The best man won, y’all. I don’t think anyone is seriously disputing that. Here’s why:
1. A Brief History of Seven Killings is simply an amazing book: polyphonic, violent, emotive, compassionate, unsentimental. Other books on the shortlist were similar in length and ambition, but not one of them had the explosive energy of A Brief History, nor the ability to be unceasingly gripping for all of its 700-odd pages.
2. It suggests that the Man Booker Prize isn’t locked in to staid, standard literary realism. Let’s be honest, this has been a worry for a while. When I reviewed A Brief History, I wrote that I wanted it to win, but doubted that it would because the prize seemed too historically conservative to value a novel like this. The fact that this year’s panel proved me wrong is also great for another reason:
3. It will renew general interest in literary culture. I’ve already had a conversation (impassioned, evangelical) with two of my coworkers, both of whom were a) very interested in the book, and b) confessed that they ordinarily avoid Booker winners like the plague. If this year’s panel had tried, they couldn’t have done better at announcing that the stereotypical insularity of British literary culture needed a shake-up.
The diversity point seems too much like tokenism to mention, but it does please me hugely that another Commonwealth writer has won, and a writer, moreover, who is not interested in the white, middle-class concerns typical of longlisters like Andrew O’Hagan, Bill Clegg and (dare I say it) Anne Tyler. The world wants more varied stories, and there are more varied stories out there to be told. It’s delightful to see the literary establishment finally acknowledging that.
I reviewed A Brief History of Seven Killings in August; you can read what I thought of it here.
So, they’ve announced the Man Booker Prize Longlist for 2015! Those of us who like having the order and discipline of lists in our lives are quite excited by this, and, having glanced at it, I have to say it does make me slightly more hopeful than last year’s did. Firstly, the nationality breakdown is fairly heartening. Yes, there are more Americans than any other nationality, but there are three Brits represented, and one writer each from New Zealand, Ireland, India, Nigeria and Jamaica. As for the gender balance, that too is heartening; seven women on a list of thirteen is pretty good going, even for a contemporary prize.
Bill Clegg is the only one that I’ve genuinely never heard of (which is unsurprising, as this is his debut novel–he is, however, a hotshot agent in his own right). His book about a fire and familial secrets/trauma is Did You Ever Have A Family.
I have read Anne Enright’s novel The Gathering, which won the Booker Prize in 2007–I was about fourteen, which may have been too young to fully appreciate the virtues of a novel about child abuse in an Irish Catholic family, but I do wonder whether The Green Roadwill be too similar–it’s billed as an Irish family saga.
Marlon James is already high on my list of Authors To Read More Of: I read The Book of Night Women, about a Jamaican slave rebellion, in November, and was utterly bowled over. A Brief History of Seven Killings is one I’ll be looking to read.
I know next to nothing about Laila Lalami, although The Moor’s Accountsounds amazing: an account of the exploits of the conquistadors, as told by one of their Moroccan slaves.
Tom McCarthy’s Satin Islandstruck me as almost unbearably precious when it first came out; a sort of wannabe David Foster Wallace-type meta-novel. I’m sure it’s very clever and probably reasonably well-judged, but I just don’t want it to win at all.
The Fishermen, by Chigoizie Obioma, is published by Pushkin Press, of which I am very fond, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about it. Hopefully, I can get hold of a copy to review soon.
Andrew O’Hagan is one of those authors whom I think I’ve read, but I haven’t. The catalogue copy for The Illuminationsmade it seem as though it could go either way (war, dual plot strands, memory, photography, etc.), but perhaps it’s worth a punt?
Lilaby Marilynne Robinson has been a contender since it was published last year. Everything Marilynne Robinson writes is a contender for something. I must read this.
Anuradha Roy is, again, an author about whom I know nothing, though the Guardian did a fascinating podcast about Sleeping on Jupitera while back. More heavy child-abuse themes, this time with an Indian religious flavor instead of an Irish one…
Sunjeev Sahota’s The Year of the Runawayslooked promising in catalogue: the story of thirteen young Indian immigrants living in a house in Sheffield, looking for new lives. The blurb is full of effulgent comments about how it celebrates the dignity of the human spirit, which makes me wary, but it could be true!
Anna Smaill’s The Chimeshas been on my radar for a while, ever since Naomi tapped it for the Baileys Prize. It’s about a world where music replaces memory, and as a part-time musician with some interest in neurology and a lot of interest in identity, I think I’d probably enjoy it a great deal.
Anne Tyler, on the other hand, has never really piqued my interest, and A Spool of Blue Threadbeing nominated for both the Baileys and the Booker confuses me, because its premise seems intensely boring, like a rehash of The Corrections. But maybe it’s brilliant?
And, finally, Hanya Yanigihara’s A Little Life. I knew I wanted to read this before the nomination, but now it’s a dead cert. Described as “the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season […a]n epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light”, it looks superb.
You know what I can’t get over, though? The exclusion of Station Eleven and The Wolf Border, and of Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child, and also I’m a little bit surprised that The Buried Giant didn’t AT LEAST make the long list. But primarily I’m upset by the absence of The Wolf Border. Why don’t prize committees get it? Why don’t they see how revolutionary this book is, how casually it hurls narrative conventions about women and men and relationships out of the window? Why don’t they love its descriptions of Cumbria, its fells and lakes and green villages, and of Idaho’s dark and snowy roads, the way I do? Sigh.*
*(Because the way I feel about The Wolf Border is TRUE LOVE, that’s why. And prize committees are not in the business of fomenting true love, necessarily. It still disappoints me.)
Anyone read any of the books on this long list? Anyone have particular favorites? Anyone else disappointed not to see something on the list?