Booker Prize Project – the end in sight

Booker prize finish line

Approaching the finishing line

Five years ago I embarked on a project to read all the Booker Prize winners since the inception of the prize in 1969. I’d already read a number of them like The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood and Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally. Though I didn’t set myself any deadline I thought, with a little effort, I’d be done in two years. Well clearly that never happened. I am however in the homeward straight now with just 11 titles remaining to be read. Until now I’ve purposefully avoided reading the winners in date order – and I don’t plan to do that for the final batch. I am however pontificating whether to reserve to the very end, one book that has been universally praised so I end on a high note.

Here’s what I have still to read: (I’m discounting the 2016 winner since I have to stop somewhere).

Winners 21st century 

2015A History of Seven Killings (Marlon James)
2010 – The Finkler Question (Howard Jacobson)
2004 – The Line of Beauty (Hollinghurst)
2003 – Vernon God Little (D.B. C Pierre)
2001 – True History of the Kelly Gang (Peter Carey)

Winners 20th century 
1997 – The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy)
1994 – How Late It Was, How Late (James Kelman)
1993 – Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (Roddy Doyle)
1992 – Sacred Hunger (Barry Unsworth)
1974 – The Conservationist (Nadine Gordimer)
1972 – G. (John Berger)

 The ones I am least looking forward to are  How Late It Was, How Late  by James Kelman and  A History of Seven Killings by Marlon James purely because contain a high quota of local dialect – working class Scottish dialect in the case of Kelman and Jamaican dialect in the case of Marlon James).

My question to you good people is – what should I read next? Of the remaining 11 titles there is nothing that is really calling out strongly ‘read me next’. I’m tempted by The Finkler Question since I dipped into it last year and enjoyed what I found (though I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea). I also embarked on The Conservationist but found that hard to get into so put to one side for now.

Out of my remaining list are there any you would recommend? Anything you’ve read that was a stand out novel for you? Conversely are there any on this list that you’d suggest leaving until last?

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 February 26, 2017, in Bookends, Man Booker Prize, Sunday Salon and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 54 Comments.

  1. I’m a year and a half late but wanted to cheer you on. I’m on a quest to read all the Pulitzer Prize Winners for fiction and plan to do the Booker ones after that. I still have quite a way to go with the Pulitzers so it’ll be awhile. I wonder if you finished the Bookers by now!

  2. I would get Seven history out of way next if you really have to do it. I was meant to be reading for book club and ended up getting through by skipping lots. All dialect is tough, particularly as means pages of dialect with each side of conversation starting with – .

    • Oh heavens I started reading another Booker winner where the dialogue used – to indicate a new speaker without tagging who that was. I found it incredibly tough going. Compound that with the dialect and seems like I am in for a fun (!!) time with Seven Killings

  3. I loved Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha, great book, quietly funny and moving. I was less impressed by The Line of Beauty, which I thought well written but cold and detached. The other one I’ve read is Vernon God Little, which I’d rate somewhere inbetween. It’s a brash, sweary dark comedy about an unpleasant boy who does an awful thing. A better read than I expected.

  4. Impressive results in your project! Unfortunately, I read only two books from your list. The Finkler Question did not impress me at all. It is a good, solid read, but I found the problems (or the way the main character sees those problems) far-fetched. As for Vernon God Little, I am still not sure how it got the price. It was a horrible read (I must admit 50% due to the translation), but still…

  5. The God of Small Things is actually what got me back into reading. It got me interested in modern classics and Prize winning books. Hmm, in some sense, my blog wouldn’t exist without it, it was a sort of much-needed catalyst. I wouldn’t even be typing this comment right now if that book hadn’t crossed my way, haha!

  6. buriedinprint

    So many of the ones which are left on your list seem to me to be very much about voice, and that could certainly divide readers. Even though you’ve had a lot of encouragement on the Arundhati Roy novel, I read it in a bookclub years ago and some definitely did not connect with the voice there. That was true, too, I think, with the Peter Carey novel. I didn’t respond to the book at all when I dipped into it on my own, but after I heard him read from it, I found the prose much more accessible (but I wasn’t motivated to return to it either, by thtat time, not having a project such as yours to encourage me) when I could hear his voice (Ned Kelly’s “voice”) in the prose. I’ll be interested to see which ones you enjoy and which are challenging for you. And, most of all, congrats on nearing the end of your project: well done!

  7. On your remaining the list the only one I have read is The God of Small Things and it was really good. You are so close! What will you do once you are finished? Are there plans and ideas in the works?

  8. The God of Small Things is one of my all-time favorites. People seem to either love it or hate it though.

    I liked A Brief History of Seven Killings too even though the dialect and the violence was a blocker at first.

