The Man Booker Prize Shortlist has been revealed and there are lots of interesting books up for the yearly award. Each year a team of judges read through lots of fiction books to curate a list of reads which represent the finest examples from the past year. This year the shortlist represents a wide variety of subject matter and writing styles. The shortlist is:
Marlon James (Jamaica) A Brief History of Seven Killings (Oneworld Publications)
Tom McCarthy (UK) Satin Island (Jonathan Cape)
Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria) The Fishermen (ONE, Pushkin Press)
Sunjeev Sahota (UK) The Year of the Runaways (Picador)
Anne Tyler (US) A Spool of Blue Thread (Chatto & Windus)
Hanya Yanagihara (US) A Little Life (Picador)
So which one will you be picking up? We enjoyed following the Man Booker Vloggers on Youtube who guided us through our choice but here is our quick guide:
1/ A Little Life – This has been tipped as the winner despite its length and subject matter. If you decide to give this book a read then be aware that there are lots of trigger warning concerning abuse. A raw but fearless novel.
When four graduates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. (Source)
2/ A Spool of Blue Thread – Anne Tyler’s 20th novel is arguable the easiest read on the list. An enjoyable family saga with a world created by an excellent, dependable writer.
‘It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon…’ This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she and Red fell in love that day in July 1959. The whole family on the porch, relaxed, half-listening as their mother tells the same tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different. Abby and Red are getting older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them and their beloved family home. They’ve all come, even Denny, who can usually be relied on only to please himself. From that porch we spool back through three generations of the Whitshanks, witnessing the events, secrets and unguarded moments that have come to define who and what they are. And while all families like to believe they are special, round that kitchen table over all those years we see played out the hopes and fears, the rivalries and tensions of families everywhere – the essential nature of family life. (Source)
3/ The Year of the Runaways – A book which splits its story between England and India, telling the tale of young men who hope for a better life than they have left behind. Expect a beautifully written story.
13 young men live in a house in Sheffield, each in flight from India and in desperate search of a new life. Tarlochan, a former rickshaw driver, will say nothing about his past in Bihar; and Avtar has a secret that binds him to protect the chaotic Randeep. Randeep, in turn, has a visa-wife in a flat on the other side of town: a clever, devout woman whose cupboards are full of her husband’s clothes, in case the immigration men surprise her with a call.(Source)
4/ The Fishermen – This book is a magical fable set in Nigeria and narrated by the voice of nine year old Benjamin following the fates of his brothers after his strict father disappeared. Not a long read but a rewarding one.
The Fishermen is set in a small town in Nigeria in the mid-1990s. Four brothers, the youngest of whom is nine, use their strict father’s absence from home to go fishing in a forbidden river and encounter a dangerous local madman, Abulu, whose mystic prophecy of violence threatens the very core of their close-knit family. He predicts that one of the brothers – a fisherman – will kill another. This evil prophecy of violence causes a deep rift between the brothers and starts to break the deep fraternal bonds, unleashing a tragic chain of events. (Source)
5/ Satin Island – We were pleasantly surprised to see this appear on the shortlist. It is a stretch to categorise this as fiction because it follows the research and thought of a man given the job to document human existence. This is certainly the most interesting of the shortlist picks which will make you think rather than a traditional narrative.
Set in contemporary London, Satin Island is a work reflecting disjointed times. A story about U. – a ‘corporate anthropologist’ working for an elite consultancy. U.’s employers have set him two tasks. First, he must assist in the launching of a great, epoch-defining project which no one, least of all its own architects, fully understands. Second, he has been asked to compose the seemingly impossible: the Great Report – an ethnographic document to sum up our age. Instead, procrastinating, U. grows obsessed with the images with which the world bombards him on a daily basis: oil spills, African traffic jams, roller-blade processions, zombie parades. Is there a secret logic holding all these things together – a codex that, once cracked, will unlock the master-meaning of our times? Might it have something to do with South Pacific Cargo Cults, or the dead parachutists in the news? Perhaps; perhaps not. (Source)
6/ A Brief History of Seven Killings – An imaginative and intriguing story which is built around the attempted murder of Bob Marley in the 1970’s. Not your typical Booker prize nominee but a great story which keeps you reading.
On 3 December 1976, just weeks before the general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica concert to ease political tensions, seven men from West Kingston stormed his house with machine guns. Marley survived and went on to perform at the free concert. But the next day he left the country and didn’t return for two years. Inspired by this near-mythic event, A Brief History of Seven Killings takes the form of an imagined oral biography, told by ghosts, witnesses, killers, members of parliament, drug dealers, conmen, beauty queens, FBI and CIA agents, journalists, and even Keith Richards’ drug dealer. The story traverses strange landscapes and shady characters, as motivations are examined – and questions asked.
Overall the list is surprising, refreshing and dare I say a little bit more accessible than usual this year. If you are interested in buying a few books to snuggle up with in these autumn nights then we would suggest Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread and The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma. We also grabbed Satin Island out of interest and look forward to the winner being announced on Tuesday 13 October 2015. All these titles are available from Waterstones in Ballymena.