Man Booker Prize 2018: What I Got

HOLY HELL, you guys. What a list. Obviously, virtually none of my wishes/predictions made it (except for The Overstory, thank all the gods). While I’m deeply depressed about the lack of Amy Sackville, Elise Valmorbida, Andrew Miller, Nick Harkaway, Joseph Cassara, and Lidia Yuknavitch, amongst others, I’m also impressed at the generic diversity: there’s a graphic novel on there! There’s a crime novel! This is crazy, y’all!

Less pleasing: the lack of ethnic/national diversity. Opening up this prize to the Americans has, as predicted, resulted in a diminishing of Commonwealth writers; there is no one here from Jamaica or Nigeria or India or even Australia. Two Canadians, two Irish writers (maybe three?), and that’s your lot.

Most of the longlisted books I haven’t read, so these are going to be more along the lines of quick impressions than considered analyses:

coverSnap, by Belinda Bauer. Pretty sure Val McDermid is singlehandedly responsible for this being on the list. Bauer’s reputation is high; I’m wondering if she’s a sort of new Tana French. The premise of this – a heavily pregnant woman walks away from her son and her broken-down car on the M5, in search of a pay phone, and is never seen again – is good.

41wnvealv5l-_sx324_bo1204203200_Milkman, by Anna Burns. The cover is stunning. It’s about an Irish woman being stalked by a paramilitary. That’s really all I’ve got on it. It’s relatively new out and I don’t think anyone at the shop has read it, although my colleague Zoe is keen. The Guardian called it Beckettian and said that Burns reveals “the logical within the absurd”, which sounds very Irish.

41lzvtkhukl-_sx258_bo1204203200_Sabrina, by Nick Drnaso. This is the first graphic novel ever to be on the Man Booker Prize long list and I’m very excited about it. I’ve flicked through the first ten pages and there’s something quietly disturbing and addictive about its atmosphere, already. The artistic style is one that I happen to hate, but that may not matter much.

9781781258972Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan. This is one of my 20 Books of Summer and it’s already so high up my TBR it’s practically tugging my sleeve, so it won’t be long before I’ve read it. A young slave boy’s master disappears on a voyage of exploration, and then…reappears? People have been comparing this to Sugar Money but I have a strong feeling that Edugyan’s book will be better.

In Our Mad and Furious City, by Guy Gunaratne. Five narrators seems like an awful lot of voices for one author to differentiate, but Gunaratne’s ability to ventriloquise the slangy vernacular of young London has been one of the major selling points of this book so far.

cover1Everything Under, by Daisy Johnson. The impression I get from this is that it might be a bit like Penelope Fitzgerald’s book Offshore, only with some mythology mixed up in it, and that is the sort of impression that makes me want to read it immediately. However, Anthony Cummins’s description of it “luridly staging the supremacy of biological fact” waves a red flag. What the fuck does that mean, Anthony?

81z2yt8ghblThe Mars Room, by Rachel Kushner. Genuinely delighted about this. I was pretty indifferent to The Flamethrowers (although I read it just out of university, when my reading protocols were still tuned to Edmund Spenser wavelengths, so maybe that was my fault), but I think if I’d read this before the announcement, I’d have put it on my wishlist. My colleague Camille loved it.

81j4lg4hk8l1The Water Cure, by Sophie Mackintosh. Now, this I have read, and it is the only title on the list that really baffles me. It’s not a bad book, but then most books aren’t bad books. It’s just derivative, endlessly, and I cannot find enough originality in it to understand why it’s here. The prose is fine. The plot is fine, although it doesn’t really go anywhere. Controlling men are bad. The punishment of women for their existence is physical mortification. *checks watch*

077107378xWarlight, by Michael Ondaatje. Ondaatje has been the unfortunate victim of my growing reluctance to read established white male writers. I hear pretty good things about this one – a kind of weird Gothic about children abandoned during World War II to a netherworld of vaguely defined criminality. It’s not going to the top of my list, but if there’s a damaged copy in the shop, I’ll take it.

a1lfnmiqzalThe Overstory, by Richard Powers. Richard Powers is exempted from my reluctance to read established white male writers, because he is wonderful. Partly this is because he doesn’t have any problems with writing women and people of colour into his stories. Partly this is because he writes so beautifully that I would be punishing myself by refusing to read him. I’m so happy he’s here.

9781509846894the20long20take_21The Long Take, by Robin Robertson. A novel in verse! How awesome is this! I’ve read some of Robertson’s poetry before – Hill of Doors, I think – which hasn’t stuck in my mind at all, but this was around the same time as The Flamethrowers, so again, that might have been my fault. This is a kind of post-war picaresque in the same vein as Andrew Miller’s new book. I think I’d like it.

71bdwmuhvzlNormal People, by Sally Rooney. Okay, Rooney’s hip and happenin’, we get it, Jesus. You can accuse me of bitterness all you like, you’re probably not wrong. Anyway, this is another novel where I can’t work out what it’s about. As far as I can tell, two Irish kids go to university. Maybe something happens to them while they’re there. Let’s hope so.

cover2From A Low and Quiet Sea, by Donal Ryan. Kind of a novel in short stories, this one, which actually I’m coming round to, as a form. Zoe tells me the first section is “epic” and the other two are less so; if this makes the shortlist I shall make more of an effort to seek it out.


