The (Wo)Man Booker Shadow Panel has finished its deliberations and reached a verdict — which we will share tomorrow! Today, I will give my own personal shortlist. I didn’t quite finish all the reading, although I was very close. I finished 11 of the 13 longlisted books, and I made it over 50 pages into the last two before it was time to decide on my list. I am very happy with this, considering that I was trying to do all this reading while also writing three reviews of non-Booker books, reading for my book group, getting ready for school, caring for a toddler, and generally living life. I finished all the long books, too, including two books around 700 pages and one that was nearly 500. And, as it turns out, my two unfinished books are not ones I would want on my shortlist. Even if they both end much better than they begin, that won’t be enough, as I’m not getting on with them very well.
As I wrote in my previous post, I was much quicker to want to shortlist books that experimented in some way and that did something other than realistic family drama. But the longlist was heavy on realistic family dramas. If I had been responsible for creating a longlist, I’m sure mine would have looked very different from the one we ended up with. Many of the books were very good, but too many of them were just okay, not really different or new. I was glad to be able to listen to two of the just-okay ones on audio (Anne Tyler and Anne Enright), which probably made me enjoy them more.
SO, here is my personal shortlist, roughly in order of preference:
- Marlon James’s A Brief History of Seven Killings. This is my choice for the overall winner. It was … well, bring out all your reviewer cliches: stunning, a tour-de-force, etc., etc. The language was amazing, the ambition impressive. The characters, the voices, the historical insights, everything about it worked.
- Marilynne Robinson’s Lila. This book couldn’t be much more different from the James, but I still loved it. It’s much shorter and smaller in scope. But Lila is a lively character, and I loved looking at the world through her eyes. And the book is large in scope when you consider all the spiritual and existential questions it considers. And the writing is beautiful.
- Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life. Some members of our group very much did not like this one, but it worked for me. I was caught up in the story; I loved diving deep into the characters and their lives. The story, extreme as it was, felt real to me. Yes, there were infelicities of language, but I didn’t even notice until others pointed them out to me. Yes, it was long, but I didn’t want it to end. The book, for me, was powerful.
- Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island. I love a philosophical novel where nothing happens, and this one is exactly that. It’s a meditation on work, on technology, on the shadowy forces that shape our lives, and on how art and creativity can fit in this world. The atmosphere of the book is cold, but this fits its ideas perfectly. It’s not a fun book, exactly, but it’s exactly right for our times.
- Sunjeev Sahota’s The Year of the Runaways. I was caught up in this novel’s story about immigrants from India into England, each with uncertain or questionable immigration status. Their never-ending quest for work was tense, and reading about them as their hopes for a better life took beating after beating was sometimes heartbreaking. I felt like I got a glimpse of a world I don’t know much about, and I’m glad I did.
- Bill Clegg’s Did You Ever Have a Family. This is the only straight-forward family drama I included on my list. I could have exchanged it for one or two others, but this is the one that moved me the most. It also covered the most territory with the most emotional heft of all the family dramas while being the shortest of the group. I liked its suggestiveness.
So that’s it. A close runner-up was Anuradha Roy’s Sleeping on Jupiter, which got better and better the more I thought about it, but didn’t make my list because I didn’t enjoy the reading experience as much as I did with Bill Clegg’s book. Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread was better by the end of the novel but didn’t make the list because it wasn’t doing much that was new or interesting. Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen didn’t stand out to me — I don’t remember much from it, in fact. Anne Enright’s The Green Road was a structural mess, and I found Laila Lalami’s The Moor’s Account not particularly new and not particularly exciting to read. I’m still in the middle of the last two: Andrew O’Hagan’s The Illuminations and Anna Smaill’s The Chimes. Both of these books, although very different each other, are uninspiring, and, frankly, a little boring. But I want to finish the entire list, so I’m going to keep plugging along.
So, stay tuned for the announcement tomorrow, Monday, September 14th, of the Shadow Panel shortlist, and then Tuesday the 15th, for the official shortlist (but should those people really have the final say? I’m not sure. I think our Shadow Panel should get the deciding vote, to be honest).