At some point today, probably this morning as apparently the judges decided it a week ago; the Man Booker Shortlist will be announced. I have to say when I first saw the longlist this year I was really, really excited. There were some debut novelists, an almost 50/50 ratio of male and female authors, and lots of independent publishers. In fact the list had a lot of people saying ‘what??!!’. I thought I would update you on what I have thought of the list so far, and what I think (or hope) will be on the list when it gets announced later today.
So I think the best place to start is looking at the longlist as a whole. I should say that there is a slight clause in this, I have read at least 100 pages of each of the books of the longlist, and I just haven’t finished all of them, or indeed reviewed all of the ones I have read. So I thought I would give you a brief round up of the longlist reading experience. And if any of the ones I haven’t finished yet end up getting shortlisted then I will go back to them…
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes – The bookies favourite, but not actually mine personally. Whilst I agree it is beautifully written and emotive I personally didn’t ‘get it’. I think maybe, and this isn’t meant to sound as ageist as it will, I was too young for it, rather like last years winner. I didn’t think it was eligible being so small, but it did mean that I managed to read it in two naughty sittings at a Waterstones in town, but shhh don’t tell anyone. I wouldn’t be cross if this was on the shortlist, and think it probably will be, I just think there were more exciting rather than ‘literary’ reads. Oh, I know this is a ‘literary’ award in case you think I am being silly. I just think ‘literary’ is very subjective, shouldnt a ‘literary’ book be a work of literature accessible to all? Not that I am saying this book is being bandwagoned by critics… maybe I need to read it again, and not sneakily hidden away in a shop.
On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry – I will actually be rather cross if this book doesn’t make the shortlist. I had enjoyed Barry’s previous novel ‘The Secret Scripture’ but this one just blew me away. I was expecting another ‘Brooklyn’ (which is wonderful in itself) with the tale of a young Irish girl and her journey to America, I got something equally wonderful but utterly different and utterly devastating. I loved it.
Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch – Another favourite, I read this a while back and didn’t expect to like a book that was set so much on a boat (I have issues with books based on ships) I also loved this. It’s like a proper Victorian adventure, something that Conan Doyle would read and frankly he would have won a Booker prize, well he should have, if there had been such a prize then. I also found the emotional twist that develops in the second half of the novel was a pleasant surprise and one I wouldn’t have guessed.
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt – Possibly my favourite ‘surprise find’ on the list. I don’t think that I would have read this if it hadn’t made the longlist (and there will be a very positive review coming soon) because it is by all sense and purposes a western, which I would normally avoid if I am really honest. I thought this was, excuse my French, bloody brilliant. There is something so fresh about this book that if you wouldn’t normally touch this genre then you really should try deWitt.
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan – A book I knew nothing about and I am still not too clear on. I started it, popped it down and haven’t gone back to it yet. That makes it sound like I didn’t like it, not so as I would like to return to it, I just wasn’t grabbed and I am not sure why. Well written, interesting subject, one to return to and think over more maybe?
A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards – Another novel that I would have heard nothing about had it not been for the Man Booker Longlist. I was intrigued from the title and the intrigue carried on in the pages as I started to read. It is in some ways a murder mystery, and yet not all at once. That makes it sound experimental and it isn’t a particularly experimental novel, it just has some good twists and turns both in terms of story and delivery. I hope that makes sense. Oh and I liked not liking anyone in it, how odd is that?
The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst – Oh, oh, oh… ‘The Strangers Child’. Hmmm. I have the same issue in a way that I have with the Barnes novel. It is beautifully written… but. Whilst Barnes is a short novel, Hollinghurst’s is almost never ending. I totally understand people who are saying ‘oh my goodness the prose alone…’, I just think you need to have a story. Hollinghurst’s has several stories and yet none all at once, it’s also got a middle that (oops, ouch) sags and drags, it’s about 200 pages too long. They are a beautiful 200 pages though. I have been mulling reviewing this book ever since its release but am still on the fence… or simply undecided.
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman – I want to start off by saying that this book doesn’t deserve the vitriol that it’s been hit with since getting long listed. Give the book a bloody break people. It’s immensely readable, which is a quality that I think every good book needs. Sadly the story, for me, of teenage gangs and crime including murder whilst being very timely looses something in being told by a child narrator. A shame as I loved the narrative voice, the two aims of this book just didn’t quite go hand in hand.
The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness – I am midway through reading this. I can’t say that I think it’s the best book ever written but it has a certain something about it. It’s one of those things that you can’t quite put your finger on. I think the fact it’s slightly thrilling, slightly surreal and yet seems based so much on fact all merges to work for me. In fact it is reading about something that I know so little about that I think I am currently really enjoying. I haven’t finished it yet though but might just go out on a limb, there’s books that could be deemed ‘better’ and yet…
Snowdrops by A.D. Miller – Another one I have finished and haven’t written about properly yet as I only finished it recently. I liked this one despite the fact it was nothing like I was expecting. There’s a slight black and white noir film aspect to it, which I think sets it apart from ‘The Last Hundred Days’ which actually thinking about it now it is quite similar too in its sense of Englishman thrown into the unknown (how have I only just thought about this, too close to them), and then develops and becomes more and more compelling.
Far to Go by Alison Pick – I have reviewed this for We Love This Book but not on here yet. The more time I have had away from it the more it has grown on me. It didn’t fully blow me away, but only three or four of this years longlist have, yet the story of the Bauer’s and the Kindertransport has stayed with me more than I expected. It’s a WWII story with a twist and is a little bit different. The modern story just bothered me a little, it felt a tiny bit like a forced ‘see how the war keeps affecting people’ device, if one that leads to an interesting conclusion.
The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers – I wanted to like this one, I liked the idea of a dystopian novel on the list and a small publisher being on the list too. I just didn’t really think it was a great book and have stopped. I think anything can happen in fiction, no limits, if the author can take you with them and sadly I am not convinced. I gave up at page 105! I might try it again though as it does have promise, just not as much as I hoped.
Derby Day by D.J. Taylor – I was excited about this one, I love all things Victorian after all. It started off so well. I loved how dastardly all the characters were and how much planning and manipulation there was. Yes, there is a but coming… I sort of got confused and too much started to go on… and someone else ordered it from the library so I let them have it. If it gets shortlisted then I will order it again, but I would rather see Carol Birch on there if we have a Victorian novel on there.
So from that I have decided (and I swapped two titles on the Man Booker forum but this is my final guess) that these are the six novels that I most hope make the shortlist…
On Canaan’s Side – Sebastian Barry
Jamrach’s Menagerie – Carol Birch
The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt
A Cupboard Full of Coats – Yvvette Edwards
Snowdrops – A.D. Miller
Far To Go – Alison Pick
What do you think? What would your short list be made of? Could you give a monkeys? I have to admit the reason so few of these novels have ended up on Savidge Reads yet in more detail was my initial excitement started to turn into Man Booker Boredom, let’s hope the shortlist excites me again. Which six books not listed would make your ideal Man Booker Shortlist this year? I need to think about mine actually, I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours. Oh, and I will report back once the announcement is made. Thoughts please.