The longlist has been announced! The Man Booker – always accompanied by mixed feelings from the literary world – has announced its 13 titles up for this year’s prize. Of the authors, only two (Crace and Tóibín) have been nominated for the Prize before, and three – Bulawayo, Harris and Ryan – are debut novelists. Here’s a bit more about the books themselves…
Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw (Fourth Estate)
Phoebe has come to China buoyed with hope, but her dreams are shattered as the job she was promised seems never to have existed. Gary is a successful pop star, but his fans disappear after a bar-room brawl. Yinghui was once a poetry-loving activist and is not sure how she became a wealthy businesswoman. Justin works hard for his powerful family, but begins to wonder if his efforts are appreciated. And then there is the Five Star Billionaire himself, pulling the strings of destiny, his lessons for success unsettling the dynamics of these disparate lives.
I normally love Tash Aw’s stuff, but this just doesn’t capture my imagination for some reason. Knowing Aw’s writing, I know why it’s been nominated, but I can’t help but feel The Harmony Silk Factory would have been better suited.
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo (Chatto & Windus)
Ten-year-old Darling has a choice: it’s down, or out…
We Need New Names tells the story of Darling and her friends Stina, Chipo, Godknows, Sbho and Bastard. They all used to have proper houses, with real rooms and furniture, but now they all live in a shanty called Paradise. They spend their days stealing guavas, playing games and wondering how to get the baby out of young Chipo’s stomach. They dream of escaping to other paradises – America, Dubai, Europe. But if they do escape, will these new lands bring everything they wish for?
This sounds great! From the synopsis, I’m envisioning humour and adventure – perhaps with a Young Adult feel?
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (Granta)
It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a whore has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky.
I’m not sure what to think about this. It’s intrigued me enough to want to read it though. I can’t marry the storyline with New Zealand though, and want to see how that works.
Harvest by Jim Crace (Picador)
As late summer steals in and the final pearls of barley are gleaned, a village comes under threat. A trio of outsiders – two men and a dangerously magnetic woman – arrives on the woodland borders and puts up a make-shift camp. That same night, the local manor house is set on fire.
Over the course of seven days, Walter Thirsk sees his hamlet unmade: the harvest blackened by smoke and fear, the new arrivals cruelly punished, and his neighbours held captive on suspicion of witchcraft. But something even darker is at the heart of his story, and he will be the only man left to tell it…
Definitely need to read this. Apart from the fact this will be Crace’s last novel, it sounds exquisitely dark and intense. Straight on the wishlist.
The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris (Sandstone Press)
19 year-old Chani lives in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community of North West London. She has never had physical contact with a man, but is bound to marry a stranger. The rabbi’s wife teaches her what it means to be a Jewish wife, but Rivka has her own questions to answer. Soon buried secrets, fear and sexual desire bubble to the surface in a story of liberation and choice; not to mention what happens on the wedding night…
This could be great, but I’m not sure it’s my cup of tea.
The Kills by Richard House (Picador)
Camp Liberty is an unmanned staging-post in Amrah province, Iraq; the place where the detritus of the war is buried, incinerated, removed from memory. Until, suddenly, plans are announced to transform it into the largest military base in the country, codenamed the Massive, with a post-war strategy to convert the site for civilian use.
Contracted by HOSCO, the insidious company responsible for overseeing the Massive, Rem Gunnerson finds himself unwittingly commanding a disparate group of economic mercenaries at Camp Liberty when the mysterious Stephen Lawrence Sutler arrives. As the men are played against each other by HOSCO the situation grows increasingly tense. And then everything changes. An explosion. An attack on a regional government office. When the dust settles it emerges that Sutler has disappeared, and over fifty million dollars of reconstruction funds are missing.
Sutler finds himself accused and on the run. Gunnerson and his men want revenge for months of abuse and misinformation. Out of the chaos a man named Paul Geezler rises to restore order, a man more involved than he’s willing to admit.
And then there’s the vicious murder of an American student in Italy. A murder that replicates exactly the details of a well-known novel.
Okay, I thought I understood the plot to this until I read that last sentence… I might have to read it just to get it.
