Saturday, 29 July 2017

The Booker Longlist 2017

This week the Longlist was announced for the 2017 Man Booker prize. The thirteen titles nominated are diverse, with authors from America, Pakistan, India, Ireland and the UK.

I have not yet read any of these books but I have several on my 'to be read' pile. What I love about the Longlist is that it introduces me to many books I do not know. From last year's Longlist I discovered the remarkable His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet and Ian McGuire's amazing The North Water.

Let's take a look at the books that make up the longlist:

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (USA)
American author Paul Auster is nominated for his first Booker. This is the story of Archibald Ferguson, the only child of Stanley and Rose, born in 1947. In a 'sliding doors' manner, Ferguson lives four distinct parallel lives. I have only read one book by Auster, his New York Trilogy (1986) which I wasn't overly enamoured with. At 880 pages, I don't think I will be embarking on this Auster any time soon.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Ireland)
In the 1850s, Thomas McNulty leaves Ireland for America and joins the army to fight the civil war. There he meets John Cole, a fellow soldier, and falls in love. They meet a young Indian girl and have to decide what path to take in their lives. Barry has previously been shortlisted for the Booker in 2005 for A Long, Long Way and this novel won the 2016 Costa Book of the Year award.

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (USA)
This is a debut novel Fridlund introduces us to fourteen year old Linda, who lives with her parents in rural Minnesota. A family moves in nearby and Linda is drawn to them for their normality. They provide her with the sense of belonging she craves. I am intrigued by this book, as a love unreliable narrators, but I will have to wait a little while before I can get around to reading it.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK)
In the war ravaged Middle East a couple begin a romance and seek escape. Rumours spread of doors across the city which open to new cities - London, Dubai, San Francisco - so the couple search for their exit.  I met Mohsin Hamid briefly at the Sydney Writers' Festival in 2015 when he was promoting The Reluctant Fundamentalist.  I was impressed with his intelligent commentary on Islam, extremism and refugees. This is definitely on my list to read.

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Ireland)
Winner of the Goldsmiths Prize and the BGE Irish Book of the Year 2016, this novel has received much praise for its innovation. Told in a single sentence (over 273 pages!) McCormack narrates the thoughts of engineer Marcus Conway as he contemplates his life. I am definitely intrigued by the sounds of this book, and love a novel told in verse. But I don't know if I would be driven crazy by the lack of punctuation.

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (UK)
A 13 year old girl goes missing while on holiday with her family. The local residents begin a search for the girl, media descends on the town. Time passes, life goes on, but the aftermath of the tragedy lingers. This is not a crime novel, but more of a reflection on life. McGregor has been longlisted for the Booker twice before, for If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (2002) and So Many Ways to Begin (2006).

Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK)
This is the debut novel from Mozley and it is one I had never heard of. It is described on the Booker website as 'a lyrical commentary on contemporary English society and one family's precarious place in it, as well as an exploration of how deep the bond between father and child can go.' My initial thought is meh... not going to rush to read this.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (India)
In 1997 Roy won the Booker for her first novel The God of Small Things. Twenty years later, this is Roy's long-awaited second novel. I have heard mixed things about this complex novel filled with many characters. Roy is an activist and this is a critique of modern day Indian politics. I greatly admire Roy and have enjoyed her articles and non-fiction. There is a weight of expectation with this novel, after twenty years, but I think I will wait a little bit longer before deciding whether to read it.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (USA)
This is the first novel from short story writer Saunders. It follows Willie, the son of President Abraham Lincoln, who died at the age of 11. The dead boy interacts with his mourning father in this novel, which takes place over a single night. I have heard so many great things about this book. I have it and it has been creeping its way towards the top of my 'to be read' pile. Looks like I will have to get on to it soon.

Home Fire by Kamile Shamsie (UK-Pakistan)
This novel is inspired by Antigone by Sophocles. Largely set in London, Pakistani Isma raises her siblings after their mother dies and their father leaves to fight with the Taliban. The story addresses issues of identity, migration, religion, family, and love.

Autumn by Ali Smith (UK)
I always love the artwork on Ali Smith's books. Autumn features a lush Hockney painting of 'Early November Tunnel'. If I am to judge a book by its cover, this one is fantastic! Autumn is part of Smith's 'Seasons' series and it is a story about ageing and time. It begins with the line "It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times' - which draws the reader in. A previous Booker shortlister for How to be Both (2014), Smith is a formidable writer. Looking forward to exploring this series.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK)
This is a coming of age story about friendship and its end. Two girls grown up on a council estate, but their lives are different. In their early twenties, the friendship falls apart. Smith is said to have been influenced in this book by Elena Ferrante. Previously shortlisted for the Booker in 2005 for On Beauty, I have this book on my ereader and plan to read it this year.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (USA)
Whitehead won the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and many other accolades for this novel, so I was not surprised to see The Underground Railroad nominated for the Booker. This is the story of Cora, a slave on a Georgia cotton plantation. She risks everything to escape to the North via the underground railroad. This book is definitely on my reading list.

The shortlist will be announced on 13 September 2017, with the winner named on 17 October 2017.

Having read none of the titles, I am in no position to predict the winner, but I reckon the following will be shortlisted: Arundhati Roy, George Saunders, Moshin Hamid and Colson Whitehead. A complete guess, but that is where I will start my Booker reading.

Here's a short video released by the Booker judges.