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Booker Prize Longlist

Its that time of year again, we’re nearly one step closer to the Booker Prize winner.

Tomorrow (14th September) at 4pm they’re going to announce the shortlist and this year I’m finally going to be able to play along.

For years I’ve been saying I’ll read all the books on the Booker Prize longlist, but life gets in the way and I’m lucky if I get round to reading a couple, let alone all of them.

This year, for the first time EVER not only have I read ALL of the longlist, but I’ve read them all before the shortlist is announced, so I’m going to have a little fun with it. I’m going to list my own personal shortlist at the end of this. For every one of my books that makes it onto the shortlist I will buy a new book from my wishlist, for every one that doesn’t make it onto the short list I have to give away a book from my personal collection.

So seeing as for the first time ever I have intimate knowledge of the whole of the Booker Prize longlist, I feel it’s only fair to share that knowledge.

A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam

A powerful story told from the perspective of a young lad as he journeys north to attend the funeral of his Grandmothers carer. Set against the backdrop of the Sri-lankan civil war.

This took a bit of getting into for me as it’s told from the present and in flashbacks, but not all the flashbacks are in chronological order so the jumping around does take a bit of getting used to. It was an insightful story, and certainly makes you think. I just didn’t find it as engaging as some of the other titles on the list.

Second Place by Rachel Cusk

 A woman invites a prestigious artist to stay in a small cabin on her property. She’s hoping to gain enlightenment and insight from his visit, but things very rarely turn out as you hope, and the insights she really gets are unattractive. The main character is needy and at times irritating, but i feel this is an intentional contrast with the serenity of the landscape. A clever aspect within this book is the allusion to the recent pandemic and the restrictions, making it more of a background incident that a pivotal plot point.

The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris.

George Walker is a Georgian landowner who one day stumbles on a couple of brothers, freed slaves, on his property. 

What transpires is a mutually beneficial relationship. However with the complexities of the brothers being the former property of Georges neighbour and the local townsfolk’s intense outrage with this arrangement it’s not long before tragedy strikes. 

This was a beautifully written piece of work. The story of emancipation is a tale told many times over yet with each telling i’m still amazed by the levels of persecution and oppression that some humans are capable of. This story is also told with an interesting little twist that looks at the levels of complexities in human relationships.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro 

Klara is an Artificial Friend who watches the world from a shop window until the day a young girl called Josie sees her in the window and promises to come back for her. From that moment Klara’s thoughts are consumed with Josie, much to the chagrin of the shop manager. Until one day Josie does indeed come back for Klara, but is her life with Josie going to truly be all she hoped for.

It’s a common thought that Kazuo Ishiguro can do no wrong. I will admit he is a master at what he does, but ‘Klara and the Sun’ doesn’t really hold the same pull for me as his other works. Don’t get me wrong there are some beautiful moments it it and some clever workings, and whilst it DID leave me with warm fuzzy feelings. I think it’s best not to raise your expectations too much when going into this book.

An Island by Karen Jennings

Samuel is a lighthouse keeper on a small Island, who leads an uncomplicated life until the day a refugee washes up on his beach. Now with his solitude disrupted Samuel starts to think about his life before the Island, and his own country’s past issues with a cruel dictator. Soon the language barrier becomes an issue, leading to misunderstandings, suspicion, and mistrust.

I literally have no idea what I read? Seriously, I was held captivated for three hours by the story of a lighthouse keeper! Ok, so there’s a lot more to it than that, and its a rare thing to keep people enthralled with such a simple plot device.

A Town called Solace by Mary Lawson

A story told from the perspective of three people inextricably linked. Clara, an eight year old girl whose sister Rose has gone missing. Liam, the mysterious man who has just moved into the house next door to Clara. Mrs Orchard, who used to own the house Liam is now living in.

Whilst i really did enjoy this story, it did have some lovely moments, I couldn’t help but keep thinking it was a crime novel and the case would be solved in a dramatic way. So I did find it a bit anticlimactic, however, it is a really enchanting story about family; those you’re born into and those you choose.

No One is talking about This by Patricia Lockwood

This story is told in two parts, the first is an enigmatic stream on consciousness about the world viewed through The Portal (the internet). The second part brings reality crashing into the narrators life and we see the struggles she and her family start to go through, and it is emotional and heart wrenching.