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (Bloomsbury)
From Subhash’s earliest memories, at every point, his brother was there. In the suburban streets of Calcutta where they wandered before dusk and in the hyacinth-strewn ponds where they played for hours on end, Udayan was always in his older brother’s sight.
As the two brothers grow older their lives, once so united, begin to diverge. It is 1967. Charismatic and impulsive, Udayan becomes increasingly drawn to the Communist movement sweeping West Bengal, the Naxalite cause. As revolution seizes the city’s student community and exams are boycotted in a shadow of Paris and Berkeley, their home is dominated by the absence of Udayan, out on the streets at demonstrations. Subhash wins a place on a PhD programme in the United States and moves to Rhode Island, never to live in India again – yet his life will be shaped from afar by his brother’s acts of passionate political idealism.
Udayan will give everything for what he believes and in doing so will transform the futures of those dearest to him: his newly married, pregnant wife, his brother and their parents. The repercussions of his actions will link their fates irrevocably and tragically together, reverberating across continents and seeping through the generations that follow.
I think this is a vague synopsis for something that should be brilliant. I might give it a go a little while down the line, but I have no desperate urge to get it now.
Unexploded by Alison MacLeod ( Hamish Hamilton)
May 1940, Brighton. On Park Crescent, Geoffrey and Evelyn Beaumont and their eight-year-old son, Philip, anxiously await news of the expected enemy landing on their beaches.
It is a year of tension and change. Geoffrey becomes Superintendent of the enemy alien camp at the far reaches of town, while Philip is gripped by the rumour that Hitler will make Brighton’s Royal Pavilion his English HQ. As the rumours continue to fly and the days tick on, Evelyn struggles to fall in with the war effort and the constraints of her role in life, and her thoughts become tinged with a mounting, indefinable desperation.
Then she meets Otto Gottlieb, a ‘degenerate’ German-Jewish painter and prisoner in her husband’s internment camp. As Europe crumbles, Evelyn’s and Otto’s mutual distrust slowly begins to change into something else, which will shatter the structures on which her life, her family and her community rest. Love collides with fear, the power of art with the forces of war, and the lives of Evelyn, Otto and Geoffrey are changed irrevocably.
I quite like War-era novels, and this one is a bit different to ones I’ve read before – not set in Europe or London, this looks great.
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (Bloomsbury)
TransAtlantic tells the story of four generations of women. Spanning the onset of the Irish potato famine in 1845, the American Civil War and the more recent troubles in Northern Ireland, it is an epic and engrossing story of slavery, poverty, struggle and survival.
1919. Emily Ehrlich watches as two young airmen, Alcock and Brown, emerge from the carnage of World War One to pilot the very first non-stop transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to the west of Ireland. Among the mail being carried on the aircraft is a letter which Emily’s mother, Lily, wrote when she first left Ireland in 1845. The letter will not be opened for almost one hundred years.
1845. Lily Duggans is just seventeen years old and living as a maid when Frederick Douglass, a black American slave, lands in Ireland to champion ideas of democracy and freedom, only to find a famine unfurling at his feet. On his travels he inspires Lily to go to New York and embrace a free world, but the land does not always fulfill its promises for her. From the violent battlefields of the Civil War to the ice lakes of northern Missouri, it is her youngest daughter Emily who eventually finds her way back to Ireland.
1998. Senator George Mitchell criss-crosses the ocean in search of an elusive Irish peace. How many more bereaved mothers must he meet before an agreement can be reached?
Can we cross from the new world to the old? How does the past shape the future? In TransAtlantic, Colum McCann has achieved an outstanding act of literary bravura. Intricately crafted, poetic and deeply affecting it weaves together personal stories to explore the fine line between what is real and what is imagined, and the tangled skein of connections that make up our lives.
I heard an interview with Colum McCann on a podcast, speaking about this book and it really intrigued me. I don’t think I’d pick it up normally, but I might give it a go.
Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson (Mantle)
The air stinks of tuberose, caraway and garlic: the universal scent of central European hospitality. But Marina is not hospitable. After only an hour her skin is tender with cheek pinchings; she has been matchmade, prodded and instructed beyond endurance, and the night is young. Soon they will come to find her, to admire the shape of her fingernails, the thickness of her lashes, their eyes peeling back her clothes, weighing her like fruit. This is not new. She has been brought up to accept the questions and kisses as if nothing could please her more, however much lava is boiling inside. The problem is that Marina has changed. She can bear their scrutiny no longer because her life is a disaster, and it is her fault. She betrayed them and escaped them, and now she wants to come back.
In a tiny flat in West London, sixteen-year-old Marina lives with her emotionally-delicate mother, Laura, and three ancient Hungarian relatives. Imprisoned by her family’s crushing expectations and their fierce unEnglish pride, by their strange traditions and stranger foods, she knows she must escape. But the place she runs to makes her feel even more of an outsider.
At Combe Abbey, a traditional English public school for which her family have sacrificed everything, Marina realises she has made a terrible mistake. She is the awkward half-foreign girl who doesn’t know how to fit in, flirt or even be. And as a semi-Hungarian Londoner, who is she? In the meantime, her mother, Laura – an alien in this strange universe – has her own painful secrets to deal with, especially the return of the last man she’d expect back in her life. She isn’t noticing that, at Combe Abbey, things are starting to go terribly wrong.
Straight on the wishlist. This sounds so good!
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (Canongate)
Ruth discovers a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore of her beach home. Within it lies a diary that expresses the hopes and dreams of a young girl. She suspects it might have arrived on a drift of debris from the 2011 tsunami. With every turn of the page, she is sucked deeper into an enchanting mystery.
In a small cafe in Tokyo, 16-year-old Nao Yasutani is navigating the challenges thrown up by modern life. In the face of cyberbullying, the mysteries of a 104-year-old Buddhist nun and great-grandmother, and the joy and heartbreak of family, Nao is trying to find her own place – and voice – through a diary she hopes will find a reader and friend who finally understands her.
Again, I heard Ozeki talk about this book on a podcast, and I’ve already earmarked it to read. It sounds such a beautiful story – this synopsis doesn’t do it justice, you need to listen to Ozeki explain it to get it right.
The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan (Doubleday)
In the aftermath of Ireland’s financial collapse, dangerous tensions surface in an Irish town. As violence flares, the characters face a battle between public persona and inner desires. Through a chorus of unique voices, each struggling to tell their own kind of truth, a single authentic tale unfolds.
Another podcast discovery, and a book review in The Guardian (I think). This sounds great, but I remember the review saying it was a bit disjointed at times, and I’m not sure how I’d get on with it…
The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín (Viking)
In a voice that is both tender and filled with rage, The Testament of Mary tells the story of a cataclysmic event which led to an overpowering grief. For Mary, her son has been lost to the world, and now, living in exile and in fear, she tries to piece together the memories of the events that led to her son’s brutal death. To her he was a vulnerable figure, surrounded by men who could not be trusted, living in a time of turmoil and change. As her life and her suffering begin to acquire the resonance of myth, Mary struggles to break the silence surrounding what she knows to have happened. In her effort to tell the truth in all its gnarled complexity, she slowly emerges as a figure of immense moral stature as well as a woman from history rendered now as fully human.
This sounds incredible. I love Tóibín’s work and this sounds masterful. I can’t wait to read it!
“So what conclusion can be drawn from the list? Well, simply that this year’s judges – Robert MacFarlane, Martha Kearney, Stuart Kelly, Natalie Haynes and Robert Douglas-Fairhurst – have found works of the greatest quality in places as distant from one another as Zimbabwe and New Zealand, Canada and Malaysia and from writers at the start of their careers (Eleanor Catton, aged 28, whose book The Luminaries weighs in at a whopping 832 pages) to those who have been at the writing game for many years (Jim Crace, aged 67) – and every stage inbetween. This is surely too the first time a filmmaking Zen-Buddhist priest (Ruth Ozeki) has been included on the longlist. If ever a group of books offered proof that the Man Booker judges approach their task without a set of preconceptions, this is it.” — Man Booker Prize 2013
What do you think of the longlist?
Have you read any, or are there any you’re dying to get your hands on?