The 2013 Man Booker Prize longlist is out — and KevinfromCanada has not read a single volume on it! I am not totally surprised at that since I did not make much of an effort to follow new UK fiction this year, although I did expect to see Kate Atkinson’s Life after Life or Aminatta Forna’s The Hired Man on the list. Perhaps an even bigger surprise is the absence of two-time winner J.M. Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus, although that is one that I did not intend to read even if it had won.
Following the Booker has been a feature of this blog since it started in 2009, but I will admit that I considered abandoning that this year. I read less than half the Booker longlist last year and ended up reading only one shortlisted book — the rest (including the winning Bring Up The Bodies, I’ll admit) had no appeal and it was obvious the jury and I simply had very different tastes. So I was pleasantly surprised when the 2013 list came out this morning to find that a large number of titles held appeal, including a few not yet published (Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland) that I have been eagerly awaiting.
So here’s the plan:
Longlisted novels I’ll read for sure
The Testament of Mary, by Colm Toibin. Toibin is a personal favorite with three books already reviewed here. This short novel (only 112 pages) has been out since last October (and already turned into a New York play) — I just had not got around to buying it yet.
Transatlantic, by Colum McCann. I quite liked McCann’s prize-winning Let The Great World Spin and had every intention of getting to this one. The publisher’s description says McCann weaves together three stories (all involving Ireland and America) spread across more than 150 years.
The Spinning Heart, by Donal Ryan. This is another short novel (160 pages) that has been on the radar since its appearance in the UK last fall (it still has not been released in North America). The story promises to explore the tensions created in an Irish town following the economic collapse of the Celtic Tiger — the Irish have always done national tragedy well and the latest one has already produced some fine fiction.
Harvest, by Jim Crace. Crace is a well-respected British novelist and I have felt guilty that I have read only one of his works (All That Follows). He announced that this would be his last when it appeared and I’ll confess that any novel that starts with the burning of a manor house has immediate appeal.
Five Star Billionaire, by Tash Aw. It is an indication of the current state of the world that every Booker list needs to feature both a novel set in a declining Western economy (seen The Spinning Heart above) and another set in an exploding Asian one (e.g. Aravind Adiga’s Booker-winning The White Tiger a few years back). Aw’s book is this year’s version of the latter set in the booming economy of Shanghai.
We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawayo. A novel that seems to fit my “African longing” category — young Zimbabweans who dream of a better world elsewhere and discover that the dream turns out not to be true.
Books not yet released that I intend to read
The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton. I have been looking forward to this one (it is not due out in Canada until Oct. 15) as a Giller contender, so now have even more reason to read it. The Booker announcement called it a debut novel which it is not — Catton’s The Rehearsal made multiple prize-lists in 2009-10 (including the Orange). As I noted in that review, Catton is a good example of the new “global citizen” author — born in Canada, raised in New Zealand and residing in the U.S. the last I heard.
The Lowland, Jhumpa Lahiri. Another one I have been looking forward to (publication date is Sept. 24) since I have read and liked all Lahiri’s books (sorry — all read pre-blog, so no reviews here). Like many, I was surprised to see her on this list since I did not know she had dual citizenship — she won the Pulitzer for The Interpreter of Maladies and needs to have U.S. citizenship to win that. As with her previous books, this one promises to again explore the conflict of Indian immigrants in America.
Almost English, by Charlotte Mendelson. Mendelson is another Brit author whom I have been meaning to get to and this seems a good opportunity. Due out Aug. 15, Almost English is another “immigrant” novel, this one featuring Hungarians in West London and the pressures of adjusting felt by its 16-year-old heroine — Linda Grant had a similar theme in the Booker short-listed The Clothes on Their Backs a few years back.
Longlisted titles I’m not likely to read
The Marrying of Chani Kaufman, by Eve Harris. Due out Sept. 19, the publisher description holds no appeal for KfC: “19 year-old Chani lives in the ultra-orthodox Jewish community of North West London. She has never had physical contact with a man, but is bound to marry a stranger.”
Unexploded, by Alison MacLeod. Scheduled for Sept. 5, an English couple and their 8-year-old await the German landing at Brighton. I feel I’ve read enough versions of this story already, although if it makes it to the shortlist I might be tempted to pick it up.
The Kills, by Richard House. “A political thriller and bravura literary performance” of 912 pages, featuring four books, with multi-media extras. That’s three strikes against it as far as KfC is concerned.
A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozeki. The Booker announcement was excited that the authors on the list included a “filmmaking Zen-Buddhist priest” — I’m afraid that is a negative and not a positive for me. Both the description of the book (a depressed 16-year-old Japanese decides to document the life of her Buddhist nun grandmother before doing herself in) and a dreadful cover indicate that this simply is not my kind of book.
Incidentally, if you have ever thought you might want to be a Booker judge check out this picture of the stack of submitted titles. I read a lot of books but contemplating reading that many titles (many of which are quite dreadful, I am sure) in only six months would utterly defeat me.