Man Booker Prize Shortlist 2017 Announced #ManBookerPrize

The shortlist was announced a few days ago so you may already be aware of which titles made the list below. It’s an interesting mix of established names and new and a nod towards stretching the boundaries of what a novel can be.

Of the titles I’d read from the longlist, Zadie Smith’s excellent novel Swing Time didn’t make the list and neither did Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, however Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West did.

It’s an interesting and unpredictable list, these six deemed to have met the criteria the judges required, making it through the rigorous debate that allows a diverse panel to agree on a final list. One of the judges had this to say:

“All of the six books are remarkable and mostly they are daring and I love what they do with literature. They are really trying to push the boundaries of what it means to be a novel and what the novel says about the world as it is today.”

The 2017 shortlist of six novels is:

Title Author (nationality) (imprint)

4321 by Paul Auster (US) (Faber & Faber)

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (UK-Pakistan) (Hamish Hamilton)

Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK) (JM Originals)

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US) (Bloomsbury Publishing)

Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)

For an excellent and concise reaction to the short list from one of my favourite reviews and bloggers, Eric at Lonesome Reader had this to say about the list, changing his mind about who he predicts will win and tells us about an interview with a tree!

I think the book that I’m most interested to read and that appeals most to my reading inclinations would be Ali Smith’s Autumn, though I’m intrigued by Fiona Mozley’s book Elmet, she sounds like a promising young writer, one to watch for the future.

Eric initially predicted Lincoln in the Bardo to win it, but is now thinking Autumn could well be an alternate winner. What do you think?

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James #ManBookerPrize

Brief HistoryMarlon James novel A Brief History of Seven Killings was the winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2015, a year that saw an exceptionally diverse array of novels long listed.

As a reminder, since it was nearly a year ago that this book won the prize, this was what Michael Wood, Chair of the judges, had to say about it:

‘This book is startling in its range of voices and registers, running from the patois of the street posse to The Book of Revelation. It is a representation of political times and places, from the CIA intervention in Jamaica to the early years of crack gangs in New York and Miami.

‘It is a crime novel that moves beyond the world of crime and takes us deep into a recent history we know far too little about. It moves at a terrific pace and will come to be seen as a classic of our times.’

It is a novel that was hailed as being exceptional in itself, much of it written in that Jamaican patois mentioned, via a litany of voices from the ganglands of the Jamaican ghetto.

I admit that it wasn’t exactly on my reading list, with its promise of violence, killing, drug related activities and dozens of characters, however the book was gifted to me by a visiting Professor, who had little to say about it, but was keen to know my thoughts. So I made it my #OneSummerChunkster and jumped right in, mind wide open.

It is difficult and almost seems inappropriate to rate this novel (I gave it 5 stars on Goodreads.com) in terms of appeal, as it is an incredibly written and unique work, with a huge amount of research that went into the writing and authenticity of its creation.

Marlon JamesI can’t say I loved it, it was a tough read in places and definitely not the kind of book I would normally choose nor the kind of film/TV series I would watch, but it is an awe-inspiring creation and for that I agree, it is indeed an amazing oeuvre and warrants the 5 stars, though as far as favourite books go or works I’d recommend, I hesitate and would say its not an experience I would choose to repeat often.

I was grateful for the list of characters up front, which I referred to often at the beginning of each chapter, as we are plunged straight into the multi-character narrative with its discordant musical tones, slice of life in the ghetto, the Singer (never referred to by name) not present, though always there in the greater awareness of them all. Life has little meaning and killing a mere rise above assault.

It must have been incredible to listen to the audio version as the individual character voices are so unique, it is the literary equivalent of reading a musical score for a symphony like you’ve never heard before, I am in awe that Marlon James succeeded in creating such a work, that balances so many threads of narrative, so many characters, the timeline, the Jamaican patois, the gangspeak, the violence, the framing of the story around the assassination attempt of that “Singer” who is never named, assumed to be Bob Marley. As Eileen Battersby, reviewer of The Irish Times put it so eloquently:

Reading Marlon’s prose is akin to injecting liquid fire into your brain.

