A short blog about a long list

Every year at around this time, the Man Booker Prize Long List is published. Thirteen new fiction books, each and every one selected to push you to your limits as a reader. All with engaging titles and eye-catching covers that scream out Pick Me! Read Me!

Covers of Man Booker 2016 long list

The long list is for the real die-hards, here’s what I fancy this year:

  • The Many – Wyl Menmuir’s novel is my top choice because it is by a first time author who had just completed a creative writing course when he wrote the book, and it was written from a campervan on the Cornish coast. It is seriously the underdog entry.
  • Hot Milk – Deborah Levy. I cannot wait to read this. It explores the cross over between a daughter’s over-developed sense of responsibility towards her mother, and her need to take risks and live her own life. And I love the cover.
  • Serious Sweet  – A.L. Kennedy’s Serious Sweet sounds like just my kind of book: two characters (with all the first world  flaws we know and love) find one another in London. He’s a ‘bankrupt accountant’, she’s ‘shakily sober’. Together they do their best in a world intent on doing its worst.
  • The Schooldays of Jesus – J.M. Coetzee. A South African-born writer who has already won the Booker prize twice. He’s the heavyweight of the list. This novel (a sequel to The Childhood of Jesus) is about growing up, parenting and life choices. It’s allegorical writing, so don’t read too much into the cover – chances are that’s not Jesus learning to pirouette at a dance school.

As I bash out this blog on the keyboard, I swear I can feel the sinking of the collective heart of all my book club ladies over the years. Long have they loathed my Man Booker choices. When pushed they will give me the ‘too’ list: Too weird, too literary, too boring, too obscure, too depressing. “Nonsense” I retaliate, “Man Up”!

The long list has a short life span. Soon it will be culled from this baker’s dozen, to the six of the short list and finally down to the eventual winner. And at least a couple of these lovelies are sure to make it into a book group near you!

It’s more exciting than rugby. No really, I’m not kidding, it is!

When last did a book make you cry?

Moloka'iMy answer to that question is: last week – which is when I started reading Moloka’i.

Set in Hawaii in the 1890’s, Moloka’i tells the story of the scourge of leprosy on the island’s inhabitants. In particular it is the life story of Rachel, a child of only seven, who contracts the disease and is banished to a leprosy settlement on the island of Kalaupapa. Here she is utterly confused, surrounded by terrifyingly disfigured patients and separated from her beloved family.

Are you crying yet?

Moloka’i is exactly the sort of book I usually avoid: vaguely historical, set in a place I don’t know and don’t really want to know, with a child protagonist and about a disease that I fear in a kind of primitive, medieval way. Why then am I reading it? Two words for you: Book and Club. And say what you will about Book Groups, they do get you out of fossilized reading holding patterns.

Three StoriesAfter a few chapters of this Alan Brennert novel, I was too miserable to sleep. The only book antidote that I had on hand was J.M. Coetzee’s Three Stories. If you have read any of Coetzee’s work, like The Life and Times of Michael K or Disgrace (he was the first writer to ever win the Booker Prize twice with these two works), you will be agog that anyone would consider his writing cheering.

But Coetzee has mellowed. In the three stories in this little book he considers, in this order: the improbability of loving a house; the sorrow of loving a land and the something of loving a parrot (I may have to read that one again.) But I did read all 70 pages of Three Stories and drifted off to sleep in a most satisfactory manner.

How about you – which books have made you cry? And which have soothed your troubled brow?