  9. I read The God of Small Things, I think, and wasn’t impressed so I wouldn’t rush on that. I don’t really know the others, but the most interesting sonds like the Marlon James one.

  10. You are AWESOME!! I have always been fascinated by The Finkler Question and A History of Seven Killings. I would go with one of them next! 🙂

  11. You’re so close! I’m not much help since I haven’t read any of the books – I’m just here to cheer you on! 🙂

  12. I enjoyed The Finkler Question. You could do worse than start there. Alternatively, you could read The God of Small Things since Roy is coming out with a long-awaited follow-up this year.

    The Marlon James is quite the marathon. I’d say allow yourself to skim it if you feel so led.

    I’d like to try Hollinghurst for the first time this year, though not this particular title; I have The Stranger’s Child on the shelf.

  13. Congratulations on completing so many Booker Prize novels!! I am not sure if our taste in books match as I did not enjoy The Finkler Question. My suggestion to you would be to start The God of Small Things next as I enjoyed this book a lot.


  14. Wow! I never really thought about what would happen after I finished reading all the Booker winners. I guess I thought I’d just keep reading all the new ones that get awarded….

    I’d recommend God of Small Things and Vernon God Little.

  15. I’ve read most of these, and liked most of them too. I liked G very much… but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. You can see my review (no spoilers) to give you an idea of the flavour.

    • If you’ve read G you are in an elite group Lisa – few people I’ve come across have heard of it let alone read it.

      • I think giving a book a title that’s just a single letter is folly. Even today, it’s hard to find in a search, but imagine going into a bookshop and telling the sales staff that you want a book called G but you can’t remember the author’s name!

  16. Put Sacred Hunger right at the top of your list. I’ve read it several times and each time it gets better. Here in the United States, where race continues to top the headlines, it is particularly meaningful although like all great books, it has a universal quality. Unsworth wrote a sequel which is also good, but not as great as Sacred Hunger. You really do want to know what happens to these people.

  17. I’m not going to be much help as the only one I’ve read from the list is Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha which was a good, but not a great read as far as I was concerned.

  18. Alas, I can be of no help as I’ve read none of them – but the Berger that I’ve read has been very good so I’d encourage you in the direction of G!

  19. I have A History of Seven Killings on my own TBR and I’m very much looking forward to reading it – I hope you enjoy it once you get around to it. I’ve also heard great things about The God of Small Things, although I have not read it myself, yet. Best of luck with the final stretch of your project! 🙂

  20. Would recommend the Kelly Gang if you are looking for an enjoyable and interesting read – Carey does a great job of bringing Kelly to life, helped by some surviving correspondence from Ned Kelly himself which has a very distinctive voice. I didn’t get the Finkler Question at all – very little happens – but it is inoffensive enough. Paddy Clarke is another one to look forward to. Which has been your favourite Booker novel thus far?

  21. The God of Small Things is an excellent book, as is True History of the Kelly Gang. I didn’t like Paddy Clarke that much, one of the only Booker Prize winners that I have not enjoyed.

    • God of Small Things is certainly getting a lot of support. Now I have to see if my library has a copy – I am trying really hard not to buy anything new for a few months

  22. I loved the God of Small Things, Paddy Clarke and How Late it Was How Late. Although the latter is all in dialect, it’s very readable, and I might save it till last. Also, well done!!!

  23. The only one I’ve read is The Line of Beauty and I really liked it

  24. Paddy Clarke is good fun, Line of Beauty is interesting, if a little self-centred, and The God of Small Things is thoughtful and beautiful.

  25. The God of Small Things is absolutely beautiful. The Line of Beauty, The Kelly Gang, and A History of Seven Killings were also quite good.

  26. Three of my all-time favourite books are on your list — Paddy Clarke, How Late, and Sacred Hunger — so you have some very fine reading ahead of you!

    • It feels strange to be thinking that the end is in my sight

      • And—when you read as many of the winners as you want—you should consider reading some of the short-listed novels. For me, several were just as good as the winning novels, and might have won in other years with other panel members.

  27. Some wonderful choices await you. I might start with Line of Beauty. Being neither British nor gay, I found it a fascinating reflection on the Thatcher years. I found How Late It Was fascinating, although the patois took some adjustment on my part. I found Brief History heavy going in places, partially again because of the dialect, but definitely worth the effort in the end.

  28. Well done on your progress so far! I was one of those who didn’t get on with The Finkler Question but I enjoyed reading The God of Small Things last year.

  29. You’ve got some great books left! Although I read both Paddy Clarke and True History of the Kelly Gang many, many years ago, I loved both. I have Line of Beauty in my TBR stack… haven’t quite got to it. Must admit, Finkler Question is one of the few books that I DNF – clearly I didn’t get the joke because I found the narrator absolutely insufferable.

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