Man Booker 2016: Part Two

Monday 12 September 2016 by

With the shortlist announcement very soon, it’s time to round up the second half of my review of the Man Booker prize longlist

The Sellout, Paul Beatty, Book, ReadingThe Sellout by Paul Beatty

Beatty writes a strong game. In The Sellout, his blistering tale covers a post-racial America through the eyes of Me, who is waiting for his turn at the supreme court in what he dubs “the latest in the long line of landmark race-related cases”. This satire challenges stereotypes at every turn, and is both daring and abrasive to read. It’s utter joy – the characters are bold, smart and plausible, and it makes you question everything.

The Schooldays of Jesus, J.M Coetzee, Book, ReadingThe Schooldays of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee

The Schooldays of Jesus, Coetzee’s sequel is a philosophical question more than it is a novel. Never one to linger too strongly on plot or characters, Coetzee once again prefers to create a paradigm within his story – to ask the bigger questions. It carries on from where the last one finished off, and is just as enigmatic, evocative and brain-churningly confusing. You will either love Coetzee or you will hate him, and I would recommend reading the first one beforehand to discover whether this is worth your time. He might be a Nobel and Man Booker winner, but he’s not to everyone’s taste.

His Bloody Project, Graeme Macrae Burnet, Reading, BookHis Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

A novel masquerading as true crime, His Bloody Project is a historical thriller set in the Scottish Highlands. Set around three murders, this is a sharp look at a certain time in history, as well as a gripping tale that hauls you bodily through the story. I love tales that make themselves out to be true (or novels based on a true story), so this was deeply enjoyable reading. I couldn’t help but be caught up in the history, the atmosphere, the unsettling mystery that is the central point to the plot. It’s so nice to see the Man Booker pick up on a smaller book that deserves the extra attention.

The North Water, Ian McGuire, Book, ReadingThe North Water by Ian McGuire

Doomed whaling expeditions make for some incredible storytelling, and The North Water is no different. The main character, Drax, is brutal – and it makes your blood run cold to read about him. He’s not a pleasant character by any stretch of the imagination, and it makes for a tough start to the novel. But it’s not just character relationships that are the issue here – the Arctic itself is a character that dominates and intimidates. It makes for a noel that feels claustrophobic even in the wide open spaces. It is a tale of darkness and evil – not as nuanced as Moby-Dick, but nevertheless strong enough to be a contender.

Ottessa Moshfegh, Eileen, Book, ReadingEileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

A couple of novels sprung to mind when reading Eileen – the first was The Bell Jar (something that has been pointed out a few times) for the characters are very similar in circumstance and self-loathing, and the second was Wetlands, a story that managed to repulse most readers. Eileen is both a sympathetic and a repulsive narrator, and you struggle between the two throughout. However, the novel is so unsettling in its telling, that you never truly feel comfortable anyway. Every bad thing that happens manages to shock, but the remaining parts seem so contrived as to feel false, as if Eileen is telling outrageous lies and yet wrapping them around some bizarre truth. This left me the most unnerved about a character I have been in a long time, and it will take a while for me to forget Eileen.

Work Like Any Other, Virginia Reeves, Book, ReadingWork Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves

This book is about hardship and loss and humanity. But when you say that, Work Like Any Other seems too big to comprehend. Instead, it is a microscopic look at life, and it is unflatteringly accurate. It is full of remorse, full of beautiful storytelling, and is a dazzling debut to behold. It’s a harsh landscape, and a harsh story, but devastatingly beautiful in its telling.

All That Man Is, David Szalay, Book, ReadingAll That Man Is by David Szalay

Split in to sections, All That Man Is tells the story of a collection of men from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of stories to tell. As ridiculous as their situations though, he remains endlessly kind to the characters. It tends to be a touching tale, full of sympathy and caring, with heartwarming moments, rather than a farce – something it could easily have turned out to be. I can’t decide if I can like this book or not. It makes it hard to, and yet Szalay’s writing is sweet and honest and makes you feel like you’re greeting a friend.

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