Man Booker Shortlist: Down to the Final Six

The 2016 Man Booker Shortlist has been announced, eliminating seven of the thirteen books on the original longlist previously announced.  I was still (slowly) working my way through the longlist, so this will serve to refocus my TBR list a bit.  Of the original thirteen, I have read three books – and two of those did not make it to the shortlist, the lone survivor being Eileen by American author Otessa Moshfegh.

The longlist included five titles from British authors, five from American authors, two from Canadian authors, and one from South African author J.M. Coetzee.  The shortlist is made up of two British authors, two Canadians, and two Americans (and that makes me wonder if that was not the plan all along).

The Man Booker Shortlist:

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Winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction

(US) Described by the publisher, Macmillan, this way: “A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant.”

 

51llns0kdfl(UK) From the book’s dust jacket we learn this about Hot Milk, “Sofia, a young anthropologist, has spent much of her life trying to solve the mystery of her mother’s unexplainable illness. She is frustrated with Rose and her constant complaints, but utterly relieved to be called to abandon her own disappointing fledgling adult life. She and her mother travel to the searing, arid coast of southern Spain to see a famous consultant–their very last chance–in the hope that he might cure her unpredictable limb paralysis.”

Hot Milk is Levy’s seventh novel. She is also the author of short story collections and numerous plays.

5100SFEA6aL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_(UK) The book’s self-description: “A brutal triple murder. Dark and deadly deeds in a remote northwestern crofting community in 1869 lead to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. There’s no question that Macrae landed the savage blows, but it falls to the country’s finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence. Was he insane? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the inevitability of the gallows at Inverness.Will he swing for his wicked acts?

 

41ZUYGNM4bL._SY346_(US)  The Los Angeles Times describes Eileen like this: “The novel fixates on solitude and isolation, alcoholism and child abuse, the icy gray New England suburbia of her town, “X-Ville,” and the even grayer ambience of Moorehead, the boys’ juvenile detention center where Eileen works. She lives alone with her retired-cop alcoholic father since the death of her mother, and her relationship with him seems limited to buying him bottles of alcohol and avoiding him altogether.  Her work life seems also unbearable, other than brief minutes when her fantasy life takes her to her crush, a security guard named Randy, who most likely doesn’t know she exists.”

41M7cxoDK7L(Canada)  The Telegraph review of All That Man Is opens this way: “David Szalay’s fourth novel tells the stories of nine male protagonists at various stages of their lives. “It’s important to feel part of something larger,” says one and, from the students of the first chapter, through the middle-aged drifters at the book’s centre, to the retiree with whom it ends, Szalay’s 21st-century men feel their lives lack meaning. Most are British but there are Belgians and Danes too, so these are timely meditations on how this country sees Europe, how Europe sees us and how we see ourselves.”

Booker_Thien-xlarge_trans++QbFiyxT4AaTcAHNa4wzsULNgOPWIo1ukKD3uSzd43XQ(Canada)  From the book’s publisher: “The Shanghai episode is one thread of a family history picked up by the novel’s heroine, Marie, a math professor living in present-day Vancouver. As the novel opens, Marie is thinking back to her father’s death by suicide in China. At that time, a family friend arrives in Vancouver. She tells stories that stretch back to the Japanese invasion; tales of her grandmother, Big Mother Knife, and her great aunt Swirl and the wars and political campaigns that led to separations, homelessness and death. These accounts slowly unravel the mystery of Marie’s father. She also reads fragments of The Book of Records, a largely improvised novel that reflects the haphazard construct of history.”

I have a copy of Hot Milk and I’ll see if I can find copies of the other four I haven’t read.  For some strange reason, it always seems easier for me to find novels by British authors here in Houston than it is for me to find the work of Canadian writers.

American authors only became eligible for the prize in 2014 when the competition was opened up to any novel published in the U.K. that was first written in English.  While I do think it’s kind of fun to see how Americans do in the competition, part of me wishes that the change had not been made because I always depend on the Man Booker lists to alert me to some of the better British and Canadian books of which I otherwise would never have heard.

 

The 2016 Man Booker Longlist – in Detail

The 2016 Man Booker Longlist has been announced and it encompasses quite a variety of authors and novels. According to the press release, the Longlist is also known as the Man Booker “Dozen” even though there are actually thirteen books on the list.  And, as usual, I have read almost nothing on the list, the exception being Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton.  I always do my best to rectify that problem before the winner of the prize is announced, however, and hope to do so again this year.

The list includes five titles from British authors, five from American authors, two from Canadian authors, and one from South African author J.M. Coetzee.  The list:

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Winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction

(US) Described by the publisher, Macmillan, this way: “A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. It challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant.”

 

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(South Africa) This is Coetzee’s thirteenth novel and is a sequel to 2013’s The Childhood of Jesus.  According to publisher Harvill Secker, “Davíd is the small boy who is always asking questions. Simón and Inés take care of him in their new town, Estrella. He is learning the language; he has begun to make friends. He has the big dog Bolívar to watch over him. But he’ll be seven soon and he should be at school. And so, with the guidance of the three sisters who own the farm where Simón and Inés work, Davíd is enrolled in the Academy of Dance. It’s here, in his new golden dancing slippers, that he learns how to call down the numbers from the sky.”

 

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(UK) This is Kennedy’s eighth novel, and this is part of what The Guardian has to say about her prize-nominated book: “Serious Sweet interweaves the stories of two deeply troubled protagonists. Fifty-nine-year-old senior civil servant Jon Sigurdsson is isolated both personally and professionally: at home he’s emotionally reeling from his divorce, while at work he’s on the brink of detonating his career with a breach of government secrets. To counteract his loneliness, he offers a letter-writing service to single women, which brings him into the orbit of Meg Williams, a 45-year-old recovering alcoholic and bankrupt accountant who now works in an animal sanctuary.”

