On 24 July, the longlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize will be announced. I love to make a prediction for the novels that will appear on the longlist, even though I’ve had mixed results historically, guessing 5 of the 13 last year, but 0 the year before!
Below you can see my “predictions” for this year, some of which are simply novels I’d like to see on the longlist, as well as titles that I think will be included. As always, there are many others that I could have included, most notably Warlight by Michael Ondaatje who has just won the Golden Man Booker Prize, and Winter by Ali Smith, who seems to be giving Beryl Bainbridge a run for her money in Booker terms.
The Only Story by Julian Barnes
Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less, and suffer the less? That is, I think, finally, the only real question.
First love has lifelong consequences, but Paul doesn’t know anything about that at nineteen. At nineteen, he’s proud of the fact his relationship flies in the face of social convention.
As he grows older, the demands placed on Paul by love become far greater than he could possibly have foreseen.
Tender and wise, The Only Story is a deeply moving novel by one of fiction’s greatest mappers of the human heart.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
It’s 1969, and holed up in a grimy tenement building in New York’s Lower East Side is a travelling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the date they will die. The four Gold children, too young for what they’re about to hear, sneak out to learn their fortunes.
Such prophecies could be dismissed as trickery and nonsense, yet the Golds bury theirs deep. Over the years that follow they attempt to ignore, embrace, cheat and defy the ‘knowledge’ given to them that day – but it will shape the course of their lives forever.
A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne
A psychological drama of cat and mouse, A Ladder to the Sky shows how easy it is to achieve the world if you are prepared to sacrifice your soul.
If you look hard enough, you can find stories pretty much anywhere. They don’t even have to be your own. Or so would-be writer Maurice Swift decides very early on in his career.
A chance encounter in a Berlin hotel with celebrated novelist Erich Ackermann gives him an opportunity to ingratiate himself with someone more powerful than him. For Erich is lonely, and he has a story to tell. Whether or not he should do so is another matter entirely.
Once Maurice has made his name, he sets off in pursuit of other people’s stories. He doesn’t care where he finds them – or to whom they belong – as long as they help him rise to the top.
Stories will make him famous but they will also make him beg, borrow and steal. They may even make him do worse.
French Exit by Patrick deWitt
Frances Price – tart widow, possessive mother and Upper East Side force of nature – is in dire straits, beset by scandal. Her adult son Malcolm is no help, mired in a permanent state of arrested development. And then there’s their cat, who Frances believes houses the spirit of her late husband, an infamously immoral lawyer whose gruesome tabloid death rendered them social outcasts.
To put their troubles behind them, the trio cut their losses and head for the exit. Their beloved Paris becomes the backdrop for a giddy drive to self-destruction, helped along by a cast of singularly curious characters: a bashful private investigator, an aimless psychic and Mme. Reynard, friendly American expat and aggressive houseguest.
Brimming with pathos, warmth and wit, French Exit is a one-of-a-kind tragedy of manners, a riotous send-up of high society and a moving story of mothers and sons.
Manhatten Beach by Jennifer Egan
The long-awaited novel from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, Manhattan Beach opens in Brooklyn during the Great Depression. Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to the house of a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. Anna observes the uniformed servants, the lavishing of toys on the children, and some secret pact between her father and Dexter Styles.
Years later, her father has disappeared and the country is at war. Anna works at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where women are allowed to hold jobs that had always belonged to men. She becomes the first female diver, the most dangerous and exclusive of occupations, repairing the ships that will help America win the war. She is the sole provider for her mother, a farm girl who had a brief and glamorous career as a Ziegfield folly, and her lovely, severely disabled sister. At a night club, she chances to meet Styles, the man she visited with her father before he vanished, and she begins to understand the complexity of her father’s life, the reasons he might have been murdered.
Mesmerizing, hauntingly beautiful, with the pace and atmosphere of a noir thriller and a wealth of detail about organized crime, the merchant marine and the clash of classes in New York, Egan’s first historical novel is a masterpiece, a deft, startling, intimate exploration of a transformative moment in the lives of women and men, America and the world. Manhattan Beach is a magnificent novel by one of the greatest writers of our time.
Sight by Jessie Greengrass
In Jessie Greengrass’ superb debut novel, our unnamed narrator recounts her progress to motherhood, while remembering the death of her own mother ten years before, and the childhood summers she spent with her psychoanalyst grandmother.
Woven among these personal recollections are significant events in medical history: Wilhelm Röntgen’s discovery of the X-ray; Sigmund Freud’s development of psychoanalysis and the work that he did with his daughter, Anna; and the origins of modern surgery and the anatomy of pregnant bodies.
Sight is a novel about being a parent and a child: what it is like to bring a person in to the world, and what it is to let one go. Exquisitely written and fiercely intelligent, it is an incisive exploration of how we see others, and how we might know ourselves.
Orchid & the Wasp by Caoilinn Hughes
A dazzlingly original debut set in Dublin, London and New York, exploring the ethical underbelly of contemporary society through the coming-of-age of an utterly singular heroine: Gael Foess
Orchid & the Wasp brings to life the charged, compulsive voice of Gael Foess – daughter of a self-interested investment banker and a once-formidable orchestral conductor, and sister to a vulnerable younger brother – as she strives to build a life raft in the midst of economic and familial collapse. Moving by wits alone, Gael cuts a swathe through the leather-lined, coke-dusted social clubs of London, the New York gallery scene and birth-throes of the Occupy movement.