It paints a dark, dangerous picture of ghetto life and the activities, interactions of drug dealers and their crews and the fear by those who are in any way touched or implicated in their actions. In a schizophrenic stream of consciousness narrative, gang members live their days in altered states of consciousness, paranoid, high, wanting to kill – in a frantic, dangerous other worldly horror.

Flicking between the narratives of CIA members, a young woman afraid of what she has witnessed, a journalist, all present leading up to the attempted shooting of the Singer. Surreal. It made me wonder at times if the author was in an altered state of consciousness while writing – it is some kind of trip!

I did have to push myself in parts to keep going, it’s brutal at times, and upon reaching halfway, I took the afternoon off to read The Rabbit House by Laura Alcoba.  But then the pace picked up again as Papa-Lo the don, and top members of a rival gang were about to be chucked into jail together in the hope they’d self destruct. James’s lulls never last and we are pulled back into the riveting storyline, following our favourites and steeling ourselves against spending time the company of those we know are going to detest.

Book of Night WomenI was left admiring the creation even if it wasn’t always a particularly enjoyable ride and as my comment made to another reader below shows, the beach was actually a great place to read it!

I feel like I’m reading a Jamaican symphony, a cacophony of words and sounds and emotions, not sure if it was the heat of the sun or the power of the book, but I had to keep putting it down to take a plunge into the cool ocean!

That said, I am intrigued and do intend to read Marlon James’s The Book of Night Women wondering how he handles a story with female characters.

Click Here to Buy A Novel by Marlon James at Book Depository!

Man Booker Prize Winner 2015

On Tuesday 13 October the Man Booker Prize for 2015 was announced.

This years winner was 44-year-old Marlon James from Jamaica (now living in Minneapolis, USA). He is the first writer from Jamaica to win the prize in its 47 year history.

His book A Brief History of Seven Killings is a fictional history, an imagined biography of the singer Bob Marley, and the events surrounding an attempted assassination in 1976. Crediting Charles Dickens as one of his former influences, here in his 686 page epic, James pulls together a band of characters:

from witnesses and FBI and CIA agents to killers, ghosts, beauty queens and Keith Richards’ drug dealer – to create a rich, polyphonic study of violence, politics and the musical legacy of Kingston of the 1970s

Michael Wood, Chair of the judges, commented:

‘This book is startling in its range of voices and registers, running from the patois of the street posse to The Book of Revelation. It is a representation of political times and places, from the CIA intervention in Jamaica to the early years of crack gangs in New York and Miami.

‘It is a crime novel that moves beyond the world of crime and takes us deep into a recent history we know far too little about. It moves at a terrific pace and will come to be seen as a classic of our times.’

It sounds like a riveting pageturner, with its cast of over 75 characters and voices. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve requested my local library buy it. Here is what a few reviewers have had to say:

Eileen Battersby, The Irish Times – Booker winner Marlon James tops Tarantino for body count

Reading Marlon’s prose is akin to injecting liquid fire into your brain.

Kei Miller, The Guardian – bloody conflicts in 70s Jamaica

tendency to inhabit the dark and gory places, and to shine a light on them

Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times – Jamaica via a Sea of Voices

raw, dense, violent, scalding, darkly comic, exhilarating and exhausting

Have you read it yet? Or planning to?

 

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Flanagan

A novel of the cruelty of war, the tenuousness of life and the impossibility of love.

I started reading this in July/August 2014, during the summer and to begin with I was fine with reading it, but by halfway I found myself not wanting to pick it up, the scenes described, horrific, grueling, they went on for too long, they were so vivid, my insides contracted each time I picked it up.

I read reviews, entered into discussions and debate about the necessity of being so exposed to such scenes as a way of understanding what men went through in war and I am not one to avoid that, but I couldn’t balance that intellectual point of view with the sickness I felt on reading this.

