I will admit having become ridiculously excited about The Booker prize this year, mostly based on having read one of the titles before the list was announced. I can’t remember the last time I was so in tune with the judges! As for the actual short list, see below for titles and my views so far.
I finally caught up with this, my first Anne Tyler novel, long after it was the last book left on my 2015 Bailey’s short list reading. Following several generations of the Whitshank family who ‘like most families … imagined they were special‘, the novel is a wry take on the nuclear family. We learn about the Whitshanks’ habits and the stories they tell themselves, and then the habits are shaken and the stories critically unpicked. Although some truths are shown to be as valid as they are clichèed others are revealed to be more complex and nuanced then either outsiders or insiders could imagine. To a novice like myself, it’s also a book that shows off Tyler’s skill in pacing and structure. The spool of blue thread in the title does refer to a specific piece of sewing, but the colour blue, in all of its bright, fresh cheapness becomes a wonderfully developed theme throughout. It’s not the flashiest book on the short-list, but that doesn’t mean it won’t win.
I read this as an e-book which wrong-footed me firstly because I didn’t have this excellent cover to ease me into the themes and also because it meant I had no idea quite how long it was! It was kindly recommended by Karen at BookerTalk as a possible plane read and, after she mentioned it, I suddenly noticed all of the rave reviews everywhere. ‘A Little Life’ starts as the sprawling narrative of four friends and you get to know three of them pretty well before the emotional weight really hits. When you start to discover the terrible sufferings of the secretive Jude, you’ll see where the book has found its fans. The descriptions of sadism, abuse and trauma are both shocking and compelling. Personally, I frequently found them almost impossible to read. The American book cover gives some indication of the kind of pain presented, the UK cover doesn’t, so I recommend making sure you know what you’re in for. This book has been on several top read lists of the year and is the bookies favourite to win.
This is the first book by a Jamaican born novelist to be in the running for the Booker, but you shouldn’t read it for that reason. You should read it because it’s great! Although it’s another of those ironically titled weighty tomes (‘A Little Life’, ‘A Brief History’) its frenetic pace makes for an incredibly speedy read. It starts with the historical fact that Bob Marley was very nearly assassinated two days before giving a Peace Concert in the run up to the 1976 Jamaican election. The politics, the poverty and Jamaica’s capacity for change are explored through short chapters focusing on different characters’ experiences. I really don’t have space to do it justice now, but it has been one of my top reads of the year so far (click here for a full review). It is rare for a book to both teach me so much about a topic while simultaneously making me aware of its complexity and the impossibility of easy answers. Its a real tour de force and I’m only concerned that my enthusiasm with jinx things because I’m historically terrible at picking winners.
I haven’t actually read this yet. I nearly did though – when I realised it was the shortest book on the long-list and I was being optimistic about getting another Booker nominee under my belt. So far, all I know is that it has very very short chapters and seems to be all about a man dealing with first world problems (like too much information on the web and slow Skype connections). It’s possibly one to read after ‘A Little Life’ to show the other side of 2015 Booker angst. (Postscript: the book has now been read and you can read my review here).
Another book I haven’t read, but this time it’s one that I know about. The author was interviewed on the BBC’s Open Book over the summer so I already know it’s about a group of young men from India, desperately trying to find their place in the UK. It’s feels a very relevant book at the moment, dealing as it does with the plight of refugees. From all that I’ve read, Sahota does an excellent job of humanising characters who are too often absent from other narratives. It’s a book I’m looking forward to reading.
Thank goodness for Open Book, it was on an episode in spring that I heard an interview with Chigozie Obioma about his debut novel. It sounds great, a story about four brothers that’s also an allegorical tale about an external agent destroying a state of stability. There is a serious political message about the state of Nigeria, but also it apparently links back to the Western literary tradition, from magic realism to Shakespeare. Certainly a book to look out for. (this is another that I managed to read before 13th Oct, you can read the review here).
I hope everyone else is having as much fun with this as I am. Please let me know what you think of the short list. Which have you read, and what are your hopes for the winner?