“The Man Booker Prize was established in 1969. The winner receives £50,000 as well as the £2,500 awarded to each of the shortlisted authors. Both the winner and the shortlisted authors are guaranteed a worldwide readership plus an increase in book sales”.
The Man Booker Longlist for 2016 was ‘revealed’ on 27th July. The shortlist will be announced on 13th September, and the prize winner announced on 25th October. There is substantial book-loving kudos attached to this prize, not to mention the indiscernible buzz about the whole thing. I used to only get excited about the Cambridge Oxford Boat Race, now books have now consumed my world.
Probably like many other bookish folk out there, I would love to have the time to make it through the longlist before 13th September, but as “time is a circus, always packing up and moving away” (Ben Hecht), I have chosen 2 books to review. Do not expect to find any ‘cupcake’ books on that list, oh no. This lot are a serious bunch, their prose are most definitely not for the faint-hearted.
Hystopia by David Means
Firstly, be clear that this is a book written by a fictional character (both book and fictional author conjured up by the amazing David Means). Our author Eugene Allen is 22, and has just returned from an operational tour in Vietnam in the 1970s.
From the first editor’s notes, the horror and honour of Vietnam is emphasised to reveal trauma and violence so brutal, it matches the fictional author’s notion of treatment given to veterans.
Be prepared. This book is a fairy tale, a journey, an insane rambling, a minefield of twists and turns. It plants seeds of paranoia and self doubt: “It’s the insane will of the insane to suffer insanely”. I was halfway through before I was conscious of how much I was involved with the characters (dreamt up by the fictional author). Often I was not sure of what was really going on, something to be owed to the storyline which involved a lot of mind altering drugs, and the clever writing by Means.
Serious Sweet by A. L. Kennedy
This book is about the ‘serious sweet truth’ in every day details … Set over 24 hours, Kennedy indulges the reader with every detail, every nuance, every scent, and every moment of emotion. There are profound prose amongst the horrifying and muddy tales of these damaged lives, “Jon had adjusted his glasses in the way that one does when one would prefer the world to be more bearable …”. There is design in the time slots chosen by Kennedy to highlight the protagonists’ journey throughout their days. The reader is often subjected to the minutia of circular thought and peculiarity, though not awkward or corpulent in a verbose way.
This is a very specific insight into the lives of two very special people, who are not unlike their peers or acquaintances. Our protagonists love to analyse, are predisposed to doing so, and in their analysis, they find themselves.
The 24 hours that the reader is presented with is like a flower blooming in the cool shade of late August.
The shortlist is announced on 13th September, and for me, it brings another book to read.
The 2016 Longlist
Paul Beatty (US) The Sellout (Oneworld)
J.M. Coetzee (South African-Australian) The Schooldays of Jesus (Harvill Secker)
A.L. Kennedy (UK) Serious Sweet (Jonathan Cape)
Deborah Levy (UK) Hot Milk (Hamish Hamilton)
Graeme Macrae Burnet (UK) His Bloody Project (Contraband)
Ian McGuire (UK) The North Water (Scribner UK)
David Means (UK) Hystopia (Faber & Faber)
Wyl Menmuir (UK) The Many (Salt)
Ottessa Moshfegh (US) Eileen (Jonathan Cape)
Virginia Reeves (US) Work Like Any Other (Scribner UK)
Elizabeth Strout (US) My Name Is Lucy Barton (Viking)
David Szalay (Canada-UK) All That Man Is (Jonathan Cape)
Madeleine Thien (Canada) Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Granta Books)
*Man Booker website logo from themanbookerprize.com