I was reading it on the kindle and at 50% I decided to stop and I picked up Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth which I reviewed here, the true story of her wartime experience, some distance from the war but dealing with the effect of it, both in the hospitals where she volunteered and the letters from her fiance, brother and friends who were all fighting and who would all lose their lives.

Vera’s story brought meaning and understanding, empathy and insight, but it didn’t make me feel sick. Her life afterwards was affected by her experience in a positive way, it is a grand testament to a woman’s work and need to more than understand, but to make a contribution to try to change the world and our violent, destructive tendencies.

Richard Flanagan’s book then won the Booker Prize, so I tried again. I sped through the next 100 pages and had to pause again as that sick feeling refused to go away. So I stopped.

Today for the third and last time I picked the book up once again, but by now I could almost feel the pages of horror coming, whether it was Dorrigo trying to sew up his friends leg or watching the beating of a friend. And now I say enough. This book has many, many fans and has brought the author immense and deserved success, however, it doesn’t need my contribution and I don’t need to continue to torture myself by trying to read it, in the hope of some kind of enlightenment.

I read 65% and I am sure I missed out the redeeming parts of the book.

All QuietI leave it there and will turn to Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front instead to conclude a year of anniversary reads for WWI.

Note: This was an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) kindly provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

An Auspicious Ascendancy – The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton

LuminariesEleanor Catton’s The Luminaries is an engaging, avant-garde novel, not to be read with the traditional expectations of the form, for it will entertain, intrigue, provoke, infuriate and keep you thinking about why it works, when certain aspects we know and love about stories, suggest that it shouldn’t. The allure of the new.

The Luminaries is a 19th century narrative, set in the gold –digging community of Hokitika ‘place of return‘, on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island.

In 1866, when the story takes place, it was a thriving community, expanding in the golden glint of its anticipated resource and one of the most populous towns in New Zealand, a far cry from it’s just over 3,000 inhabitants today. While it remains possible for visitors to try their luck at gold panning today, they are more likely to be cycling the West Coast wilderness trail or to taking a helicopter over the Fox and Franz Joseph glaciers.

Hokitika township 1870s

Hokitika township 1870s – source Wikipedia

The story focuses on a group of people living in Hokitika, attracted by the prospects of finding gold or its associated business opportunities. It opens with the newest arrival, a distressed Thomas Moody, who has just disembarked from the barque Godspeed and after checking into the Crown Hotel, happens upon a gathering of 12 men in a bar of the hotel that had been closed for the evening. Already in the hotel, he had not been prevented from entering the room and thus becomes witness to a discussion of events that had occurred two weeks prior, the death of the hermit Crosbie Wells, the disappearance of the gold prospector Emery Staines, the arrest of a whore Anna Wetherell and the discovery of a cache of retorted gold bars.

As any 12 prominent men summoned to a room for a discussion might attempt to garner attention, so too does Catton give over chapters which allow those men to stand in their own limelight and this gathering will invoke a long and divergent narrative of stories, encounters and sharing of perspectives by each of the men present.

Their stories span the first half of the book, introducing a structural device Catton uses to divide the book into 12 parts, each successive part half the length of that before it, where the sequence of events moves about so that we reach the end only to discover we are at the beginning. We realise this is not a plot heading towards its climax, nor a beginning working towards its end, it is a series of revelations that unmask illusions of our own imagination as well as that of the characters portrayed and by the time we reach those last pages, the actual dramatic events that unfold will occupy fewer lines on the pages of this book than the mass of 400 plus ages that has allowed this community of men to discuss, analyse, reveal, conceal and pontificate on what might have occurred.

110611_1523_TheForestfo1.jpgAs fast as one mystery unravels, there arises another as Catton introduces one twist after another and slowly reveals the encounters and connections between characters, including those not present at the meeting.

The use of an omniscient narrator means that no one character plays a lead role, just as the lack of a detective precludes it from unravelling like a conventional mystery. Instead, it reads almost as a series of dramatic episodes, where the various interactions and focus on certain characters help the viewer/reader understand their ambitions and motivations, though like a jigsaw, the whole picture will not become clear until all the missing pieces are joined together.