 

51LLNs0KDFL(UK) From the book’s dust jacket we learn this about Hot Milk, “Sofia, a young anthropologist, has spent much of her life trying to solve the mystery of her mother’s unexplainable illness. She is frustrated with Rose and her constant complaints, but utterly relieved to be called to abandon her own disappointing fledgling adult life. She and her mother travel to the searing, arid coast of southern Spain to see a famous consultant–their very last chance–in the hope that he might cure her unpredictable limb paralysis.”

Hot Milk is Levy’s seventh novel. She is also the author of short story collections and numerous plays.

 

5100SFEA6aL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_(UK) The book’s self-description: “A brutal triple murder. Dark and deadly deeds in a remote northwestern crofting community in 1869 lead to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. There’s no question that Macrae landed the savage blows, but it falls to the country’s finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence. Was he insane? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the inevitability of the gallows at Inverness.Will he swing for his wicked acts?

Burnet is from Scotland, and this is his second novel.

 

61KkclptBAL._SY346_(UK) A website exclusively promoting the book describes it this way: “In India, during the Siege of Delhi, Patrick Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which man can stoop. He had hoped to find temporary respite on the Volunteer, but rest proves impossible with Drax on board. The discovery of something evil in the hold rouses Sumner to action. And as the confrontation between the two men plays out amid the freezing darkness of an arctic winter, the fateful question arises: who will survive until spring?”

The Independent says it is “Subtle as a harpoon in the head…”

 

51yXcEnuZBL(US)  The Guardian describes the premise of Hystopia this way: “The novel within the novel takes place in an alternative version of the 1970s, one in which John F. Kennedy was not assassinated in 1963, but instead has survived multiple attempts to kill him and has prevailed on the US public to (unconstitutionally) elect him to a third presidential term. In Hystopia, Vietnam grinds on and on at Kennedy’s command and has been stripped of all elements of geopolitical strategy or significance, however misguided or trumped up. ”

McGuire is a veteran short story writer but this is his first novel.

 

51E2pOqj77L(UK)  As described on the publisher’s website: “Timothy Buchannan buys an abandoned house on the edge of an isolated village on the coast, sight unseen. When he sees the state of it he questions the wisdom of his move, but starts to renovate the house for his wife, Lauren to join him there.

When the villagers see smoke rising from the chimney of the neglected house they are disturbed and intrigued by the presence of the incomer, intrigue that begins to verge on obsession. And the longer Timothy stays, the more deeply he becomes entangled in the unsettling experience of life in the small village.”

 

41ZUYGNM4bL._SY346_(US)  The Los Angeles Times describes Eileen like this: “The novel fixates on solitude and isolation, alcoholism and child abuse, the icy gray New England suburbia of her town, “X-Ville,” and the even grayer ambience of Moorehead, the boys’ juvenile detention center where Eileen works. She lives alone with her retired-cop alcoholic father since the death of her mother, and her relationship with him seems limited to buying him bottles of alcohol and avoiding him altogether.  Her work life seems also unbearable, other than brief minutes when her fantasy life takes her to her crush, a security guard named Randy, who most likely doesn’t know she exists.”

 

51zFuwbbUvL._SY346_(US)  The publisher describes Work Like Any Other thusly: “Roscoe T Martin set his sights on a new type of power spreading at the start of the twentieth century: electricity. It became his training, his life’s work. But when his wife, Marie, inherits her father’s failing farm, Roscoe has to give up his livelihood, with great cost to his sense of self, his marriage, and his family. Realizing he might lose them all if he doesn’t do something, he begins to use his skills as an electrician to siphon energy from the state, ushering in a period of bounty and happiness. Even the love of Marie and their child seem back within Roscoe’s grasp.Then a young man working for the state power company stumbles on Roscoe’s illegal lines and is electrocuted, and everything changes…”

 

41xgKh4KBKL(US)  My Name Is Lucy Barton describes itself this way: “Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable.”     Book Chase Review

 

41M7cxoDK7L(Canada)  The Telegraph review of All That Man Is opens this way: “David Szalay’s fourth novel tells the stories of nine male protagonists at various stages of their lives. “It’s important to feel part of something larger,” says one and, from the students of the first chapter, through the middle-aged drifters at the book’s centre, to the retiree with whom it ends, Szalay’s 21st-century men feel their lives lack meaning. Most are British but there are Belgians and Danes too, so these are timely meditations on how this country sees Europe, how Europe sees us and how we see ourselves.”

 

Booker_Thien-xlarge_trans++QbFiyxT4AaTcAHNa4wzsULNgOPWIo1ukKD3uSzd43XQ(Canada)  From the book’s publisher: “The Shanghai episode is one thread of a family history picked up by the novel’s heroine, Marie, a math professor living in present-day Vancouver. As the novel opens, Marie is thinking back to her father’s death by suicide in China. At that time, a family friend arrives in Vancouver. She tells stories that stretch back to the Japanese invasion; tales of her grandmother, Big Mother Knife, and her great aunt Swirl and the wars and political campaigns that led to separations, homelessness and death. These accounts slowly unravel the mystery of Marie’s father. She also reads fragments of The Book of Records, a largely improvised novel that reflects the haphazard construct of history.”

So there you have it: thirteen very different novels.  It will be fun to take a closer look at some of these and to speculate on which ones will survive elimination and make it all the way to the shortlist.  Just from this brief look at the longlist nominees, I’ve already settled on a few to pull for…and to read regardless of how long they stay in contention.