes me crave for novels that withhold the details whilst not sparing me the truth. I do not need to be pampered, I prefer not to be bludgeoned. I am glad that this year’s long list did contain novels that provide the subtlety I prefer. I hope for a short list that I’ll enjoy reading more in 2017. You might have guessed by now that I would have chosen My Name is Lucy Barton to be this year’s winner.