The IdiotI was reminded at times of reading Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, a novel that is without comparison when it comes to penetrating character analysis, itself a complex web of relationships and associations. Catton’s insights into her characters perhaps owe more to her reading of Jung than Dostoevsky, as she penetrates the psychological depths of each character using lyrical prose. While these insights make pleasant reading, it is the actual interactions and actions of the characters that more ably create a lasting impression. As a consequence, we perceive the entire cast at a slight distance and may yearn for something more from some of them.

Much has been written elsewhere about the astrological structure and intention behind Catton’s writing, and it would be easy to turn this into as essay and begin to analyse twin hemispheres, yin and yang, predestined forces and those luminaries that represent our innermost and outermost selves whom she literalises in characters, however I have chosen to write more on the experience of reading the book, without focusing on the forces at play in their interactions. It is possible to listen to Eleanor Catton speak more on this at the Southbank reading here and in numerous articles in The Guardian and elsewhere.

It is an entertaining read, that despite its length I never wanted to put down and actually found myself wondering about other members of the community that don’t appear in the book, like the families of these characters and other inhabitants of this gold loving town. Perhaps we might get to meet them in a future TV adaptation, since I hear the rights have already been bought by a British production company.

Luminaries Cloud

and the Man Booker Prize winner is…

Catton2

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

I have just put it aside on page 508 to watch the presentation and I could not be more pleased!

Congratulations to our young and so talented novelist, from whom we will no doubt see much more.

The book is still alive and rather than cower under the threat of the alternative entertainment available to people today, they are taking the book to the masses.

According to the Man Booker Prize website, there is to be a free event at London’s Regent Street Apple Store, where Eleanor Catton will discuss her book and what it means to win the prize.

I hope Apple are offering the books for sale and not just their own devices to read them.

Ok, a big event is about to take place in the book too, so I’m off back there to find out what’s happening.

#ManBookerLive at the SouthBank Centre

Listening to Six Shortlisted Authors Read

Last night the six shortlisted authors of the Man Booker Prize came together at the SouthBank Centre in London’s Royal Festival Hall and thanks to seeing a tweet from someone present I discovered that it was streaming live from the Man Booker website.

So instead of reading another 200 pages of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries, I listened to her, NoViolet Bulawayo, Jim Crace, Jhumpha Lahiri, Ruth Ozeki and Colm Tóibín read from their books and answer questions from the host Mark Lawson and the audience.

2013

It was a wonderful evening and risks making us want to read all the books, to see the writers presenting their works and sharing their private anecdotes about the journey to publication.

Today the live event has been uploaded to YouTube, so if you are interested to hear more about these excellent books, before tomorrow evenings announcement of the winner, here is the link to watch it yourself.

The event starts at 28 minutes 20 seconds.

Don’t expect it to help you decide, I think they are all winners and have no idea who the judges will choose. The bookmakers and the BBC are backing  Jim Crace, the quintessential English vote.

Man Booker Prize Shortlist 2013

The Man Booker Prize shortlist was announced today and looks like an interesting and diverse offer, with two previous nominees*, four fabulous women writers and stories that will transport us to many far reaches of the world.

One of the judges, Robert Macfarlane had this to say:

‘Global in its reach, this exceptional shortlist demonstrates the vitality and range of the contemporary novel at its finest. These six superb works of fiction take us from gold-rush New Zealand to revolutionary Calcutta, from modern-day Japan to the Holy Land of the Gospels, and from Zimbabwe to the deep English countryside. World-spanning in their concerns, and ambitious in their techniques, they remind us of the possibilities and power of the novel as a form.’

The shortlist comprises:

2013

NoViolet Bulawayo We Need New Names                  my review here

Eleanor Catton The Luminaries

Jim Crace Harvest

Jhumpa Lahiri The Lowland

Ruth Ozeki A Tale for the Time Being

Colm Tóibín The Testament of Mary

I have only read Bulawayo and I’m happy to see her on the list and I’m also ecstatic to see a fellow New Zealander make the list. I can’t help but hope that Eleanor Catton wins and I’m really looking forward to reading her novel The Luminaries, which has had some fantastic reviews.

