Man Booker 2016 shortlist announced

Man Booker 2016-LogoThe Man Booker judges have just announced their 2016 shortlist. Reading the announcement is a good sign for me that I should give up on this prediction lark. I’m clearly useless at it. About as useless as I am deciding what is a prize winning novel. I thought North Water could make it (got that wrong) and was rooting for The Many (also wrong). But they went for His Bloody Project which I didn’t think they would given the genre -the publishing house of Contraband must be dancing all through the streets of Scotland at this. They are a minuscule company -I’m not sure how accurate this is but I heard at one point they have one employee! The judges also selected a book that I would hesitate to call a novel – All That a Man Is. Mercifully they spared us Hystopia though it’s a surprise given the judges said they chose writers that  “take[s] risks with language and form”

Out went the twice-previous winner J.M. Coetzee with The Schooldays of Jesus (I’m reading this at the moment and agree with the judges). Out also is The Many by Wyl Menmuir that I reviewed yesterday. Maybe the judges were not comfortable with a novel that generated so many unanswered questions? Out also is the Pullitzer prize winner Elizabeth Strout – I’m not too surprised at that. It was a really good read but not particularly innovative in its form.

The shortlist is: 

  • Paul Beatty (US) – The Sellout (Oneworld): described as a satire of post-racial America. My thoughts: Not read this even as a sample. Early reviews which indicated it was ‘funnyish’ in a heavy- handed, obvious way, were an indication this wouldn’t appeal to me. 
  • Deborah Levy (UK) – Hot Milk (Hamish Hamilton): described as a“richly mythic” tale of mothers and daughters My thoughts: I read the first chapter but there was nothing in it that captured my interest. Rather surprised to see it on the shortlist – it must have developed in a more interesting way than the first chapter indicated. 
  • Graeme Macrae Burnet (UK) – His Bloody Project (Contraband): Features a brutal triple murder in a remote northern crofting community in 1869. My thoughts: This is next on my list to read. 
  • Ottessa Moshfegh (US) – Eileen (Jonathan Cape): set in the 1960s, this tells the story of an unhappy young woman and a bitterly cold Massachusetts winter. My thoughts: The first chapter had me hooked by its depiction of a plain daughter who has no life outside looking after her alcoholic father and her work at a correctional institution. On my list to read. 
  • David Szalay (Canada-UK) – All That Man Is (Jonathan Cape): My thoughts: Some of the character portrayals of nine different men at different stages of their lives worked better than others. But I still don’t understand what the overarching idea was and I’m surprised to see it on the shortlist.
  • Madeleine Thien (Canada) – Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Granta Books): My thoughts: although I read only the first chapter it was enough to indicate that this story of musicians who suffered during and after China’s Cultural Revolution is one I want to read. Now my challenge is to get hold of  a copy at reasonable cost.

It’s a good list in terms of mix of styles and themes and interesting in that it contains only one biggish name in the form of Deborah Levy (previously shortlisted for Swimming Home) Moshfegh at 35 years old is the youngest author.

The novels that didn’t make it from the longlist:

  • Virginia Reeves (US) – Work Like Any Other (Scribner UK): Set in rural Alabama in the 1920s, it tells the story of a pioneering electricity engineer sent to prison for manslaughter after a young man stumbles on one of his illegal power lines. My thoughts: I didn’t like the sound of this so didn’t read it 
  • J.M. Coetzee (South African) – The Schooldays of Jesus (Harvill Secker): this is an allegorical novel which is a follow-up to his 2013 novel, The Childhood of Jesus. My thoughts: I’m 75% of the way through this and still baffled by the point of it 
  • A.L. Kennedy (UK) – Serious Sweet (Jonathan Cape): a London love story between two decent but troubled individuals that is told over the course of 24 hours.My thoughts: I’ve read only the first two chapters and wasnt wowed. 
  • Elizabeth Strout (US) – My Name Is Lucy Barton (Viking): a striking story about a relationship between mother and daughter. My thoughts: Simply one of the best novels I’ve read so far – see my review here 
  • Wyl Menmuir (UK) –The Many (Salt): the novel tells the story of a man who moves to an abandoned house in an isolated Cornish fishing village. The longer he stays, the more uncomfortable and bizarre life becomes. My thoughts: Although perplexing because the significance of some episodes and characters is unclear, this is a totally engrossing read. 
  • Ian McGuire (UK) – The North Water (Scribner UK): a closely detailed story of violence that breaks out between desperate men on a doomed whaling expedition into the Arctic. My thoughts: a brilliant novel, harsh and brutal at times but with superb imagery and  a high class page-turner
  • David Means (US) – Hystopia (Faber & Faber): the novel imagines a history in which John F Kennedy was not assassinated, the Vietnam war drags on and returning soldiers have their traumas wiped. My thoughts: I read only the prologue and was already baffled by the idea of using multiple editor notes to try and explain the premise of the novel. Why not just tell the story? 

