Each year I usually give myself the ambitious challenge of reading all of the books on The Man Booker longlist. This year, I’m cutting myself some slack. I’ve taken a look through the longlist and only a small handful jump out at me. One of the things I love about literary prizes is discovering new authors and fantastic stories, but this year I want to focus on the ones that excite me, because after all life is too short to spend time reading books that I know I won’t enjoy…
Out of the thirteen books, I’ve already read two: Days Without End by Sebastian Barry and Exit West by Mohsin Hamid, both of which I’ve written mini reviews on. There are eleven books left to pick from and my Man Booker picks are:
The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (Hamish Hamilton)
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness takes us on a journey of many years-the story spooling outwards from the cramped neighbourhoods of Old Delhi into the burgeoning new metropolis and beyond, to the Valley of Kashmir and the forests of Central India, where war is peace and peace is war, and where, from time to time, ‘normalcy’ is declared.
Anjum, who used to be Aftab, unrolls a threadbare carpet in a city graveyard that she calls home. A baby appears quite suddenly on a pavement, a little after midnight, in a crib of litter. The enigmatic S. Tilottama is as much of a presence as she is an absence in the lives of the three men who loved her.
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is at once an aching love story and a decisive remonstration. It is told in a whisper, in a shout, through tears and sometimes with a laugh. Its heroes are people who have been broken by the world they live in and then rescued, mended by love-and by hope. For this reason, they are as steely as they are fragile, and they never surrender. This ravishing, magnificent book reinvents what a novel can do and can be. And it demonstrates on every page the miracle of Arundhati Roy’s storytelling gifts.
Autumn by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)
Daniel is a century old. Elisabeth, born in 1984, has her eye on the future. The United Kingdom is in pieces, divided by a historic once-in-a-generation summer.
Love is won, love is lost. Hope is hand in hand with hopelessness. The seasons roll round, as ever . . .
Swing Time by Zadie Smith (Hamish Hamilton)
Two brown girls dream of being dancers – but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, black bodies and black music, what it means to belong, what it means to be free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten either.
Bursting with energy, rhythm and movement, Swing Time is Zadie Smith’s most ambitious novel yet. It is a story about music and identity, race and class, those who follow the dance and those who lead it . . .
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Fleet)
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the North.
In Whitehead’s razor-sharp imagining of the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad has assumed a physical form: a dilapidated box car pulled along subterranean tracks by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But its placid surface masks an infernal scheme designed for its unknowing black inhabitants. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher sent to find Cora, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
At each stop on her journey, Cora encounters a different world. As Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once the story of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shatteringly powerful meditation on history.
Out of the longlist, which ones are you most excited for? Do you think I’ve missed some essential reading off my list?
- 4 3 2 1by Paul Auster (US) (Faber & Faber)
- Days Without Endby Sebastian Barry (Ireland) (Faber & Faber)
- History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
- Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
- Solar Bonesby Mike McCormack (Ireland) (Canongate)
- Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (UK) (4thEstate)
- Elmetby Fiona Mozley (UK) (JM Originals)
- The Ministry Of Utmost Happinessby Arundhati Roy (India) (Hamish Hamilton)
- Lincoln in the Bardoby George Saunders (US) (Bloomsbury Publishing)
- Home Fireby Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan) (Bloomsbury Circus)
- Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
- Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
- The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (US) (Fleet)