This might sound like a strange start, I’ve never been the biggest fan of the [Man] Booker Prize. There’s always some controversy surrounding it and this year is no different, although I do feel it is making steps in the right direction. This year’s longlist looks, for the most part, excellent so I’ve decided to try and read as many of them as possible before the shortlist is announced in September. As I mention below, there will be some I will not be reading and a brief explanation of why.
So, in a nutshell, here are my thoughts on the longlist for the Booker Prize 2019 and which books I’ll be reading (if I’ve not already read them). I’ll also give my shortlist prediction, although these are not necessarily the books I would like to see shortlisted.
Books are listed in alphabetical order by author surname.
Author: Margaret Atwood
Title: The Testaments
Country represented: Canada
Publisher: Vintage, Chatto & Windus
When the van door slammed on Offred’s future at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale, readers had no way of telling what lay ahead.
With The Testaments, the wait is over.Taken from the Penguin website
Well, let’s get stuck straight in to one of the things I find problematic about the Booker Prize longlist. The follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale is so highly anticipated and strictly embargoed until release date, 10th September 2019. However, we have to face the reality that it doesn’t necessarily follow that it will be good. Very few people have read it ahead of its release.
The longlisting of this book is based on the opinions of a very small panel and I am concerned, purely based on anticipation, it will unfairly dominate the prize and could be (will be) shortlisted before release date.
If you want an example of a book pitted to be successful based on its predecessor which arguably was not a success, remember all the controversy around Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman?
Will I be reading? Highly unlikely.
Author: Kevin Barry
Title: Night Boat to Tangier
Country represented: Ireland
Publisher: Canongate Books
It’s late one night at the Spanish port of Algeciras and two fading Irish gangsters are waiting on the boat from Tangier. A lover has been lost, a daughter has gone missing, their world has come asunder – can it be put together again?
Night Boat to Tangier is a novel drenched in sex and death and narcotics, in sudden violence and old magic. But above all, it is a book obsessed with the mysteries of love. A tragicomic masterwork from the award-winning Kevin Barry, Night Boat to Tangier is a work of melancholy beauty, wit and lyrical brilliance.Taken from the Canongate website
I’ll be the first to admit that Night Boat to Tangier has passed me by, although I have seen it in the bookshops. Based on the synopsis, I’m intrigued to find out how Barry squeezes so much into 224 pages. Sex, death, and narcotics? Don’t mind if I do.
Will I be reading? Absolutely.
Author: Oyinkan Braithwaite
Title: My Sister, The Serial Killer
Countries represented: UK/Nigeria
Publisher: Atlantic Books
When Korede’s dinner is interrupted one night by a distress call from her sister, Ayoola, she knows what’s expected of her: bleach, rubber gloves, nerves of steel and a strong stomach.
This’ll be the third boyfriend Ayoola’s dispatched in, quote, self-defence and the third mess that her lethal little sibling has left Korede to clear away. She should probably go to the police for the good of the menfolk of Nigeria, but she loves her sister and, as they say, family always comes first. Until, that is, Ayoola starts dating the doctor where Korede works as a nurse.
Korede’s long been in love with him, and isn’t prepared to see him wind up with a knife in his back: but to save one would mean sacrificing the other…Taken from the Atlantic Books website
This is the first book on the longlist I’ve already read and loved. I’m pleased to see the book having made the longlist as I feel it is underrated, despite being shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2019. I know some people struggle with the narrative but I honestly cannot recommend it highly enough.
I’d say do not go in with any expectations – if you’re looking for a linear thriller, you’re looking in the wrong place. You can find my full review here.
Will I be reading? Read!
Author: Lucy Ellmann
Title: Ducks, Newburyport
Countries represented: UK/USA
Publisher: Galley Beggar Press
Latticing one cherry pie after another, an Ohio housewife tries to bridge the gaps between reality and the torrent of meaningless info that is the United States of America. She worries about her children, her dead parents, African elephants, the bedroom rituals of “happy couples”, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and how to hatch an abandoned wood pigeon egg. Is there some trick to surviving survivalists? School shootings? Medical debts? Franks ’n’ beans?
A scorching indictment of America’s barbarity, past and present, and a lament for the way we are sleepwalking into environmental disaster, Ducks, Newburyport is a heresy, a wonder—and a revolution in the novel.Taken from the Galley Beggar Press website
Excuse me while I wet myself with glee at this book having being longlisted. If you’ve not seen the hype, firstly, have you been living under a rock, and secondly, I insist you go order a copy of this book right now. I do not say this lightly – this book is groundbreaking. It is a stream of conciousness from a housewife about the state of her life and the world around her. Ellmann is a phenomenon.