I’m not sure whether it’s because this was the first book I read off of the list or whether it truly bewitched me but, I loved this book. It probably also had something to do with the fact this book had me laughing my head off through the first half, then sobbing my heart out by the end.

The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed

This was a really intriguing story. It’s based on the true story of the last man to be hanged in Cardiff, a petty criminal accused of a serious crime. When Mahmood Mattan is accused of brutally murdering a shopkeeper he isn’t too concerned, after all he knows he’s innocent and this is Britain, a country of fair justice.

This was an absorbing account of a shocking miscarriage of justice, another on the list that’s impactful with race being an issue at the very heart of it.

Bewilderment by Richard Powers

Robin is a special boy who struggles with the intensity of his emotions, especially after the death of his mother. A violent altercation at school, between Robin and a classmate, leads to the principal giving Robins father an ultimatum. Unwilling to put his young son on psychotropic drugs he seeks an alternative solution from a neuroscientist friend of the family. So Robin becomes involved in a trial that helps him learn to control his emotions through interactive training with AI brain scans, it all goes well . . . until Robins mother gets involved.

I had a feeling from the start that this would be a tricky one to follow, the best way I can think of describing it is like Jazz, individually the story elements are a confusing cacophony, but brought together they make something beautiful. It also brings to light the stark reality of the younger generations concerns with the state of our planet.

China Room by Sanjeev Sahota 

Its 1929 in Punjab, and Mehar is one of three women who marry three brothers in a combined ceremony. Mehar tries to discover which brother she has married but the consequences of her daring are far reaching.

Parallel to this we hear the story of a young boy in Punjab, 1999. He is dealing with a number of personal demons, could his connection to Mehar be his way through the darkness.

I really liked this book and I have no idea why, it’s not an original concept, the story has been told a number of times before and the resolution wasn’t exactly satiating, but still I came away from this book feeling heartened..

Light Perpetual by Francis Spufford

It’s 1944 and a german bomb is dropped on a Woolworths in Bexford killing everybody inside including five young children Ben, Alex, Verne, and sisters Jo and Val. 

On the other hand, what if that event never happened? What lives would those five children go on to lead?

This follows Ben, Alex, Verne, Jo and Val and picks up their lives at certain points as they battle everyday struggles with work, family, love and loss. Such ordinary lives made extraordinary by the circumstances which led them there. 

If I loved ‘no-one is talking about this’ I ADORED this book. It had me from the very first paragraph, so powerfully expressive, so vivid. The concept is an ingenious one too.

Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

Marian Graves is a female pilot who goes missing  in 1949, during her attempt to fly the Great Circle around the earth, North to South. 66 years later, in 2015, Hadley Baxter a former child star with self destructive tendencies is cast as Marian Graves in a film about her life.  Hadley has always felt an affinity with Marian as they were both orphans raised by their uncles, but the further she gets into filming the more she learns about Marian, the more she  realises they have in common. These discoveries teach her, not only a whole unknown layer or Marians life but a lot more about her own too.

This is an amazing story of epic proportions. Shipstead employs a few different narrative techniques, which do seem a little confusing at first but once you get used to it it really does draw you in and get you really invested in how the story ends. Both Hadley and Marian are slightly damaged but likeable characters, and you really hope for a happy ending for both of them.

The Promise by Damon Galmut

Amor a young white South African girl overhears her father make a promise to her dying mother. This is a promise that will hover over the family for decades to come.

The story follows the Swart family, over four decades as significant events happen in their lives and even more significant things happen to their country. The family’s disintegration echoed by the background of South Africa’s rise out of apartheid.

There are many voices telling this story, even a dead person at one point, giving it an almost ethereal quality. There are some tumultuous and momentous things happening within the family that mirror the events happening to South Africa at the time, and how different events affect different people. As much as I didn’t really feel involved when reading this book, i do feel it is a compelling story that will likely make it onto the shortlist

That is my brief recap of the whole list.  I did have a few favourites and whilst i think a couple of them won’t make it onto the shortlist, fingers crossed.

 So this is my own personal Booker Prize Shortlist

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