The 2019 Man Booker Shortlist has been announced, and it contains none of the long-listed books I’ve actually read. Still, while a bout of summer flu prevented me from posting this before the nominations were narrowed down, I do want to share my thoughts on the quarter (more or less) of the books originally in contention.
Frankly, it would be a surprise were Deborah Levy not to be nominated for her latest novel. Her books are cool, short, intelligent and highly lauded. This felt like an interesting departure from previous works of hers that I’ve read, in that it covers a complicatedly split timeline rather than honing in on one significant event. Or maybe it is really all about one event after all, because in it our hero experiences and remembers a single critical visit to 1988 East Berlin. At the time, he is a self-absorbed and stunningly beautiful young man, it is only when we encounter him old and in hospital decades later, remembering and reliving the same traumatic events, that we see the impact of this brief trip. It’s an interesting, complex novel that is sure to strike a chord with fans of Levy’s earlier work as well as possibly finding her some new admirers.
‘Lost Children Archive’ first came to my attention when it was long-listed for the Women’s Prize for Fiction earlier this year. Its title is more true than you might expect – far more an archive than a traditional novel, it is made up of photos, quotations, disjointed texts and lots and lots of lists. In place of chapters it is arranged in ‘boxes,’ literally the boxes taken by a documentarist and a documentarian (you’ll have to read the book to learn the difference) on an American road trip with a difference. Rather than focusing on the boundless glory of the USA, Luiselli is concerned with migrant children from across the boarder. ‘Lost Children Archive’ is an exploration of their fate and a commentary on the impossibility of fully narrating it. Personally, I found the fact-based engagements with the children’s plight more engaging than the post-Modern playfulness of the structure, but the book as a whole is a valuable example of English-language fiction focusing on this topic.
‘My Sister, the Serial Killer’ was the book that most appealed to me from the 2019 Woman’s Prize for Fiction. Sometimes I feel literary fiction prizes lean a bit too heavily on books where nothing happens; with this title, I felt confident of a change in pace. Braithwaite doesn’t disappoint, her debut novel thrusts the reader into the action, beginning with our narrator cleaning an apartment and disposing of a dead body while her beautiful younger sister ineffectually assists from the sidelines. The novel deals with themes of femininity, class and family dynamics in 21st century Lagos, but does so through the unexpectedly skewed gaze that comes from association with someone who does not play by any of the established rules. ‘My Sister, the Serial Killer’ is a fun fast read, that may give away its punchline in the title, but still serves to add welcome spice to a long-list of books in which time is often fluid and subjective rather precious and short.
I received my copies of ‘The Man Who Saw Everything’ and ‘Lost Children Archive’ from the publisher via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.