Will I be reading? In progress.
Author: Bernardine Evaristo
Title: Girl, Woman, Other
Country represented: UK
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton
Girl, Woman, Other follows the lives and struggles of twelve very different characters. Mostly women, black and British, they tell the stories of their families, friends and lovers, across the country and through the years.
Joyfully polyphonic and vibrantly contemporary, this is a gloriously new kind of history, a novel of our times: celebratory, ever-dynamic and utterly irresistible.Taken from the Penguin website.
I have to admit to knowing absolutely nothing about this book, nor had I heard of it before the longlist announcement. The synopsis is interesting but I have to confess I am a bit wary of verse novels – maybe this is what I need to read so challenge my views.
Will I be reading? Maybe.
Author: John Lanchester
Title: The Wall
Country represented: UK
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Kavanagh begins his life patrolling the Wall. If he’s lucky, if nothing goes wrong, he only has two years of this, 729 more nights.
The best thing that can happen is that he survives and gets off the Wall and never has to spend another day of his life anywhere near it. He longs for this to be over; longs to be somewhere else.
He will soon find out what Defenders do and who the Others are. Along with the rest of his squad, he will endure cold and fear day after day, night after night. But somewhere, in the dark cave of his mind, he thinks: wouldn’t it be interesting if something did happen, if they came, if you had to fight for your life?Taken from the Faber & Faber website.
The other book on the list I’ve already read, or more accurately, listened to. I bought the audiobook on a whim having decided it was well narrated and before I knew it I was glued to the narrator’s voice and quite honestly it left me wanting more. A damning commentary on the state of our society, particularly in the UK. If you’re quitely seething every time you see the news, read The Wall and get ready for the revolution.
Will I be reading? Read.
Author: Deborah Levy
Title: The Man Who Saw Everything
Country represented: UK
Publisher: Hamilton Hamish
In 1988 Saul Adler (a narcissistic, young historian) is hit by a car on the Abbey Road. He is apparently fine; he gets up and goes to see his art student girlfriend, Jennifer Moreau. They have sex then break up, but not before she has photographed Saul crossing the same Abbey Road.
Saul leaves to study in communist East Berlin, two months before the Wall comes down. There he will encounter – significantly – both his assigned translator and his translator’s sister, who swears she has seen a jaguar prowling the city. He will fall in love and brood upon his difficult, authoritarian father. And he will befriend a hippy, Rainer, who may or may not be a Stasi agent, but will certainly return to haunt him in middle age.Taken from the Penguin website.
This is another currently not released but will be out before shortlisting takes place. I personally think this book sounds fabulous although I am a huge fan of Levy’s writing. My ideal day would be to sit with a Levy book and a glass of wine with absolutely no interruptions. Writing you can truly get lost in.
Will I be reading? Heck yes.
Author: Valeria Luiselli
Title: Lost Children Archive
Countries represented: Mexico/Italy
Publisher: 4th Estate
Suppose you and Pa were gone, and we were lost. What would happen then?
A family in New York packs the car and sets out on a road trip. A mother, a father, a boy and a girl, they head south west, to the Apacheria, the regions of the US which used to be Mexico. They drive for hours through desert and mountains. They stop at diners when they’re hungry and sleep in motels when it gets dark. The little girl tells surreal knock knock jokes and makes them all laugh. The little boy educates them all and corrects them when they’re wrong. The mother and the father are barely speaking to each other.
Meanwhile, thousands of children are journeying north, travelling to the US border from Central America and Mexico. A grandmother or aunt has packed a backpack for them, putting in a bible, one toy, some clean underwear. They have been met by a coyote: a man who speaks to them roughly and frightens them. They cross a river on rubber tubing and walk for days, saving whatever food and water they can. Then they climb to the top of a train and travel precariously in the open container on top. Not all of them will make it to the border.Taken from the 4th Estate website.
Let’s be honest, this book is a portent of current affairs and things to come. Described as a “moving, powerful, urgent story about what it is to be human in an inhuman world”, I think Luiselli will hold no prisoners with this novel. It is going straight to the top of my TBR list. Let’s hope it makes people sit up and pay attention as we badly need it.
Will I be reading? A million times yes.
Author: Chogozie Obioma
Title: An Orchestra of Minorities
Countries represented: Nigeria
Publisher: Little Brown
A young farmer named Chinonso prevents a woman from falling to her death. Bonded by this strange night on the bridge, he and Ndali fall in love, but it is a mismatch according to her family who reject him because of his lowly status. Is it love or madness that makes Chinonso think he can change his destiny?Taken from the Little Brown website.
