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Oct 19

So who should have won this year’s Man Booker Prize?

As reminder below are the nominees and links to my reviews.

As you’d be aware, Marlon James took home the Man Booker award this year.  While I applaud the decision of the judges – A Brief History of Seven Killings is one of my favourite novels of 2015 – it did come as a surprise.  I was convinced that the bloated, overwrought, but hard to forget A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara would be this year’s winner.  The novel’s difficult subject matter, the intensity of the prose and the accolades thrown at the book before it featured on the Booker, persuaded me that this was the novel to beat.  It didn’t win, but it has another crack at a trophy next month with it being shortlisted for the National Book Award.

Thankfully, though, the judges went with quality rather than hype.  A Brief History, which was recognised by the National Books Critics Circle earlier this year (losing out to Lila by Marilynne Robinson) is a novel that took me by the throat and forced me to engage with it.  James’ evocation of a time and place is magnificent, facilitated by his use of Jamaican patois and a cast of conflicted, broken but very human characters.  It’s a long book, not that much shorter than A Little Life, and it includes graphic scenes of violence (some of the sexual variety), but if you’re a genre reader who checks out this blog from time to time and you don’t mind looking outside the “ghetto” then I heartily recommend this astonishing novel.

Similarly I recommend Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island.  Given a recent discussion I had on Facebook on how literature is less about engaging readers and more about showing off a prose-style and the cleverness of the writer, it’s likely that Satin Island will not be to everyone’s tastes.  But if you’re interested in fiction that eschews traditional narratives and still has something to say about the world we live in, then McCarthy’s novel – at only 170 odd pages – is a great place to start.  Satin Island has already been nominated for the Goldsmith Prize and I expect to see it pop up a couple more times next year.

The same goes for Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen and Sunjeev Sahota’s The Year of the Runaways.  These are two very good books that I expect to see feature as finalists in other awards.  For example I’d be shocked if both novels aren’t nominated for the Costa Prize next month, and I’d be equally shocked if we didn’t see The Fishermen appear on the shortlist of three for the Desmond Elliot prize.  Both these books – coupled with the James – provide the Man Booker with a real sense of diversity from voices that aren’t part of the normal literary establishment.  More like this please.

The Anne Tyler is the odd one out.  Yes, she’s a very good writer, but A Spool of Blue Thread doesn’t have the impact or ambition of the other works.  And neither is meant to.  It’s a quiet novel, about a particular family and representative of the sort of comedic, bittersweet fiction Tyler has been writing for decades.  But unlike the other nominees, I found A Spool of Blue Thread to be entirely forgettable.

Because I’m new to the Man Booker (in terms of reading the finalists) I can’t say how this one compares to other years with much confidence.  I can speak to 2014’s nominees which I believe was a slightly stronger list of books with more stand-out novels – like the Flanagan, the Smith and Fowler.  Still, this year’s is more diverse in voice and setting and it’s a trend I’d like to see continue.

So congrats to Marlon James for his magnificent book.  Go read it!

2 comments

  1. Rob Shearman

    Brilliant analysis, as always. I’d also expected ‘A Little Life’ to win -and somewhat unfairly, seeing how I was moved and affected by the book, I’m really rather pleased that it didn’t. In the moment I found it overwrought but hugely engaging. In retrospect, I find its humourless nihilism slightly obnoxious. You’re ahead of me with the other nominees – I took time (not unwasted) reading from longlistees who didn’t make it to the final six. Expecting interesting things from all of them!

    1. Mondyboy

      Yep, A Little Life is definitely a book that has stuck with me even if I didn’t particularly like it.

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