2017 Bookerthon

There is a line in Ali Smith’s Autumn which sums up all the shortlisted books this year:

“Passing the house with the “GO HOME” graffiti, Elisabeth sees that the words “WE ARE ALREADY HOME THANK YOU” have been painted right underneath”.

Migration, immigration and connections to the land are common threads, each novel exploring what it means to be in the place we stand, how we interact with the environment and who deserves to be in a place the most. Autumn even declares itself as the first ‘post-Brexit’ novel. In the others, the migrant theme not only manifests in the traditional sense, but as passage to the afterlife, as migrants of time and of childhood.

The list will certainly be remembered as representative of the time.

So, a nicely packaged lot, thematically and representatively apt, that ticks the boxes of scope. But are they the six best books of the year? We’re not sure we’d agree on that. Especially when in years past we have strongly felt we had read just that.

Elmet is a book of beautiful language and captivating interplay between power and powerlessness. But compared with the others, its lack of character depth let it down, with the setting almost acting as the main character.

In an interview, the author of History of Wolves revealed how she’d been told: ‘if you know something is going to happen, you might as well spend it or say it and then see what happens’. We felt she took this advice too literally as the book’s let down was the reveal of information. However, the voice of the teenager, her naivety and passivity, was authentic and the moody atmosphere of the wooded location a real scene setter.

Autumn is certainly the most literary of all the shortlisters. Sometimes it’s hard to grasp all the nuances in a Ali Smith book but this is definitely one of her more accessible novels.

As neither of us had finished 4 3 2 1 it was difficult to comment on the entire 866 pages. Funnily enough both of us had nothing but enjoyable experiences to report from what we had read but couldn’t rave it about it when taking the others into consideration. Reviews read today are disparaging about the ending and how the four lives end up rather the same.

It’s not every year we agree on our favourite, but this year we did. Exit West topped the table for us both. Nadia and Saeed are highly developed characters designed to be relatable to everyone, irrespective of their locality. The cross genre construction is believable and builds the foundation for the author’s view on immigration. He shows us a future where immigration is normalised; there will be no such thing a migrant or a native. His vision for the world is peaceful and hopeful. It was this desire to look to the future of immigration rather than report on what has been, that made it stand above the other shortlisters this year.

That brings us to Lincoln In The Bardo. We both acknowledge we found this a bit of a difficult read because it broke the traditional structure of a novel that we had adapt to. But at the same time we appreciated its genius and its combination of historical context, fact and fiction. Everyone sees or recalls historical events differently and Saunders reflects that in a compassionate and honest way.

So, if it was up to us we’d choose Exit West as the winner but we both think, not unhappily, the judges will give the nod to Lincoln in the Bardo because of its originality.

 

 

Suzy’s favourites 1st-6th
Exit West – Mohsin Hamid
Elmet – Fiona Mozley
Autumn – Ali Smith
The History of Wolves – Emily Fridlund
4 3 2 1 – Paul Auster
Lincoln In The Bardo – George Saunders

Rachel’s favourites 1st-6th
Exit West – Mohsin Hamid
Autumn – Ali Smith
Lincoln In The Bardo – George Saunders
4 3 2 1 – Paul Auster
Elmet – Fiona Mozley
The History of Wolves – Emily Fridlund

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