(Wo)Man Booker Shadow Panel Updates

I’ve now read 8.5 of the 13 books on the Man Booker long list, which I think is pretty impressive even if many of the books I’ve read so far are short, and I have a pile of 400+ pagers left. The trouble is that while I’d like to post more about the books, that requires taking time out of my reading, which I don’t want to do, and can’t do if I’m going to finish the list on time. If the choice comes down to reading or writing about my reading — and it often does — I’ve chosen reading.

But today I’ve already read 60 pages of my current book, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, by Madeleine Thien, so I feel like I can spare a few moments to write up some quick thoughts. I wrote about the list generally and my first two books — The Sellout and Eileenhere if you want to catch up. And here are the rest so far:

  • Hot Milk by Deborah Levy. Nicole has a great post about this book, even though we disagree in our assessment of it. I enjoyed the experience of reading this — I liked the strangeness of it, the uncertainty about both the narrator and her mother, the suggestiveness of the metaphors. It’s a novel about mothers and daughters, about separating oneself from one’s parents, and about illness. I’ve seen people describe this as a sunny coming-of-age story, which … it’s not.
  • The North Water by Ian McGuire. This is a 19th-century polar exploration tale. It starts out very grim and gets grimmer. I enjoyed it a lot, but this book makes me think about what I want in a Booker prize winner. Yes, the story was good, yes the writing was good. But I want books that are innovative in some way, and I don’t think it was that.
  • My Name is Lucy Barton, by Elizabeth Strout. I loved this one. It’s another mother/daughter story: Lucy is in the hospital for an extended stay, and her mother unexpectedly comes to visit. The novel describes their interactions in the hospital and also flashes back to earlier scenes from Lucy’s childhood. I found Lucy’s feelings about her family and her attempts to make sense of her experiences moving, and Strout tells the story in a spare, restrained style that worked beautifully.
  • His Bloody Project, by Graeme Macrae Burnet. This was an enjoyable read as well, but I put it in the same category as The North Water: it’s fun, but is it Booker-worthy? It’s set in the 19th century and is made up of various documents relating to a murder. I like the method of telling a story in different writing modes and from different perspectives. But this novel kind of petered out at the end — I wasn’t sure what it all added up to.
  • Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves. This is my least favorite so far. I found the characters and relationships implausible and irritating. It’s working with some interesting themes, but didn’t bring them to life. It’s set in Alabama in the early 20th century, and I liked getting a glimpse into that time and place, but otherwise, it didn’t work for me.
  • The Many by Wyl Menmuir. This book is strange — it’s moody and dark, and it gets weirder as the book goes on. I’m not entirely sure I understood everything that happened, but I liked it anyway. It captures a place and an atmosphere in a manner that felt innovative. The only thing I didn’t like was the frequency of dream descriptions, but even though I found those boring, I can see how dreams are important to a novel that’s as surreal as this one is. And I’m inclined to value the strangeness of this book — and that of Hot Milk — over the more familiar stories of The North Water and His Bloody Project.


Filed under Books

6 responses to “(Wo)Man Booker Shadow Panel Updates

  1. I am with you – when presented with a limited amount of time and deciding between reading and writing about what I’ve read, reading usually wins out! I tell myself that when my child is out of the house I’m going to be a blogger who posts like 4 times a week. (If I’m not totally sick of this business by then, LOL.)

    I admire you guys for tackling this list! I’ve only read one on the longlist (The Sellout) which you know that I really enjoyed. The Strout is on my TBR.


  2. It often does come down to that choice, doesn’t it? And it’s an exceptionally difficult choice to make when one is actually reading through a list because one wants to discuss the process of listing-through-awading, so it seems even more important to talk about books as read them! I sympathize. GL with the rest of your reading for the project!


  3. I am sooo behind. Halfway through my 6th book now and feeling the need to buckle down. I’m hoping for some quiet evenings and weekends the next couple of weeks. I am *loving* The North Water.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about the question of innovation vs. perfection. Ideally, of course, I’d like to see both, but those kinds of books are rare.

    I am sorry you didn’t like Work Like Any Other. The main character reminded me so strongly of someone I used to know that I was drawn into his fate. And I found the ending, where he’s been so humbled, to be pretty moving. But although it might make my personal shortlist, given my general dislike of the field so far, it’s not a book I’d generally expect to see winning prizes.


  4. Wow I am totally impressed with how many of the books you have read! I like you quick reviews to, very to the point yet I still fee like I got a sense of the book.


  5. Ha, I think we can say pretty objectively that Hot Milk is not “sunny.” Sunbaked, perhaps…


  6. Loved the Strout and that’s the only Booker novel I’m planning to read! I hope it wins, but that fact that it’s very short – almost a novella – may mean that it won’t. Fingers crossed.


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