What do you think of this long list? Good weird? Bad weird? Indifferent weird? What would you have liked to see on it? What enrages you with its presence?

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25 thoughts on “Man Booker Prize 2018: What I Got

  1. This list is nuts! I’m so into it. The only one I’ve read is From a Low and Quiet Sea and while I agree with the assessment that the first story is far and away the most accomplished, I still think it’s a gorgeous book and definitely worth reading. So many others interest me I’m not quite sure where to start… but I’m glad to hear that Richard Powers is exempt from the boring established white male authors group – I’ve never read him and was sort of hesitant for that reason. But if you say he’s good I’ll give him a shot!

    • Isn’t it! Richard Powers is really great. The Overstory is probably a pretty good place to start with him – I think it might be his masterpiece. He also wrote a novel called The Time Of Our Singing which is one of my favourites of all time.

  2. TheLiterary Hoarders says:

    Love the *checks watch* – because of almost all of the books listed, The Water Cure isn’t really one I’m going to run right out and read. Mayyyyybee if it makes the shortlist – but maybe. And I also loved the commentary about Warlight – and if you find a damaged copy in the shop you’ll get it. 🙂 ~Penny

  3. Much more excited about this Booker longlist than usual! I definitely want to read Everything Under, The Overstory and Washington Black. Snap looks really intriguing. I wasn’t blown away by In Our Mad and Furious City and would definitely agree with Naomi about the multiple voices.

    • Agreed agreed. Snap is one I’d really like to read, though it’s not in my top 3 musts (Washington Black; Everything Under; The Mars Room).

      • Yes – similarly, I didn’t really ‘get’ the Flamethrowers when I read it, which has put me off Kushner, but I think this might have been my fault.

  4. I have Over and Under (Powers and Johnson) in my piles. I’m hoping that Rooney doesn’t suffer from 2nd novel blues. The Donal Ryan was lovely, but the first third was definitely best – he does bring the three stories together well though. Of the others The Milkman appeals, as does the Ondaatje and Edugyan. It is a shame the list isn’t more diverse ethnically, but it is a bit more diverse than usual genrelogically (did I make that word up?) I’m encouraged, I think overall.

    • Haha, Over and Under! I want to read Everything Under so badly. Yeah, the genre mixup is really cool – and I suspect will result in increased longlist sales.

  5. I think it’s a good list! I hate to speculate on people’s ethnicity (seriously, we had a big scandal about that in Canada, with a prominent Indigenous writer who turned out… not to be) but Michael Ondaatje was born in Sri Lanka and background is Dutch/Tamil/Sinhalese as per his Wikipedia page. I know, Dutch last name, blue eyes… but… he’s also really great 🙂

  6. Canadian, Irish, and the rest is American??? If so, then that’s junk. I’m definitely interested in both Ondaatje’s and Edugyan’s books since I’m Canadian and I’m interested in checking out The Water Cure and the Donal Ryan and the graphic novel. We’ll see what the shortlist is though – I’d love to commit to reading a longlist but might have to wait until my own TBR goes down. lol

    • Not quite – the rest is an almost even split between US and UK. It’s not that the US entrants aren’t good, they generally are! It’s just disappointing not to see any more Commonwealth writers there. I’m definitely interested in Sabrina, too, and perhaps the Donal Ryan (never read anything of his, though The Spinning Heart was shortlisted a while back).

  7. I am always excited to see the longlist – and then don’t get to reading the books in time at all. There are a few I am intrigued by (especially The Mars Room – I read the first couple of pages and think it could be something I adore – and Everything Under – which suffers from a cover that advertized a very different book to me than it seems to be). I am with you on the whole not being interested in books by white, middle aged, male authors. The books just don’t seem to work for me.

  8. I haven’t been paying much attention at all to new fiction this year, so I had no sense of what was even eligible, much less what I’d like to see on the list. But, now that I’ve seen the list, it’s pretty appealing! I’ve no plans to read the whole list this year, and I think more of them than usual are not yet available here in the U.S..

    So far, The Water Cure is the only one I could get my hands on quickly (as an e-galley), so I may give it a try. Snap, Sabrina, Washington Black, and Everything Under are the ones that appeal to me most.

  9. I’m not hearing a lot of great things about the list, but I know nothing about most of these authors. I really liked Bauer’s Rubbernecker and Shut Eye (I don’t know if they are Man Booker material though). I have Kushner’s book on my library wait list, so will have it soon.

    • It actually seems to me a much more exciting and formally innovative long list than any one I can remember from the past, although I haven’t read very much of it so far. Belinda Bauer’s presence fascinates me; I’ve heard many very good things about her books.

  10. It’s a bizarre list; I much preferred your predictions! I already knew I wanted to read Powers, Rooney and Ryan, and it’s great to see the graphic novel and novel in verse (is that also a first?) on there, but the rest doesn’t particularly appeal. Maybe I’ll change my mind on Edugyan, Gunaratne and Johnson. Meanwhile, I’ve agreed to review The Water Cure for NB magazine, but I’ll keep my expectations low.

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