And then there were 8 [Booker prize]


The countdown has begun  for my project to read all the Booker Prize winners since the inception of the prize in 1969. I’ve read 40 of the winners, abandoned two which means there are just eight remaining ( I decided to call a halt in 2015).

It’s taken far longer than I anticipated when I started more than 5 years ago. If you’re a book blogger you can blame yourself for my slow progress – you would insist in pushing other titles under my nose that I felt I absolutely had to read. In other words I got distracted a few times. But I’m determined to wrap this up before the end of the year.

I’m just not sure what to read next particularly since some of the remaining titles sound challenging. A Brief History of Seven Killings, the 2015 winner is ” a difficult book with a stop-start structure ,” and cast of around 75 characters according to The Guardian reviewer.  One of the Booker judges declared the 1994 winner How Late it Was How Late to be “crap” while The Guardian review considered the novel “brilliant, sometimes quite funny, but more often a miserable slog….  confusing, claustrophobic and miserable” .  I started The Conservationist at the end of last year but found it confusing so set aside temporarily.

Here’s a little request – can you help me work my way through the final eight by letting me know if you’ve read any of these and how you found the experience? I especially want to make the final Booker I read to be a firework and not a damp squib. So are there any rockets in this list?

For those of you who don’t know these books, here are the Goodreads synopsis for each one

2015 – A Brief History of Seven Killings (Marlon James)

“…a masterfully written novel that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s.

On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert, gunmen stormed his house, machine guns blazing. The attack nearly killed the Reggae superstar, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Marley would go on to perform at the free concert on December 5, but he left the country the next day, not to return for two years.

Deftly spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters—assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghosts—A Brief History of Seven Killings is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the 70s, to the crack wars in 80s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the 90s.

2004 – The Line of Beauty (Alan Hollinghurst)

In the summer of 1983, twenty-year-old Nick Guest moves into an attic room in the Notting Hill home of the Feddens: conservative Member of Parliament Gerald, his wealthy wife Rachel, and their two children, Toby-whom Nick had idolized at Oxford-and Catherine, highly critical of her family’s assumptions and ambitions.

As the boom years of the eighties unfold, Nick, an innocent in the world of politics and money, finds his life altered by the rising fortunes of this glamorous family. His two vividly contrasting love affairs, one with a young black clerk and one with a Lebanese millionaire, dramatize the dangers and rewards of his own private pursuit of beauty, a pursuit as compelling to Nick as the desire for power and riches among his friends.

Richly textured, emotionally charged, disarmingly comic,

2003 – Vernon God Little (DBC Pierre)

Named as one of the 100 Best Things in the World by GQmagazine in 2003, the riotous adventures of Vernon Gregory Little in small town Texas and beachfront Mexico mark one of the most spectacular, irreverent and bizarre debuts of the twenty-first century so far. Its depiction of innocence and simple humanity (all seasoned with a dash of dysfunctional profanity) in an evil world is never less than astonishing. The only novel to be set in the barbecue sauce capital of Central Texas, Vernon God Little suggests that desperate times throw up the most unlikely of heroes.

2001 – True History of the Kelly Gang (Peter Carey)

Told in the form of a journal justifying Ned Kelly to the daughter he would never meet, this is a mesmerising act of historical imagining by one of the most popular novelists at work today.

1994 – How Late It Was, How Late (James Kelman)

One Sunday morning in Glasgow, shoplifting ex-con Sammy awakens in an alley, wearing another man’s shoes and trying to remember his two-day drinking binge. He gets in a scrap with some soldiers and revives in a jail cell, badly beaten and, he slowly discovers, completely blind. And things get worse: his girlfriend disappears, the police question him for a crime they won’t name, and his stab at disability compensation embroils him in the Kafkaesque red tape of the welfare bureaucracy. Told in the utterly uncensored language of the Scottish working class, this is a dark and subtly political parable of struggle and survival, rich with irony and black humour.

1993 – Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (Roddy Doyle)

“Sometimes when nothing happened it was really getting ready to happen.” Irish Paddy rampages through Barrytown streets with like-minded hooligans, playing cowboys, etching names in wet concrete, setting fires. The gang are not bad boys, just restless. When his parents argue, Paddy stays up all night to keep them safe. Change always comes, not always for the better

1974 – The Conservationist (Nadine Gordimer)

“The winner of the 1991 Nobel Prize in Literature paints a fascinating portrait of a “conservationist” left only with the possibility of self-preservation, a subtle and detailed study of the forces and relationships that seethe in South Africa today.”

