The Man Booker Prize 2016 Longlist was released at 12.00 today and I’m just a little excited. I always enjoy looking over the books nominated for the Man Booker Prize. There’s something about it that makes me think of ‘incredibly important literature’. It’s like a talent contest for books; I love trying to work out who will make the shortlist (which is announced on September 13th). Most years I do not get the chance to read all of the books but it is always interesting to observe the trends in literature that play out amongst the list.
This year is no different but I feel like I have an extra, and vested, interest in the outcome. You might remember that in my 2016 Book Challenge, one of the books I determined to read was the Man Booker Prize 2016 winner. So, I have been scanning along the longlist to see what catches my eye, as I usually do, but also with an added layer of anticipation.
What Stands Out?
The authors on the longlist are broad this year. From double winner J.M. Coetzee, who won for Life & Times of Michael K (1983) and Disgrace (1999), to four new voices; David Means, Wyk Menmuir, Ottessa Moshfegh and Virginia Rees. At first glance the two novels that appeal to me are; The North Water by Ian McGuire and His Bloody Project by Graeme McCrae Burnet. I will be watching them closely to see if they make the shortlist.
Interestingly (for bookish people like me!) both large and small publishers have made the list this year. Books from huge publishing conglomerates like Penguin Random House rub shoulders with independent publishers like Faber & Faber. I think this years’ longlist is perfectly summed up by Amanda Foreman (the Man Book Prize 2016 chair of Judges):
‘This is a very exciting year. The range of books is broad and the quality extremely high. Each novel provoked intense discussion and, at times, passionate debate, challenging our expectations of what a novel is and can be…From the historical to the contemporary, the satirical to the polemical, the novels in this list come from both established writers and new voices. The writing is uniformly fresh, energetic and important. It is a longlist to be relished.’
The Man Booker Prize 2016 Longlist
So, here it is, the Man Booker Prize 2016 Longlist. I have put the authors in alphabetical order (according to author), rather than rank them myself.
Author: Paul Beatty (US)
Born in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens—on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles—the narrator of The Sellout resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: “I’d die in the same bedroom I’d grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that’ve been there since ’68 quake.” Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father’s pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family’s financial woes, but when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that’s left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral.
Fuelled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident—the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins—he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.
The School Days of Jesus
Author: J. M Coetzee (South African- Australian)
Publisher: Harvill Secker
The curiously contrived family of Simón, Inés and Davíd resettle in the city of Estrella, after being forced to flee their previous home in Novilla following a dispute with the education authorities. There they seek to continue the schooling of the headstrong and gifted boy, Davíd. Davíd starts attending an unusual Dance Academy and falls under the influence of his charismatic teacher and the unnerving doorman, Dmitri. This mesmerising and thought-provoking novel is a masterwork from one of our most important writers.
Author: A. L. Kennedy (UK)
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Meg Williams is ‘a bankrupt accountant – two words you don’t want in the same sentence, or anywhere near your CV’. She’s 45 and shakily sober, living on Telegraph Hill, where she can see London unfurl below her. Somewhere out there is safety.
Somewhere out there is Jon, pinballing around the city with a mobile phone and a letter-writing habit he can’t break. He’s a man on the brink, leaking government secrets and affection as he runs for his life.
Set in 2014, this is a novel of our times. Poignant, deeply funny, and beautifully written, Serious Sweet is about two decent, damaged people trying to make moral choices in an immoral world: ready to sacrifice what’s left of themselves for honesty, and for a chance at tenderness. As Jon and Meg navigate the sweet and serious heart of London – passing through 24 hours that will change them both for ever – they tell a very unusual, unbearably moving love story.
Author: Deborah Levy (UK)
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
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.
But Dr. Gomez has strange methods that seem to have little to do with physical medicine, and as the treatment progresses, Sofia’s mother’s illness becomes increasingly baffling. Sofia’s role as detective–tracking her mother’s symptoms in an attempt to find the secret motivation for her pain–deepens as she discovers her own desires in this transient desert community.
His Bloody Project
Author: Graeme Macrae Burnet (UK)
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?
The North Water
Author: Ian McGuire (UK)
Publisher: Shribner UK
A 19th-century whaling ship sets sail for the Arctic with a killer aboard in this dark, sharp and highly original tale that grips like a thriller. Behold the man: stinking, drunk, brutal and bloodthirsty, Henry Drax is a harpooner on the Volunteer, a Yorkshire whaling ship bound for the hunting waters of the Arctic Circle. Also aboard is Patrick Sumner, an ex-army surgeon with a shattered reputation, no money and no better option than to embark as ship’s medic on this ill-fated voyage.
In India during the Siege of Delhi, Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which a man can stoop and imagined he’d find respite on the Volunteer, but now, trapped in the wooden belly of the ship with Drax, he encounters pure evil and is forced to act. As the true purposes of the expedition become clear, the confrontation between the two men plays out in the freezing darkness of an Arctic winter.
