2017 Man Booker Prize Longlist: To Read or Not to Read

I usually don’t pay much attention to literary prizes and don’t read a book just because it was nominated or won an award. However, after the announcement of the 2017 Man Booker Prize Longlist, I realised that I was already familiar with many of the titles. So, I thought it would be interesting to see which ones I plan to read, not just because they were nominated, but because I truly believe I may really like them.

I don’t mean to necessarily pick up the books I choose to read before the winner is announced or even this year. I will probably read them throughout the following years, without establishing a deadline.

 

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

“On March 3, 1947, in the maternity ward of Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the one and only child of Rose and Stanley Ferguson, is born. From that single beginning, Ferguson’s life will take four simultaneous and independent fictional paths. Four Fergusons made of the same genetic material, four boys who are the same boy, will go on to lead four parallel and entirely different lives.”

I’m definitely intrigued by the premise and I’ve enjoyed the two books by Paul Auster I’ve read previously.

Decision: To read

 

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

“After signing up for the US army in the 1850s, barely seventeen, Thomas McNulty and his brother-in-arms, John Cole, fight in the Indian Wars and the Civil War. Having both fled terrible hardships, their days are now vivid and filled with wonder, despite the horrors they both see and are complicit in. But when a young Indian girl crosses their path, Thomas and John must decide on the best way of life for them all in the face of dangerous odds.”

I’ve read and heard really good reviews about this book, and decided to read it even before it was longlisted. As I don’t know much about the Indian Wars and the Civil War in America, reading the book may be a good opportunity to change that.

Decision: To Read

 

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

“Linda has an idiosyncratic home life: her parents live in abandoned commune cabins in northern Minnesota and are hanging on to the last vestiges of a faded counter-culture world. The kids at school call her ‘Freak’, or ‘Commie’. She is an outsider in all things. Her understanding of the world comes from her observations at school, where her teacher is accused of possessing child pornography, and from watching the seemingly ordinary life of a family she babysits for. Yet while the accusation against the teacher is perhaps more innocent than it seemed at first, the ordinary family turns out to be more complicated. As Linda insinuates her way into the family’s orbit, she realises they are hiding something. If she tells the truth, she will lose the normal family life she is beginning to enjoy with them; and if she doesn’t, a life is at stake.”

I was unsure if I wanted to read the History of Wolves or not. I reached my positive verdict mainly because of the mystery element.

Decision: To Read

 

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

“This is Nadia. She is fiercely independent with an excellent sense of humour and a love of smoking alone on her balcony late at night.

This is Saeed. He is sweet and shy and kind to strangers. He also has a balcony but he uses his for star-gazing.

This is their story: a love story, but also a story about how we live now and how we might live tomorrow. Saeed and Nadia are falling in love, and their city is falling apart. Here is a world in crisis and two human beings travelling through it.”

More than the love element what makes me want to read this book is the reflexion about a world in crisis. Exit West was already on my wish list before the announcement of the longlist.

Decision: To Read

 

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

“Marcus Conway has come a long way to stand in the kitchen of his home and remember the rhythms and routines of his life. Considering with his engineer’s mind how things are constructed – bridges, banking systems, marriages – and how they may come apart.

Mike McCormack captures with tenderness and feeling, in continuous, flowing prose, a whole life, suspended in a single hour.”

I’m not convinced by the premise.

Decision: Not to Read

 

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

“Midwinter in the early years of this century. A teenage girl on holiday has gone missing in the hills at the heart of England. The villagers are called up to join the search, fanning out across the moors as the police set up roadblocks and a crowd of news reporters descends on their usually quiet home.

Meanwhile, there is work that must still be done: cows milked, fences repaired, stone cut, pints poured, beds made, sermons written, a pantomime rehearsed.

The search for the missing girl goes on, but so does everyday life. As it must.”

After reading the blurb and some reviews, it doesn’t sound like something I would enjoy.

Decision: Not to Read

 

Elmet by Fiona Mozley

“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.”

I find the premise of this book quite intriguing. I’m interested to see how the family tale is connected with the social commentary.

Decision: To Read

 

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on a journey of many years – the story spooling outwards from the cramped neighbourhoods of Old Delhi into the burgeoning new metropolis and beyond, to the Valley of Kashmir and the forests of Central India, where war is peace and peace is war, and where, from time to time, ‘normalcy’ is declared.