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on September 13, 2016, in Book Reviews, Man Booker Prize and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 38 Comments.

  1. So many of the readers “North Water”. I am going to read it nevertheless ( Also The Many). I enjoyed “His Bloody Project”& have mixed feeling about “The Sellout “.

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  2. I’m disappointed but not surprised. My prediction for the winner is The Sellout – but I still do not plan to finish it. I was surprised Lucy Barton made the longlist but I did enjoy reading it, and The Many was a wonderful surprise. I have North Project on hold and I plan to find Do Not Say We Have Nothing somewhere. As for the rest – oh well…

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    • I just started reading Do Not Say we Have Nothing. It started well, now I am a bit lost with who she is talking about but I understand the book does meander so i will stick with it
      Im with you re The Many – quite an extraordinary tale packed into a small number of pages

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  3. Your post made me laugh. I haven’t read any of them. The only Booker winners I’ve enjoyed of the last 20 years are Wolf Hall and Bringing up the Bodies. Good luck to His Bloody Project and Contraband is what I say!

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    • I’ve been reading them as part of my Booker project. Its going to be the last year I think when I devote as much time to it. I don’t like the changes they made to the rules which have ended up with fewer authors from commonwealth countries and more from USA – so less diversity

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  4. I thought “The Many” was a shoe-in to be honest, even though (actually, probably BECAUSE) I wouldn’t go near it with a barge-pole. Ah well, we shall see what happens. I’ve read some very positive reviews of the Levy and I suppose they didn’t want two mother-daughter books in the shortlist.

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  5. I’m so out of touch with the Booker as I haven’t been reading very much in the way of new fiction this year – well, with the exception of a few titles for book group. Based on some of the coverage on social media, quite a few people were surprised by the absence of North Water…

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  6. I’m surprised by North Water too, haven’t read it yet but heard only good things

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    • It’s such a darn good read…. I have seen a few people comment they thought it was too ‘bloody’ and the swearing upset them but this was a brutal world he was depicting so it felt entirely authentic to me

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  7. Really pleased to see Eileen and Do Not Say We Have Nothing on the shortlist and I’m intrigued by His Bloody Project.

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    • Just started Do Not Say we Have Nothing. Eileen arrived in the mail too and I have his Bloody Project on the e reader. I know I wont get to all three before the winner is announced but will read them all at some point

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  8. His Bloody Project may well be the first time I read something from the shortlist – I read a review of this just yesterday and put it on my wishlist as it sounds right up my street.

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  9. I feel like when the Booker judges say things like “novels that play with language and form” they’re doing the grown-up equivalent of looking at Cliffs Notes. “Say something that makes us sound like we know what we’re talking about.” “How about I mention ‘language and form’?” “Yeah, yeah!”

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    • They have to come up with something to justify their choices without giving too much of a clue as to which of the shortlist they think is the winner. Some years their explanation is weaker than others – remember a few years ago they said they chose the books based on their readability which had many people thinking they were dumbing down

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  10. Solid choices! I wonder when we will start promoting these titles in my bookshop… :’D

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  11. I didn’t even try to predict this time – I hadn’t read enough to make reasonable comparisons. That said, I’m glad to see Eileen on the list – a weird and memorable book.

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  12. The Booker is at risk of becoming irrelevant IMO. US, UK and Canada, dullsville…

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  13. Some real surprises on there! I predicted half of them correctly. Like you, I was sure The North Water would make the shortlist. I can highly recommend His Bloody Project and Hot Milk to you. Eileen I had mixed feelings about. The Szalay is up next for me from NetGalley and I have a library hold on the Thien.

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  14. well, I did pretty lousy too (I predicted three). My three favorites made the list so at least there is that. I have to say that Work Like Any other was least interesting to me from the synopsis but I ended up really enjoying it. However, I wasn’t convinced it would have made the list. It was pretty solid literary fiction book but nothing to make it stand out from the pack.

    Unlike you, I loved Hystopia. I thought at times it was unpleasant to read but I thought it was brilliant. I work with military veterans and I found the ways in which the author brought up the impact of trauma was very clever. I found the editorial notes clever because they raised doubts about the reality of the story and the ways in which the “fake’ author’s own trauma was impacting the production of a literary creation. Very meta, but I enjoyed it and thought it was a smart book. I’m fine with the shortlist with the exception of All that Man is which I really disliked.

    and, you definitely need to read Do Not Say We Have Nothing. It is excellent and one that I think you will truly enjoy.

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