Just before midnight the Man Booker Prize Longlist 2017 was announced.
Now, if you’re a big fan of literary fiction and find yourself reading barely anything else, chances are you won’t find what you’re looking for on this blog. My interests lie primarily with children’s books and crime fiction. However, I do enjoy the occasional fantasy or literary novel.
That is why I like following literary prizes such as The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Man Booker Prize. Whatever your genre preferences may be, there’s no denying that the Man Booker comes closest to being the Oscars for books. I don’t expect to see a fantasy novel win, like Lord of the Rings did at The Academy Awards in 2004, but given that a crime novel was shortlisted last year, there’s hope that the Man Booker Prize is at least willing to look at other genres.
What I like to do with literary prizes as these, is to take a look at their longlist and see which books I’d like to add to my TBR shelf, and maybe you’ll get inspired along the way. Over the last years I’ve added books like Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, How to Be Both by Ali Smith, A Little Life by Hanya Yangihara and His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet, among others. Mind you, I will have to increase my reading pace, for I have only read (and loved) one longlisted book so far: Us by David Nicholls. No, I feel no shame. I merely regret not being offered a long enough life to read all the books I want to read.
Anyway, without further ado, let’s take a look at this year’s longlist:
4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (US) (Faber & Faber)
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Ireland) (Faber & Faber)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Ireland) (Canongate)
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (UK) (4th Estate)
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK) (JM Originals)
The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (India) (Hamish Hamilton)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US) (Bloomsbury)
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan) (Bloomsbury)
Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (US) (Fleet)
A quick glance shows me that I’ve really been warming up to the Man Booker Prize over the years. Not only do I recognise several authors and books on the list, I’ve also bought one already. I know, baby steps.
One to be particularly excited about is Swing Time by Zadie Smith, which I’ve got in my collection already and of which I’ve got very high expectations. It tells the story of two young brown girls who dream of being dancers, but only one of them has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music. Their close but complicated childhood friendship ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either. Zadie Smith talks about how we are shaped by friendship, music and roots and how we can survive them.
Another one that peeks my interest is Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor. The book and the author are unkown to me, but the blurb sounds very promising. The story kicks off with the disappearance of a teenage girl in the hills around the Peak District in England. Do not mistake it for a crime novel, though. The novel focuses on the impact of this tragic event on the villagers. How do they react and which marks does it leave behind as life goes on? This sounds like Broadchurch in bookform, even though we might never find out what exactly happened to the girl.
Furthermore, there are a few books that have potential to be read at some point. After all, you can never know for sure what you’ll end up reading and there’s definitely something to say for these books.
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry, for example, keeps popping up and I still haven’t made up my mind about it. I’ve read blog posts and seen booktube videos that make me want to read it, if only for the gay storyline, but it does seem to focus an awful lot on war too and that’s usually not something that gets me excited. Even so, it must be a great book, given that it collects nominations and victories as if it were English rain.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid must be a beautiful story about two refugees trying to make it out of their homeland. This could really be up my street, but in my opinion I should read The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota first, which is another story about immigrants trying to survive in the West and was nominated for the Man Booker in 2015.
As for Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders and Autumn by Ali Smith, they sound promising and I definitely want to read an Ali Smith in due course, but I can’t deny that I worry her books might be a little too literary for my liking. It may sound ridiculous, but I do think you need a certain level of maturity to read certain books and I’m not sure if I’m quite ready to take hers on.
While the blurb of Lincoln in the Bardo does appeal to me, I do fear it might be too slow-paced for me. It tells the story of just one night in which Abraham Lincoln visits the grave of his 11-year-old son and holds his body, grieving. I take it there will be a lot of reflection on life, death and coping with the latter.
Finally, there’s The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. For a Man Booker Prize Nominee, this book has been selling extremely well. It’s gotten praise from none other than Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama. I believe it to be a wonderful novel that deals with the troubling black history of the United States of America, going from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day.
As for the other titles, they either do not peek my interest or seem not that accessible. I might read Paul Auster eventually as I bump into his books regularly, but I haven’t taken any action towards reading his work so far. If I do, it won’t be 4 3 2 1. While the premise of one character embarking on four potential life paths may sound promising, I can’t shake of the feeling that I’ve seen it before in Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. And I have no intention to read something similar that is heavy enough to knock you out with a single blow.
What about you? Do you read literary fiction? Which ones would you like to pick up? Have you read any of them?
Have a bookish day!