The 2018 Man Booker shortlist was a surprise, with many followers declaring it an unusual list with glaring omissions. We, too, were shocked at who wasn’t present: Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward, Warlight by Michael Ondajtee, Crudo by Olivia Lang, Normal People by Sarah Rooney. We could go on.
But reading the Man Booker shortlist is not an exercise in favouritism, it is a literary peregrination that gives us the chance to read six excellent books, and to proclaim their fabulousness or pick merciless holes in them!
This year we holed up in idyllic Akaora and considered the judges’ announcement that the list was chosen as such because of its contenders’ “miracles of stylistic invention”. Surprise list or not, what else was there to do but embark upon a journey to embrace newness.
And newness there was, experimental fiction for sure. Look at The Long Take, a poem in novel form, with its protagonist like a camera, wandering the streets recording the suffering of veterans trying to assimilate back into real life.
Washington Black subverted a story of marginalisation by putting a black gentleman in the centre of the story and the white men as support cast on the periphery. Then tied in adventure tales of the 19th century to a story that drags you from one side of your thematic understanding to the other.
Milkman has a dense, report style of narrative where no one has a name for fear of identification. The vernacular of over describing things is clever and effective.
Despite its lack of chapter headings, Everything Under has a simple story line, moulded by myths and fairy tales we know well. The use of second person narration adds another dimension to this uniquely told tale.
The Overstory combines in-depth character analysis and a strong moral focus with fascinating scientific studies in a 500-page tome that is never dull.
And The Mars Room is probably the most believable prison system story out there. There is no cushioning here but an extensively researched novel about lower socio-economic women who end up on the wrong side of life.
So yes, experimental fiction, miracles of stylistic invention, notable books worth recognising.
Do either of us think they are six best books of the year? No.
Are we glad we read them? Yes. For what kind of bookies would we be if we didn’t tackle the unexpected, and embrace newness and duly report back with our thoughts!
So, who took it out in our opinions?
For Suzy it was The Overstory. “This shortlist showcases a line up of gutsy publishers, producing literature we haven’t seen before and I applaud them for it. This is one year where I honestly wouldn’t mind if any of the six won, but Richard Powers changed my life, yes, changed my life. I feel like I understand climate change properly and am more ecologically aware from reading his book – so The Overstory is my pick.”
And, Rachel chose The Long Take. “What I admired most about The Long Take was its brevity:effect ratio. I know that basically describes poetry, but it takes on new meaning in Robertson’s middling take on both the novelistic and poetry form. He created a novel with rhythm yet sharpness. Five or six words could shock me. It was like nothing I’ve ever read, and I was deeply impressed with the style and deeply moved by the story. I actually read it twice in the same week, and I’m already planning on reading it a third time.”
Suzy’s favourites 1st-6th
The Long Take
The Mars Room
Rachel’s favourites 1st-6th
The Long Take
The Mars Room