Author: David Means (US)
Publisher: Faber & Faber
At the bitter end of the 1960s, after surviving multiple assassination attempts, President John F. Kennedy has created a vast federal agency, the Psych Corps, dedicated to maintaining the nation’s mental hygiene by any means necessary. Soldiers returning from Vietnam have their battlefield traumas “enfolded”- wiped from their memories through drugs and therapy – while veterans too damaged to be enfolded roam at will in Michigan, evading the Psych Corps and reenacting atrocities on civilians.
This destabilized, alternate version of American history is the vision of the twenty-two-year-old veteran Eugene Allen, who has returned from Vietnam to write the book at the center of Hystopia, the long-awaited first novel by David Means. In Hystopia, Means brings his full talent to bear on the crazy reality of trauma, both national and personal.
Author: Wyl Menmuir (UK)
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.
Ethan, a fisherman, is particularly perturbed by Timothy’s arrival, but accedes to Timothy’s request to take him out to sea. They set out along the polluted coastline, hauling in weird fish from the contaminated sea, catches that are bought in whole and removed from the village. Timothy starts to ask questions about the previous resident of his house, Perran, questions to which he receives only oblique answers and increasing hostility. As Timothy forges on despite the villagers’ animosity and the code of silence around Perran, he starts to question what has brought him to this place and is forced to confront a painful truth.
Author: Ottessa Moshfegh (US)
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
The Christmas season offers little cheer for Eileen Dunlop, an unassuming yet disturbed young woman trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s carer in his squalid home and her day job as a secretary at the boys’ prison, filled with its own quotidian horrors. Consumed by resentment and self-loathing, Eileen tempers her dreary days with perverse fantasies and dreams of escaping to the big city. In the meantime, she fills her nights and weekends with shoplifting, stalking a handsome prison guard named Randy, and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father’s messes.
When the beautiful, charismatic Rebecca Saint John arrives on the scene as the new counselor at the prison, Eileen is enchanted and unable to resist what appears to be a miraculously budding friendship. In a Hitchcockian twist, her affection for Rebecca ultimately pulls her into complicity in a crime that surpasses her wildest imaginings.
Work Like Any Other
Author: Virginia Reeves (US)
Publisher: Shribner UK
This debut novel charts the story of Roscoe T Martin in rural Alabama in the 1920s. Roscoe has set his sights on a new type of power spreading at the start of the 20th century: electricity. It becomes his training, his life’s work. But when his wife Marie inherits her father’s failing farm, Roscoe has to give it up, with great cost to his pride and sense of self, his marriage and his family.
Realising that he might lose them all, he uses his skills as an electrician to siphon energy from the state, ushering in a period of bounty and happiness on a farm recently falling to ruin. Even the love of Marie and their son seems back within Roscoe’s grasp. Then everything changes. A young man is electrocuted on their land. Roscoe is arrested for manslaughter and – no longer an electrician or even a farmer – he must now carve out a place in a violent new world.
My Name Is Lucy Barton
Author: Elizabeth Strout (US)
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. Her unexpected visit forces Lucy to confront the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of her life: her impoverished childhood in Amgash, Illinois, her escape to New York and her desire to become a writer, her faltering 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. In My Name Is Lucy Barton, one of America’s finest writers shows how a simple hospital visit illuminates the most tender relationship of all-the one between mother and daughter.
All That Man Is
Author: David Szalay (Canada- UK)
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Here are nine men. Each of them is at a different stage in life, each of them is away from home, and each of them is striving – in the suburbs of Prague, in an over-developed Alpine village, beside a Belgian motorway, in a crap Cypriot hotel – to understand just what it means to be alive, here and now. Vibrating with detail and intelligence, pathos and surprise, All That Man Is is a portrait of contemporary manhood, contemporary Europe and contemporary life from a British writer of supreme gifts – the master of a new kind of realism.
Do Not Say We Have Nothing
Author: Madeleine Thien (Canada)
Publisher: Granta Books
In Canada in 1991, ten-year-old Marie and her mother invite a guest into their home: a young woman who has fled China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests. Her name is Ai-Ming. As her relationship with Marie deepens, Ai-Ming tells the story of her family in revolutionary China, from the crowded teahouses in the first days of Chairman Mao’s ascent, to the Shanghai Conservatory in the 1960s and the events leading to the Beijing demonstrations of 1989.
It is a history of revolutionary idealism, music, and silence, in which three musicians, the shy and brilliant composer Sparrow, the violin prodigy Zhuli, and the enigmatic pianist Kai struggle during China’s relentless Cultural Revolution to remain loyal to one another and to the music they have devoted their lives to. Forced to re-imagine their artistic and private selves, their fates reverberate through the years, with deep and lasting consequences for Ai-Ming – and for Marie.
Will you be reading any of the books on this years longlist?
Which books stand out to you? And which ones do you think will make the shortlist?
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