The Man Booker Prize for Fiction is a high-profile literary prize awarded each year for best original novel written in the English language and published in the U.K. This year, I read (more or less) the books that have been shortlisted for the prize. The winner will be announced on October 17, 2017.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, 231 pages
What’s it about? A young couple flees their unnamed war-torn nation through one of the magic doors that have been appearing all over the world.
What’s it really about? The immigrant experience (without the actual travel). It’s also about love, war, and society.
How does it read? Like a poem, with every word of this fairly short novel being precisely correct and beautiful.
How good is it? My favorite book of the year so far.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, 343 pages
What’s it about? Ghosts in a graveyard narrate and comment upon the unprecedented event of a living person, Abraham Lincoln, visiting his son’s grave and holding his son’s body.
What’s it really about? Grief, life, death, the unreliability of witnesses.
How does it read? Like a play. The most formally experimental of the nominees, this book has three main (ghost) narrators/characters who speak among themselves as well as describe the action around them, with another 160 or so other characters who provide (usually brief) additional lines, descriptions, and commentary. At various points, it is thought-provoking, funny, sad, and beautiful.
How good is it? Really really good. Very original.
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund, 275 pages
What’s it about? A woman recounts several formative experiences of her past, with a particular focus on her experiences with a neighboring family when she was a young teenager.
What’s it really about? Whether thoughts and intent matter more than actions, guilt, how traumatic experiences create ripples throughout one’s life.
How does it read? Kind of like Gilead. It captures the spirit and mood of a place in time. It is not as philosophical as Gilead; it is more personal, subtle, psychological, and troubling.
How good is it? Terrific, but the nuanced characterizations, and relatively mellow actions make it a slow read.
Autumn by Ali Smith, 260 pages
What’s it about? A young woman visits her much older friend in hospice while dealing with other aspects of her life in a post-Brexit Britain.
What’s it really about? The mood of post-Brexit Britain, the nature of friendship, the power of art and the connections that it can create, dealing with the impending loss of something important, and bureaucracy.
How does it read? Pretty strangely. Dreams, memories, and poetry are interspersed with the main narrative. The characters, however, are charming, and reading about their relationships with each other over the years is quite fun.
How good is it? Really great, although due to the unconventional nature of the narrative, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
Elmet by Fiona Mozley, 310
Due to work and other time commitments, I was not able to finish this book. I read the first two or three chapters. So far, it’s about two young poor children growing up in an area of Yorkshire. It has been intimated that their Daddy is a bit of a violent thug.
4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster, 866 pages
I did not finish this book either. The book tells four different versions of stories of the same character’s life. The character is very similar to the author.