The judges have one month to re-read the shortlist and the winner will be announced on 15 October 2013 at a ceremony at London’s Guildhall.

So have you read any from the list and any guesses for a winner?

*Colm Tóibín was previously shortlisted for The Blackwater Lightship in 1999 and The Master in 2004 while Jim Crace was shortlisted in 1997 for Quarantine.

We Need New Names

I came across this title by NoViolet Bulawayo when it made the long list for the Man Booker Prize 2013.  A new voice and it comes across as fresh, bold and unique. Though I was disappointed not to see Americanah on the list, I was curious to read this book, as it had been suggested it had a similar premise, narrated from a younger character’s point of view and a different country, the protagonist, Darling, is from a rural Zimbabwean village (Ifemulu came from the Nigerian city of Lagos in Adchie’s book).

NoVioletIf there are similarities, it is that they both describe a life before and after they traverse an ocean to live in the new land, however in Darling’s case, her overstaying means that unlike Ifemulu in Americanah, she will not return, for to return having broken the rules is to limit one’s future options – all this despite the grand sacrifices that will be made, in order to live in the land of dreams, they refer to as Paradise.

Their styles are very different though, the only similarity being that geographic shift and the associated perception of another culture as an outsider.  In terms of the reading experience, I find something more in common between the voices Donal Ryan channels in The Spinning Heart and NoViolet Bulawayo’s voice of Darling.  They both have a way of portraying their characters that invokes a feeling  like someone standing too close to your face, they make you feel like you need to step back to get a better view, somewhat difficult when reading for the first time.

We meet Darling with her friends as they are heading over to Budapest (a wealthier neighbourhood) to pick guavas, to relieve a few trees from the burden of their fruit, to steal.  The first half of the book follows this group of friends and their daily life in a small village, where they now live in much rougher conditions despite the promises of independence, due to the destruction of homes by a government set on destroying what is deemed unsightly or was it an act of revenge against the tide of discontent. Either way, their home is now one room, their father is absent but they have each other.

“If you’re stealing something it’s better if it’s small and hideable or something you can eat quickly and be done with, like guavas. That way, people can’t see you with the thing to be reminded that you are a shameless thief and that you stole it from them, so I don’t know what the white people were trying to do, stealing not just a tiny piece but a whole country. Who can ever forget you stole something like that?”

Running alongside the events of the children’s’ lives are the undercurrents of a changing political situation, an increasing frustration with the democratic process, the heightened anger of communities and mobs; eventually Darling is sent to America to live with her Aunt.

“When things fall apart, the children of the land scurry and scatter like birds escaping a burning sky. They flee their own wretched land so their hunger may be pacified in foreign lands, their tears wiped away in strange lands, the wounds of their despair bandaged in faraway lands, their blistered prayers muttered in the darkness of queer lands.”

zimbabwe mapAmerica isn’t what she expects, her cousin is not like her friends, the snow and coldness are not like the village, the sky is not like the sky, her thin Aunt pacing the room exercising in front of the TV is not like her mother and her Uncle who comes home, watches sport and shouts Touchdown, unlike her father or the men from the village either.

They are  invited to a wedding, a day that might be a metaphor for the entire immigrant and cultural experience, all the misunderstandings and reminders of a past life wrapped up in one anecdote after the other, they manifest in the drive there, the interactions with guests, and those unspoken rules of engagement in a foreign culture, which Darling will be reminded of before the night is over.

Darling misses her friends and family and wishes to visit them, a topic that her Aunt either avoids or addresses in a vague manner. She will come to understand what she couldn’t know when she left, that it is unlikely she will ever return home. She consoles herself by calling.

“Well, what is happening over here is that your mother is finishing cooking istshwala and macimbis, and Sbho is standing there watching her and eating a guava. When Chipo announces this, I get a strange ache in my heart. My throat goes dry; my tongue salivates. I am remembering the taste of all these things, but remembering is not tasting, and it is painful. I feel tears start to come to my eyes and I don’t wipe them off.”