Anjum, who used to be Aftab, unrolls a threadbare carpet in a city graveyard that she calls home. A baby appears quite suddenly on a pavement, a little after midnight, in a crib of litter. The enigmatic S. Tilottama is as much of a presence as she is an absence in the lives of the three men who loved her.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is at once an aching love story and a decisive remonstration.”

I read The God of Small Things quite a few years ago and really liked it. But the premise of Arundhati Roy’s newest book didn’t convince me.

Decision: Not to Read

 

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

“The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son lies gravely ill. In a matter of days, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From this seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a thrilling, supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a transitional realm – called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo – and as ghosts mingle, squabble, gripe and commiserate, and stony tendrils creep towards the boy, a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

Unfolding over a single night, Lincoln in the Bardo is written with George Saunders’ inimitable humour, pathos and grace.”

At first I had no intention to read this book. But, when I realised that it has a supernatural element combined with a pinch of comedy, I became intrigued.

Decision: To Read

 

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

“Isma is free. After years spent raising her twin siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she is finally studying in America, resuming a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London – or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream: to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Handsome and privileged, he inhabits a London worlds away from theirs. As the son of a powerful British Muslim politician, Eamonn has his own birthright to live up to – or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined in this searing novel that asks: what sacrifices will we make in the name of love?”

I’m really interested in the premise of this book, as it sounds quite current.

Decision: To Read

 

Autumn by Ali Smith

“Autumn. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. That’s what it felt like for Keats in 1819. How about Autumn 2016? Daniel is a century old. Elisabeth, born in 1984, has her eye on the future. The United Kingdom is in pieces, divided by a historic once-in-a-generation summer. Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand in hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever. Ali Smith’s new novel is a meditation on a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, on what harvest means.”

I own this book since the beginning of the year and has been waiting on my shelves for Autumn to arrive.

Decision: To Read

 

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

“Dazzlingly energetic and deeply human, Swing Time is a story about friendship and music and true identity, how they shape us and how we can survive them. Moving from north-west London to West Africa, it is an exuberant dance to the music of time.

Two brown girls dream of being dancers – but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either…”

I don’t find the premise of the book interesting or appealing.

Decision: Not to Read

 

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

“Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the North. (…)

At each stop on her journey, Cora encounters a different world. As Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once the story of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shatteringly powerful meditation on history.”

I already had The Underground Railroad on my wish list. So many people are recommending it that I’m really curious to know if it lives to the expectations.

Decision: To Read

 

Of the 13 books longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize, I’m planning to read 9. Have you read any of these books? Which do you recommend? Tell me in the comments!

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10 thoughts on “2017 Man Booker Prize Longlist: To Read or Not to Read

  1. Jo says:

    I largely agree – although I am tempted by Reservoir 13, having seen some positive reviews for it. I haven’t read any of these titles so far, although I do own three of them – Days Without End, History of Wolves and Exit West. Hope you enjoy them!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Claire 'Word by Word' says:

    I’ve read Exit West which has had many great reviews, however it’s not one I’d rave about, I found the surreal aspects confusing. I did read Swing Time as it had been gifted to me and I really liked it, Zadie Smith’s characterisation is excellent and her insights into the mother/daughter points of view were poignant, I liked it even more than her last novel NW.And I’m currently reading Home Fire by Kamile Shamsie, an author I’d not read before, but so far enjoying. I hope you enjoy those you’ve decided to read, Happy Reading!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susana_S_F says:

      I’ve never read a book by Zadie Smith, but White Teeth has been on wish list for a really long time. If I like it, maybe I’ll give Swing Time a try as well.
      Thanks for your comment!

      Like

  3. Café Society says:

    Days Without End is the class of book that turns up once a decade – if we’re lucky. I haven’t read any of the others yet, although I shall definitely read the Shamsie, who is one of my favourite writers, but if any book beats the Barry on merit (not guarrenteed as a criteria for success) then it will be some read.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Karissa says:

    I haven’t read any of these yet though a few sound interesting, especially the Paul Auster. I’m always kind of a sucker for literary prize lists. I’ve read the rest of Zadie Smith’s work and enjoyed it but never been wowed. And I read God of Small Things and didn’t particularly like it so I’ll probably skip Roy’s newest book. But almost everything else sounds potentially really interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

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