Man Booker Prize 2016
On the 25th of October the Man Booker Prize winner will be announced. I’ve read the short list and I know who I would love to win: Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien. Thien combines excellent writing with a disturbing story and characters that get to you. I was impressed by Thien’s almost objective reporting: she allows her characters room to mistake mistakes, even fatal ones. A superb novel that addresses a major theme, at the same time setting high literary standards. Regardless of whether she wins, I am certain many people will thoroughly enjoy Do Not Say We Have Nothing.
I suspect The Sellout by Paul Beatty stands a good chance as well. I was not particularly taken with his way of writing (too fast, too stand-up comedian), I do applaud his choice to turn things around, in this way showing all the wrongs of racism and discrimination. I felt that the idea to saddle the main character with a self-chosen slave was absolutely brilliant. I would not be surprised if in another 25 years this novel has become a classic, obligatory reading for youngsters of all class and race.
I liked Eileen, Hot Milk and All That Man Is, I enjoyed reading them. I do not think however that they stand out from the crowd. I did not like His Bloody Project. I found the novel too much work, it rather resembled a history book as far as I was concerned, just not to my taste. I did miss Elizabeth Strout and her Lucy Barton on the short list, I do not understand the likes of Mothering Sunday not even making it to the long list. To be honest, that would have been my choice this year. I do appreciate that the judges did not go for another another violence-ridden short list; 2015 almost did me in as far as detailed descriptions of violence were concerned.
I will keep on reading those novels that did not make it to the short list and I will certainly blog about them. I was glad both long and short list introduced me to authors who were new to me as I am always looking for new inspiration, I am thrilled this year’s novels offered me a lot of pleasure.
Man Booker Prize 2015
Combining a blog, working full time and trying to read the entire short list, turned out to be heavy duty this year. Mainly due to the excess of violence in four of the short listed novels. I was shocked that Lila by Marilynne Robinson did not make it to the short list, I was even more shocked when Marlon James was announced the 2015 winner. I struggled whilst reading his novel because of the excessive amount of violence, both in quantity and execution, and the number of personalities telling their story. I wonder whether the novel would have made any difference if James had chosen to also portray some characters that were not gang members or CIA-agents. It would have made for some variety leading to more depth, which I felt A Short History of Seven Killings lacked. In my blog I wrote down that I felt I had been bludgeoned into stupefaction by this novel. I still feel that way. For the life of me I cannot detect the fun that is being ascribed to it through all the killings and torture.
Anna Smaill || The Chimes
It could be that I did not quite get The Chimes, it could also be that the novel lacked the originality required when writing about a well-known theme: saving the world after a disaster. Though I loved the way Smaill described the London mud, I found her dystopian world and the heroes’quest not quite fulfilling enough. I’d be very surprised if The Chimes made it to the Short List.
Hanya Yanagihara || A Little Life
The saddest novel I’ve ever read. I found that all the bad things happening to main character Jude were in overload. I could have done with some leeway. Though definitely well written, I suspect that the difficult topic of child abuse will land Yanagihara into the short list not the literary merits of her novel, it might even win her the prize.
Anne Tyler || A Spool of Blue Thread
A lovely novel which I absolutely enjoyed. I liked the unexpected twist which gave it something extra. A Booker Prize winner though? I’d be surprise.
Marilynne Robinson || Lila
A beautiful novel looking back on the hardships a young woman had to endure while living on the road and the run. Having finally found happiness and some peacefulness she finds it difficult not to expect having to run again. I loved it, I can imagine it being on the short list and maybe even winning.
Man Booker Prize 2014
I managed to read the books short listed for the Man Booker Prize 2014. It was a challenge completed one day before the jury announces the winner. My personal favourite: Ali Smith with How to Be Both. I could live with Flanagan or Mukherjee winning, I’d be disappointed if the jury chooses in favour of Fowler, Ferris or Jacobson.
A short view on the novels, in order of preference.
Ali Smith || How to Be Both
How to Be Both is the main question in this beautiful poetic and demanding novel. Ali Smith has intricately woven together two stories about two people in search of answers and relief. The structure she has chosen (the main protagonist of one story is drawn to the life and / or paintings of the other) lets us meet the protagonists through their eyes. As Francesco wonders what George is doing, I got to wonder what was happening to George and why. The structure of How to Be Both is at times demanding, its language is always poetic and philosophical. Its two protagonists came alive and touched me. I was sad when I had finished reading, I could have gone on forever reading about George and Francesco. A definite contender.
Richard Flanagan || The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Impressive novel about the cruelty committed in WW2 while building the Burmese rail road. Humanity amongst the POW’s impresses, the way Flanagan shows how their lives are affected by what happened to them as well. I liked the fact that Flanagan did not hide his disgust of officers being treated better, both by Japanese and Allies.
A hefty and demanding read that rewards its readers with a beautifully family saga related to uproars in a young nation. Human weakness, colour, cruelty, unexpected kindness and strength, characters that have gotten stuck in a caste system that makes a family and a nation impotent. The Lives of Others consists of many layers that all fit together perfectly. I can definitely agree with it being on the short list.
Karen Joy Fowler || We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.
Nice read but not a winner. It made me wonder whether political correctness was a major reason to put it on the long list.
Joshua Ferris || To Rise Again at a Decent Hour
Those who love the types Woody Allen usually portrays (nervous, itchy, self-occupied, slightly nagging) will love To Rise Again at a Decent Hour. Those who dislike Allen probably wonder why they have to read pages and pages on a rather uninteresting, biased and selfish dentist. I noticed that Ferris can actually write when his main character stopped looking like Woody Allen. As far as I am concerned not the one I would have chosen for the short list let alone for a winner.
Howard Jacobson || J
Novel about a society that has chosen to avoid tension and stress after a catastrophic event. The end in which an effort is made to bring back a certain amount of tension does not convince, it is just not credible. As a reader I felt not taken seriously, it felt as if Jacobson had to meet a deadline and rushed to finished the novel.
Paul Kingsnorth || The Wake
Its use of language is poetic and magical. I was hooked by the store and kept on reading (aloud). Main character Buccmaster is hardly sympathetic, it did not matter. He told a good story. I hope The Wake makes it to the Short List.
Niall Williams || History of the Rain
The quintessence of Irish story telling and love of family and literature in one novel told by a young lady who is the perfect marriage between Emily Dickinson, Marian Keyes and Doyle’s Jimmy Rabbitte.