BulawayoNoViolet Bulawayo creates an unforgettable voice in her protagonist, a lens through which we witness part of what feels like an at times frightening and yet exhilarating childhood, with a naive awareness of the greater political events that will affect their futures. The life they live is not an easy one, and it may never be as appreciated as it will become through the act of leaving it all behind, as so many do, believing they are heading towards Paradise.  But even in America, when there is a lack of guidance and care, something similar occurs, the only difference being the kinds of activities unsupervised teenagers get up to in a modern city compared to a rural town or village.

Raw and in your face, each chapter is like a scene playing out as you read from the branch of a tree,  just out of danger.  Bulawayo invokes fear and dread in the reader as we encounter each episode and in the end, we are unsure which is preferable, a half lived life in  Not Really Paradise or that volatile, explosive community, still trying to find itself in Zimbabwe.

Interview – NoViolet Bulawayo talks to Irenosen Okojie about being a writer in diaspora, her writer’s process and the importance of the Caine Prize.

Note:  This book was an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

Reading Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart is to wake up in the heart of a struggling suburban neighbourhood where overnight the fate of a significant proportion of its population has changed.

Spinning HeartLittle time elapses between the pages of the novel, sufficient to penetrate the perspective of 21 residents of this neighbourhood, a chapter each.  Rather than a plot, this one event is more of a turning point from which we survey each character from their own and multiple perspectives, gradually creating a picture of this community, where perceptions often outweigh and overrule reality.

That event is the discovery that Pokey Burke has disappeared after a dodgy property deal in Dubai halts all work on his property developments in this Irish suburb.  He has absconded from his responsibilities including all those in his employ (at least they thought they were in his employ), those who thought they were doing okay in these hard times find out that not only do they no longer have a job, they have never been registered as employees.

Donal Ryan unmasks his characters in the single chapter he gives them each to speak (ironically, no chapter is given to Pokey Burke), this is no slow build up to revealing a characters inner thoughts, they are not characters prone to thinking about various options, this is a neighbourhood in which its men rarely ponder anything, their thoughts are often aggressive, misogynistic and raw, many of them are of the act now, think later persuasion. They make for uncomfortable reading and have the reader yearning for a fictional reprieve; could we have one character to latch onto to get us through this discomfort please?

And if we find it partially, it is with Bobby, the foreman whom we meet in the first chapter, on his daily walk to check whether his father is dead yet, something he wishes for that we will come to know more about as threads of his story snake through other chapters, so that we do meet him again and are able to follow his destiny.

“But the things Dad said, and the way he said them, were so scarily unlike him, so cutting, so cruel. That’s just the way he was reared, Ger reckons. She says people’s thoughts, when their upbringing is mired in dogma, aren’t really their own. Their opinions are twisted, not reflective of what’s in their souls; their words are delivered obliquely, like light being refracted through water – you can’t see their real feelings, just as you can’t see the true position of an immersed object.”

So much of what we experience is illusion, many people and situations hide another reality, nothing is what it seems.  Deception is normal, no one wishes to dig too deep to understand, empathy is an unknown concept, we too often ignore instinct, judge quickly and crush the weak and sensitive.

A disturbing read, unputdownable at the same time as not wanting to pick it up, the anticipation that maybe there is some good that can come of the situation, keeps us reading on. These are tough times and perhaps the bad karma of a financial crisis brought about by those who practice greed, corruption and a lack of empathy brings out the worst at every layer of society. It is certainly difficult to navigate the mire and find the seeds of hope.

Booker Longlist

Man Booker Longlist 2013

Donal Ryan is one of three Irish authors longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2013 and a debut author, who is becoming as well-known for his perseverance (his manuscript was rejected 47 times) as he is for this contemporary work which digs under the skin of small town rural Ireland.

Note: This book was an ARC (advance reader copy) kindly provided by the publisher via NetGalley.