Back Booker 2004

It’s as if there was a prerequisite for darkness and literary grim in 2004. The shortlist certainly leant itself to depths that despite their brilliance were sometimes difficult to read.

Rape, incest and murder abound in Bitter Fruit, the story of a South African family living in a post-apartheid climate.

Drink was the central theme of I’ll Go To Bed At Noon. Despite the grimness of pubs and alcoholic misadventures, the book is a compelling study of human nature.

The Master is a retelling of Henry James’ life over a busy and melancholic four years. An important story, told with literary freedom, the book is perhaps best suited for those intellectuals with a more learned understanding of James’ life and literature.

The Electric Michangelo is about tattooing but more so about pain. There is much pain endured by the characters, in a book that offers an acute awareness of world events that also inflicted much pain.

Then we come to Cloud Atlas. On the positive side, it is about lives brought together in time and significance by convergent fates and features NZ Maori, but conversely its six stories covering nineteenth century South Pacific to a post-apocalyptic reality took it out of the enjoyable realm for these freerangers.

Then, pitted against these dark books, is The Line of Beauty. Set against the backdrop of Thaterism and the 1987 UK general election, The Line of Beauty is ultimately a human story. Nick, a homosexual man who lives with a politician and his family, is at the centre of the plot. Hollinghurst manages the relationships, the political history and the thrill-a-minute plot with skill and leaves the reader with an optimal amount of emotional investment but also uncertainty about it all. A thoroughly enjoyable and beautiful novel that certainly deserved the win in our eyes.

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