The winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize will be announced on Tuesday, and whilst I’ve attempted to read this year’s shortlist, I’m only four and a half books into the six, largely due to 4 3 2 1 taking a week longer to read than I’d expected. Despite this, I’m still going to make a prediction of the winner of this year’s prize.
Here’s a reminder of the shortlist, and my thoughts on each.
4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
4 3 2 1 is a bit of a monster, and whilst I have now finished reading it, I haven’t had chance to review it yet. Despite its size and the fact that it took me a long time to read, I did enjoy this novel in which the reader is introduced to Archibald Isaac Ferguson (Archie) not once but four times, as we see four different versions of how this character’s life might have turned out. It’s big and complex, and keeping the different stories separate wasn’t always easy, as some characters appear multiple times – his girlfriend in one version of his life is his cousin in another, for example, and given the length, it was easy to confuse the different versions, but this is a rewarding read with a nice little twist at the end.
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
The first novel from this year’s shortlist that I read (you can see my full review here), and a novel that I really enjoyed. Fridlund’s debut novel is something of a bildungsroman featuring 14-year-old Linda, who lives with her parents in near-isolation, making the whole family outsiders in the community. It touches on various themes, particularly that of loneliness, and looks at the effect of a tragedy on Linda, who doesn’t fully understand what’s happening at the time. This is an incredibly strong debut novel, and whilst I don’t think that History of Wolves will win this year’s prize, I think that it marks Fridlund as one to watch.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
I absolutely loved the blurb of Exit West when the longlist was announced in July, and I picked up a copy straightaway. Perhaps because of my expectations, I didn’t enjoy as much as I hoped. Set in an unnamed country, Nadia and Saeed are two young people who meet and begin to fall in love as their country collapses around them in civil war. As the situation becomes increasingly difficult, they look to escape through one of the doors that appears – doors that will take them to another country. Incredibly topical, I felt that this novel dealt with the issues facing refugees and that countries that they enter a little too simplistic, but that’s is just my opinion. Mohsin adopts a sparse narrative style throughout, however, and so this may have been deliberate. My full review can be found here.
Elmet by Fiona Mosley
Elmet is another debut novel, and is the one that I haven’t read or started reading yet. It’s hard to judge it without having read the novel, but I think that there are two main contenders for this year’s prize, and purely on that basis, I don’t see this winning this year’s Booker. Here’s the synopsis:
Fresh and distinctive writing from an exciting new voice in fiction, Elmet is an unforgettable novel about family, as well as a beautiful meditation on landscape.
Daniel is heading north. He is looking for someone. The simplicity of his early life with Daddy and Cathy has turned sour and fearful. They lived apart in the house that Daddy built for them with his bare hands. They foraged and hunted. When they were younger, Daniel and Cathy had gone to school. But they were not like the other children then, and they were even less like them now. Sometimes Daddy disappeared, and would return with a rage in his eyes. But when he was at home he was at peace. He told them that the little copse in Elmet was theirs alone. But that wasn’t true. Local men, greedy and watchful, began to circle like vultures. All the while, the terrible violence in Daddy grew.
Atmospheric and unsettling, Elmet is a lyrical commentary on contemporary society and one family’s precarious place in it, as well as an exploration of how deep the bond between father and child can go.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
As the American Civil War begins, Abraham Lincoln’s household is hit by tragedy – the death of his eleven-year-old son, Willie. Told over the course of a single night, the reader is introduced to a cast of bizarre characters in the “Bardo” – a Tibetan purgatory, where those unwilling or unable to accept their death languish.
With a unique structure, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel which was a little confusing at first, but soon picks up the pace once you get used to the narration, and I think that this is a strong contender for the prize. My full review can be found here.
Autumn by Ali Smith
At the time of writing, I’m around halfway through this novel. I haven’t read much by Ali Smith – I attempted How to be Both, but didn’t get into it, and I abandoned it without finishing it. I’m enjoying Autumn more, but I’m still not sure that the style – which is wholly unique – is quite to my taste. Having been nominated for the award four times (watch out Beryl Bainbridge, there may be a contender for the title of Booker Bridesmaid), I do think that this is the other main contender this year. Here’s the synopsis:
Fusing Keatsian mists and mellow fruitfulness with the vitality, the immediacy and the colour-hit of Pop Art (via a bit of very contemporary skulduggery and skull-diggery), Autumn is a witty excavation of the present by the past. The novel is a stripped-branches take on popular culture and a meditation, in a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, what harvest means.
Autumn is the first instalment in Ali Smith’s novel quartet Seasonal: four standalone books, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as the seasons are), exploring what time is, how we experience it, and the recurring markers in the shapes our lives take and in our ways with narrative.
From the imagination of the peerless Ali Smith comes a shape-shifting series, wide-ranging in timescale and light-footed through histories, and a story about ageing and time and love and stories themselves.
So, in my opinion this year’s Booker is a toss-up between George Saunders and Ali Smith. Saunders appears to be the bookie’s favourite, and, much like the Grand National, the favourite never wins. For that reason alone, I’m going to say that Ali Smith will win this year, as I’ve no other way of picking one over the other.
What do you think? Have you read any of the shortlisted titles? Who do you think will win?