1972 – G. (J Berger)

John Berger relates the story of “G.,” a young man forging an energetic sexual career in Europe during the early years of this century. With profound compassion, Berger explores the hearts and minds of both men and women, and what happens during sex, to reveal the conditions of the Don Juan’s success: his essential loneliness, the quiet cumulation in each of his sexual experiences of all of those that precede it, the tenderness that infuses even the briefest of his encounters, and the way women experience their own extraordinariness through their moments with him. All of this Berger sets against the turbulent backdrop of Garibaldi and the failed revolution of Milanese workers in 1898, the Boer War, and the first flight across the Alps, making G. a brilliant novel about the search for intimacy in history’s private moments.

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 August 14, 2017, in Irish authors, Man Booker Prize and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 60 Comments.

  1. Absolutely adored A Brief History of Seven Killings—it is a firework for sure. True History of the Kelly Gang is also fantastic.

  2. Of the ones you have left the only one I’ve read is The Conservationist which is an excellent, if challenging book. I tried reading Vernon God Little and wasn’t impressed, there’s generally a dismissive view of that book though whether it’s deserved is always, I think, a personal judgement in the end.
    Congratulations on getting so close to the end of your goal. I’m curious, which two did you abandon?

  3. Congratulations, it must feel great to be so near a long term goal!

  4. I’ve read four: I abandoned True History (I have a love/hate relationship with Carey); really liked Vernon God Little (although it is bonkers and the ending is a bit stupid); loved How Late when I read it in 1995! (I keep meaning to re-read it, but am afraid I won’t love it as much second time around); and absolutely adored Paddy Clarke (one of my all-time favourite reads and certainly in my Top 40).

  5. I don’t envy you. This clutch of books looks heavy going. If you want to end on a high. I’d choose Vernon God Little – it’s a riot.

  6. I loved The Line of Beauty. It’s the only one I’ve read from this list. Sorry, I’m not really helpful.

    I think Max reviewed G.

  7. There are some challenging titles there form the sounds of it. And by that I mean stylistically and thematically there are some which will alienate readers. Anyway, I read The Line of Beauty and really liked it.

  8. Good luck as you approach your finish line! I haven’t read any of these remaining eight….but they do look tempting.

  9. I don’t know any of the remaining books, but what I’ve read of Nadine Gordimer, I liked.

  10. The only one of these is the Roddy Doyle which is an interesting and easy read.

  11. Well done, the end is in sight! The Line of Beauty, Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha and Kelly Gang are the ‘easiest’ reads of those left, so perhaps switch between one of the harder ones and one of these or alternate to keep it bearable. I really want to read 7 Killings, but have been put off by its length so far.

  12. Don’t be put off Kelman. My (Scottish) husband says that the criticism aimed at him comes from certain parts of the British Isles who were educated in certain institutions that may or may not have a particular elitist view of the world. Even for me as a non-Scot, I loved this book. And I’ll also vote for Kelly Gang, cos I kind of have to (but with pleasure). I know you’ve drawn a halt, but I would also highly recommend Far Road to the Deep North – another Aussie winner and it was breathtaking….

  13. Wow! Well done and good luck with the last 8. I’ve read none of them but I do own the Berger so I can’t offer much help in opinions – they don’t necessarily all look the easiest of reads…

    • some seem to be rather more challenging than others. I’m fine with being challenged by subject matter or style as long as the book is still readable…

  14. Hmm, you’ve left yourself 3 or 4 dialect-heavy ones there. I won’t pretend the Marlon James isn’t heavy going. Of your others, I’ve not read any but have The Conservationist and The Kelly Gang on the shelf and have heard particularly good things about the latter. I’m eager to try something by Alan Hollinghurst, but it’s more likely to be The Stranger’s Child as I have a copy.

  15. First of all, congratulations on making it this far. As for the what’s left The Line of Beauty is an easy read – more soapy than literary for me but I may have to get my head below the parapet having said that. Paddy Clarke is also an easy read but I’m afraid I didn’t like Vernon one bit and G I found hard-going. Good luck with the rest of the project.