Unfortunately, this is one of the books I don’t think I‘ll be picking up from the longlist. As intriguing as it sounds, I have to confess I immediately lost interest when I learned the book is told from the perspective of the protagonist’s spirit guide. This isn’t my cup of tea at all, so I’ll be giving this one a miss.
Will I be reading? No.
Author: Max Porter
Countries represented: UK
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Not far from London, there is a village.
This village belongs to the people who live in it and to those who lived in it hundreds of years ago. It belongs to England’s mysterious past and its confounding present.
It belongs to Mad Pete, the grizzled artist. To ancient Peggy, gossiping at her gate. To families dead for generations, and to those who have only recently moved here.
But it also belongs to Dead Papa Toothwort who has woken from his slumber in the woods. Dead Papa Toothwort, who is listening to them all.Taken from the Faber & Faber website.
Another from Faber & Faber, Lanny has been hugely popular, particularly after Porter’s success with Grief Is The Thing With Feathers. I haven’t read either book but I have come very close to picking up Lanny in the bookshop. If I can get hold of it from the library then I think I may be inclined to give it a go.
Will I be reading? Maybe.
Author: Salman Rushdie
Countries represented: UK/India
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Inspired by the Cervantes classic, Sam DuChamp, mediocre writer of spy thrillers, creates Quichotte, a courtly, addled salesman obsessed with television, who falls in impossible love with a TV star. Together with his (imaginary) son Sancho, Quichotte sets off on a picaresque quest across America to prove worthy of her hand, gallantly braving the tragicomic perils of an age where ‘Anything-Can-Happen’. Meanwhile his creator, in a midlife crisis, has equally urgent challenges of his own.Taken from the Penguin website.
Like Atwood and Levy, Rushdie’s book is also currently unpublished, due to be released on 29th August 2019. Much like Atwood, I feel that Rushdie has made the list based on previous merit. This doesn’t sit well with me because – and this is me being brutally honest – I do not like Rushdie’s work. I had the misfortune of being made to read Midnight’s Children in University and I didn’t enjoy it at all. The experience left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.
Will I be reading? Definitely not.
Author: Elif Shafak
Title: 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World
Countries represented: UK/Turkey
For Leila, each minute after her death brings a sensuous memory: the taste of spiced goat stew, sacrificed by her father to celebrate the long-awaited birth of a son; the sight of bubbling vats of lemon and sugar which the women use to wax their legs while the men attend mosque; the scent of cardamom coffee that Leila shares with a handsome student in the brothel where she works. Each memory, too, recalls the friends she made at each key moment in her life – friends who are now desperately trying to find her. . .Taken from the Penguin website.
I first heard of this book when it was mentioned by Simon Savidge and I nearly fell over myself, it sounds so beautiful. I’m just trying to be patient and wait for payday so I can get it. Possibly the one I am most excited to read from the list.
Will I be reading? YES.
Author: Jeanette Winterson
Countries represented: UK
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
In Brexit Britain, a young transgender doctor called Ry is falling in love – against their better judgement – with Victor Stein, a celebrated professor leading the public debate around AI.
Meanwhile, Ron Lord, just divorced and living with Mum again, is set to make his fortune launching a new generation of sex dolls for lonely men everywhere.
Across the Atlantic, in Phoenix, Arizona, a cryonics facility houses dozens of bodies of men and women who are medically and legally dead… but waiting to return to life.
But the scene is set in 1816, when nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley writes a story about creating a non-biological life-form. ‘Beware, for I am fearless and therefore powerful.’Taken from the Penguin website.
A second book from Jonathan Cape by the timelessly wonderful Jeanette Winterson. I discovered Winterson in my late teens and, boy, what a revelation that was. Winterson’s work is up there with Levy for me, and I think everyone should read Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.
That being said, Frankissstein is not calling to me as I thought it would. I went to a bookshop to buy it and left without it. I think this may be one I read in the future but I’m not feeling it right now.
Will I be reading? Probably not.
- The Testaments
- Ducks, Newburyport
- An Orchestra of Minorities
- Lost Children Archive
I’ll predict the winner when the shortlist is confirmed but at the moment I can’t see The Testaments not winning it, even though I do not feel that it necessarily deserves it.
What do you think?
What do you think about the longlist for 2019? Let me know in the comments below. Don’t forget to include your shortlist/winner prediction!