It’s never in doubt that the books that are shortlisted for and that ultimately win the Man Booker Prize are exceptional works of fiction. Recent winners include Richard Flanagan
, Hilary Mantel
, Anne Enright
, Yann Martel
, Margaret Atwood
and Kazuo Ishiguro
. Often, though, it can be hard to predict which shortlisted novel will win, largely because the titles don’t receive widespread recognition in Australia.
We decided to put an end to this. In a bid to form a well-read opinion about who the potential Man Booker Prize winner could be for 2015, Kate Procko, our colleague and resident word warrior, took it upon herself to read all of the shortlisted titles prior to the announcement of the winner. Read on to find out which books Kate loved, Kate didn’t love as much, and of course which book Kate thinks will win the coveted prize in 2015.
A Brief History of Seven Killings
by Marlon James
This is a brilliant, technically dazzling novel from Jamaican Marlon James. It takes as its starting point the real life attempted assassination of Bob Marley in Kingston December 1976 but then weaves a fictional story told from multiple view points of the events leading up to and the aftermath of an assassination attempt on someone who is only ever referred to as ‘the singer’. Every chapter is told from a different person’s view and James gives every single person a unique style and personality. The patois of Jamaica is used frequently through the novel but, unlike in other books I’ve read that are written in a particular way of speaking that I am unfamiliar with, it never comes across as jarring. Whilst many of the characters are unsympathetic ones and the book is quite violent, I found this compulsive reading and devoured it in a single afternoon.
by Tom McCarthy
McCarthy in Satin Island
seeks to portray the moment by moment, news bite by news bite, Twitter post by Twitter post reality that most of us find ourselves living in at this moment of the 21st century; this strange sort of disjointedness where what you think, experience and feel from minute to minute changes so completely that there seems to be no connection between your various thoughts. McCarthy achieves this effect paragraph by paragraph as we follow U about his daily life and work as he attempts to write a ‘Great Report’ for his company that is supposed to be ‘the First and Last Word on our age’ but keeps finding himself distracted. The result is a novel that, while the plot is cursory, McCarthy uses to explore ideas about our current reality, and despite me initially taking a while to get used to a (for me) different style of writing that seemed to jump from point to point, this is a strangely captivating book.
by Chigozie Obioma
Obioma’s novel The Fishermen
is the only debut novel on the shortlist, which is a remarkable achievement. Told from the point of view of nine-year-old Benjamin, The Fishermen
is the story of four brothers growing up in Nigeria in the 1990s. When their father has to move away for work, the brothers defy their local village superstitions and go fishing in the forbidden river. There, they encounter a local madman known for his chillingly accurate prophecies, who tells them that the oldest brother Ikenna will be murdered by one of the other three. This book is slow to start, but Obioma’s prose is so haunting and beautiful that readers can’t help but be drawn in by his mythical and mysterious storytelling. Obioma’s deep appreciation of the English language all but overflows from the pages, and while the story is bleak, Obioma’s future certainly is not.
The Year of the Runaways
by Sunjeev Sahota
Sahota in The Year of the Runaways
offers us a glimpse into the hard lives of those people who travel to different countries in search of something else, whether it be work, safety or simply the chance at a better life. At the centre of this novel are three Indians who have travelled to England, none of whom are in the country entirely legally, and are living together. While you would think their similar background and mutual current difficulties would result in them bonding and working together, this is not so. Their feelings of insecurity lead them to feel incredibly isolated, even amongst each other, and they continually battle to survive as best as each can (especially one of them who is of the untouchable caste that makes him an outcast amongst his fellows). Despite much of the novel being set in India, there is nothing that seems different about the characters’ experiences of hardship, feelings of isolation and their day to day scramble to eke out a living. Although much of this novel is unsparingly bleak, it is lightened by moments of connection between various characters and by the way small acts can completely change situations and people.
A Spool of Blue Thread
by Anne Tyler
Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread
is completely different to all of the other books on the short list; in fact, it is so different that it doesn’t seem possible the same judges could have picked it. Compared to the other books, it seems incredibly open and slight, and it is a brilliant and compelling examination of one family and their lives. At first glance the Whitshanks (the family at the centre of A Spool of Blue Thread
) seem like a completely normal and ‘happy enough’ family, yet as the book progresses the cracks between family members begin to appear as we begin to see that the stories the family tells about themselves are simply that: stories. This is especially apparent when Tyler in the second half of the book takes us back in time to see the truth behind some of these stories. As I read this book, the comparison that kept on coming to mind (despite completely different styles and events) was with Saturday
by Ian McEwan; this comparison was due to how each of these books take the normal and everyday lives of people and manage to weave a compulsive read from the day-to-day events of their lives (literally the day-to-day in Saturday
A Little Life
by Hanya Yanagihara
This is the book that, according to all the pre-announcement publicity and the bookies odds, seems to be the favourite to win this year. A Little Life tells the story of four friends and how their lives intersect over 40-odd years. On one level it is a well-crafted story of New York life that is strongly reminiscent of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History
; however Yanagihara counterbalances this with another story that concerns the abuse suffered by one of the four friends as a young boy and how that affects him for the rest of his life. This is an engrossing novel that examines how some events from your past can continue to affect you throughout your life despite all attempts to escape them, which in our present world where we are continually bombarded by stories of how people overcome horrific pasts to become outstanding members of society is definitely something that we should bear in mind. However, for me, I found that the power of this book was slightly diminished by some of the long passages detailing the abuse, which at times seemed to edge towards being a little gratuitous, but this is a very minor point.
OK, now for the hard part, picking a winner. Disclaimer: this is probably going to doom my choice from the outset as I have never accurately picked the winner for anything. The book that I feel is most deserving to be the winner this year is…
A Brief History of Seven Killings
, followed by The Year of the Runaways
and A Little Life
in a tie for second place.
While we're here, we thought it would be fun to look at the four books that have different covers in America and the UK/Australia. All the covers shown above are for the Commonwealth editions of the books. Here are the American covers. Which do you prefer?