  16. inthemistandrain

    Both the Alan Hollinghurst and Paddy Clarke are “good reads” and not tricky. Haven’t read the others. Congratulations on completing (which I’m sure you’ll do) your project.

  17. I have read half of these titles. Not crazy about ‘Vernon God Little’. The Roddy Doyle title is quite readable. Peter Carey is true to form – a great writer – and I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Kelly Gang’.

    But the best of the bunch, or at least of the four I’ve read, is ‘7 Killings’. An astonishingly good book, that stays with you long after you’ve read it. I rarely re-read a book these days, but this is one I will almost certainly read again. Yes, there is extreme violence, some of the dialect is hard to understand, and the politics can be confusing. It is not an easy read – but worth the effort.

  18. If the choice were mine, I’d donate the whole jolly lot to a charity shop. We had the Vernon God Little book in our Book Club and I hated it with a passion. I know Nadine Gordimer is a Sacred Icon in SA literature, but I’ve always found her books very heavy going. You could give yourself a break, and simply abandon them, and move on to fresh books that you are dying to read … go on, be kind to yourself. P.S. have not read any of them, and have been actively avoiding the Marlon James book.

  19. I really liked both Paddy Clarke and True History of the Kelly Gang and I loved How Late It Was How Late – but then I’m a Glaswegian and I talk that books’ dialect every day so I’m not exactly impartial on that one!!!

  20. I’ve read all of these except the two histories, and I think that if you want your last read to be a powerful, important book, then it should be The Conservationist. The main reason I would choose this one is because back in 1974 it was a brave book written by a brave woman who exposed the day to day reality of apartheid to the international stage, and it winning the Booker meant that South Africa could not ignore it. So both the book and the Booker helped to shape opinion and over the long haul that led to change.
    PS If you like vivid, punchy satire taking on the powerful, you might like Vernon God Little.
    PPS You can find reviews of those above that I’ve read all gathered together here: I used to be able to find them all under my name at The Complete Booker but since they reorganised the site, it’s really slow to find them all.

    • Just read your review and see that the narrative feature you found irritating was the one that made me stop reading this book last year. I got hopelessly confused about who was speaking which made it hard for me to get into the meat of it. Am not going to abandon it though

  21. I have not read any of these and have only heard of History of the Kelly Gang and Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha. I think I’d be most interested in trying Nadine Gordimer.

  22. I loved Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty, truly one of the best novels I’ve ever read. That said, some Bookers are much more than others. I did enjoy Kelman’s book and Peter Carey is always great, but Vernon God Little was a very crude anti-American satire. I can see why the British liked it more than I did!

  23. Haven’t read any of them, I fear, so no help from me! But the ones that appeal most from the blurbs are either True History of the Ned Kelly Gang which sounds like fun, or the Nadine Gordimer which sounds worthy but possibly interesting…

    • I did try Gordimer but the way she presented the dialogue made it tough to follow _ there were no identifiers used so hard to know who was speaking….

  24. I really hated Vernon God Little and really liked a brief history of seven killings but I don’t think you will like that one

  25. I won’t ask “What’s next?” in terms of reading projects now that the end is in sight for the Booker project!

    I really enjoyed True History of the Kelly Gang (not sure how much of that can be attributed to the fact that I knew a bit about Kelly history though). I also remember enjoying the Roddy Doyle, and it’s a book that I’ve slated for a re-read.

    A Friend recently finished The Line of Beauty and thought it was a bit pompous… it’s in my TBR stack but I won’t be rushing after hearing his thoughts. Maybe you will change my mind when you review it?

    I have Brief History in my TBR stack as well. I’ve heard nothing but good reviews from all those who have read it.

    Good luck choosing!

  26. Of the other 8, haven’t read the two older ones.

    History of the Kelly Gang and A History of Seven Killings were both great reads: although latter can be difficult to keep track of what is going on.

    The 1993 and 1994 books are both written in attempts to represent regional speech – which some find offputting.

    And I really though Vernon God Little, although an easy read, was lightweight and completely unworthy of the prize.

  27. Seems a shame to stop at 2015 when 2017 is looking strong and the 2016 winner signed a personalised copy for you 🙂

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