Written in heart-stoppingly vivid prose, Orchid & the Wasp is a modern-day Bildungsroman that chews through sexuality, class and contemporary politics and crackles with joyful fury and anarchic gall. It examines how we can fail our loved ones by what we want for them; what makes for a good life; what we are owed and what we must earn; and how events in our lives can turn us into people we never intended to be. A first novel of astonishing talent, Orchid & the Wasp announces Caoilinn Hughes as one of the most exciting literary writers working today.
There There by Tommy Orange
Jacquie Red Feather and her sister Opal grew up together, relying on each other during their unsettled childhood. As adults they were driven apart, but Jacquie is newly sober and trying to make it back to the family she left behind. That’s why she is there.
Dene is there because he has been collecting stories to honour his uncle’s death. Edwin is looking for his true father. Opal came to watch her boy Orvil dance. All of them are connected by bonds they may not yet understand.
All of them are there for the cultural celebration that is the Big Oakland Powwow.
But Tony Loneman is also there. And Tony has come to the Powwow with darker intentions.
The Overstory by Richard Powers
An Air Force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. These four, and five other strangers–each summoned in different ways by trees–are brought together in a last and violent stand to save the continent’s few remaining acres of virgin forest.
In his twelfth novel, National Book Award winner Richard Powers delivers a sweeping, impassioned novel of activism and resistance that is also a stunning evocation of–and paean to–the natural world. From the roots to the crown and back to the seeds, The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond, exploring the essential conflict on this planet: the one taking place between humans and nonhumans. There is a world alongside ours–vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.
The Overstory is a book for all readers who despair of humanity’s self-imposed separation from the rest of creation and who hope for the transformative, regenerating possibility of a homecoming. If the trees of this earth could speak, what would they tell us? “Listen. There’s something you need to hear.”
I Still Dream by James Smythe
17-year-old Laura Bow has invented a rudimentary artificial intelligence, and named it Organon. At first it’s intended to be a sounding-board for her teenage frustrations, a surrogate best friend; but as she grows older, Organon grows with her.
As the world becomes a very different place, technology changes the way we live, love and die; massive corporations develop rival intelligences to Laura’s, ones without safety barriers or morals; and Laura is forced to decide whether to share her creation with the world. If it falls into the wrong hands, she knows, its power could be abused. But what if Organon is the only thing that can stop humanity from hurting itself irreparably?
I STILL DREAM is a powerful tale of love, loss and hope; a frightening, heartbreakingly human look at who we are now – and who we can be, if we only allow ourselves.
The Book of Chocolate Saints by Jeet Thayil
Francis Newton Xavier has lived a wild existence of excess in pursuit of his uncompromising aesthetic vision. His paintings and poems – which embody the flamboyant and decadent jeu d’esprit of his heroes like Baudelaire – have forged his reputation, which is to be celebrated at a new show in Delhi.
Approaching middle age in a body ravaged by hard-living, Xavier leaves Manhattan following the 9/11 attacks with his young girlfriend – and his journey home to India becomes a delirious voyage into the past. From his formative years with an infamous school offin de siècle Bombay poets – as documented by his biographer, Diswas, in these pages – Xavier must move forward into an uncertain future of salvation or damnation.
His story results in The Book of Chocolate Saints: an epic novel of contemporary Indian life that probes the mysterious margins where art bleeds into the occult, and celebrates the artist’s life itself as a final monument. It is Jeet Thayil’s spiritual, passionate, and demented masterpiece.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power – and limitations – of family bonds.
Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children’s father is white. Embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances, she wants to be a better mother, but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use.
When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary. At Parchman, there is another boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.
Rich with Ward’s distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first century America.
Red Clocks by Leni Zumas
FIVE WOMEN. ONE QUESTION: What is a woman for?
In this ferociously imaginative novel, abortion is once again illegal in America, in-vitro fertilization is banned, and the Personhood Amendment grants rights of life, liberty, and property to every embryo. In a small Oregon fishing town, five very different women navigate these new barriers.
Ro, a single high-school teacher, is trying to have a baby on her own, while also writing a biography of Eivør, a little-known 19th-century female polar explorer. Susan is a frustrated mother of two, trapped in a crumbling marriage. Mattie is the adopted daughter of doting parents and one of Ro’s best students, who finds herself pregnant with nowhere to turn. And Gin is the gifted, forest-dwelling homeopath, or “mender,” who brings all their fates together when she’s arrested and put on trial in a frenzied modern-day witch hunt.
Red Clocks is at once a riveting drama whose mysteries unfold with magnetic energy, and a shattering novel of ideas. With the verve of Naomi Alderman’s The Power and the prescient brilliance of The Handmaid’s Tale, Leni Zumas’ incredible new novel is fierce, fearless and frighteningly plausible.
And that’s my prediction for this year’s “Booker Dozen”! What do you think? Are there any titles you’re hoping to see longlisted this year?