Booker Longlist Mini Reviews

Tomorrow the Man Booker Prize shortlist will be announced. I’d already read and reviewed four of the nominees (see my quick impressions here), and in the time since the longlist announcement I’ve managed to read another three and ruled out one more. Two were terrific; another was pretty good; the last I’ll never know because it’s clear to me I won’t read it.

 

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

his-bloodyWhat a terrific, propulsive tale Burnet has woven out of a real-life (I think) nineteenth-century Scottish murder case. The seams between fact and fiction are so subtle you might forget you’re reading a novel, but it’s clear the author has taken great care in assembling his “documents”: witness testimonies, medical reports, a psychologist’s assessment, trial records, and – the heart of the book and the most fascinating section – a memoir written by the murderer himself. As you’re reading it you believe Roddy implicitly and feel deeply for his humiliation (the meeting with the factor and the rejection by Flora are especially agonizing scenes), but as soon as you move on to the more ‘objective’ pieces you question how he depicted things. I went back and read parts of his account two or three times, wondering how his memories squared with the facts of the case. A great one for fans of Alias Grace, though I liked this much better. This is my favorite from the Booker longlist so far.

4 star rating

 

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

eileen“I often felt there was something wired weird in my brain, a problem so complicated only a lobotomy could solve it—I’d need a whole new mind or a whole new life.” This isn’t so much a book to enjoy as one to endure. Being in Eileen’s mind is profoundly unsettling. She’s simultaneously fascinated and disgusted by bodies; she longs for her alcoholic father’s approval even as she wonders whether she could get away with killing him. They live a life apart in their rundown home in X-ville, New England, and Eileen can’t wait to get out by whatever means necessary. When Rebecca St. John joins the staff of the boys’ prison where Eileen works, she hopes this alluring woman will be her ticket out of town.

There’s a creepy Hitchcock flavor to parts of the novel (I imagined Eileen played by Patricia Hitchcock as in Strangers on a Train, with Rebecca as Gene Tierney in Laura), and a nice late twist – but Moshfegh sure makes you wait for it. In the meantime you have to put up with the tedium and squalor of Eileen’s daily life, and there’s no escape from her mind. This is one of those rare novels I would have preferred to be in the third person: it would allow the reader to come to his/her own conclusions about Eileen’s psychology, and would have created more suspense because Eileen’s hindsight wouldn’t result in such heavy foreshadowing. I expected suspense but actually found this fairly slow and somewhat short of gripping.

3 star rating

 

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

hot-milkThis is a most unusual mother–daughter story, set on the southern coast of Spain. Twenty-five-year-old Sofia Papastergiadis has put off her anthropology PhD to accompany her mother, Rose, on a sort of pilgrimage to Dr. Gómez’s clinic to assess what’s wrong with Rose’s legs. What I loved about this novel is the uncertainty about who each character really is. Is Rose an invalid or a first-class hypochondriac? Is Dr. Gómez a miracle worker or a quack who’s fleeced them out of 25,000 euros? As a narrator, Sofia pretends to objective anthropological observation but is just as confused by her actions as we are: she seems to deliberately court jellyfish stings, is simultaneously jealous and contemptuous of her Greek father’s young second wife, and sleeps with both Juan and Ingrid.

Levy imbues the novel’s relationships with psychological and mythological significance, especially the Medusa story. I don’t think the ending quite fits the tone, but overall this is a quick and worthwhile read. At the same time, it’s such an odd story that it will keep you thinking about the characters. A great entry I’d be happy to see make the shortlist.

4 star rating

 


[One I won’t be reading: The Schooldays of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee. I opened up the prequel, The Childhood of Jesus, and could only manage the first chapter. I quickly skimmed the rest but found it unutterably dull. It would take me a lot of secondary source reading to try to understand what was going on here allegorically, and it’s not made me look forward to trying more from Coetzee.]

do-not-sayAs for the rest: I have All That Man Is by David Szalay and Serious Sweet by A.L. Kennedy on my Kindle and will probably read them whether or not they’re shortlisted. The same goes for Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien, for which I’m third in a library hold queue. I’d still like to get hold of The Many by Wyl Menmuir. That leaves just Hystopia by David Means, which I can’t say I have much interest in.

I rarely feel like I have enough of a base of experience to make accurate predictions, but if I had to guess which six books would make it through tomorrow, I would pick:

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

The Schooldays of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

The North Water by Ian McGuire

My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

That would be three men and three women, and a pretty good mix of countries and genres. I’d be happy with that list.


What have you managed to read from the Booker longlist? How do your predictions match up against mine?

25 responses

  1. Reblogged this on Jason Graff and commented:
    I can’t wait to read AL Kennedy. She is one of my favorite contemporary writers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jason! I’ve only ever read one book by her — The Blue Book — and didn’t care for it, but I think Serious Sweet sounds promising.

      Like

  2. I love your honesty.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

  3. I’d be shocked if Hot Milk, The North Water and Lucy Barton don’t make it through. From my own reading, I’d also nominate Serious Sweet and Eileen, and then… hmm. I didn’t really enjoy The Many (so ominous! so inconclusive!) It could be All That Man Is, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, or His Bloody Project, really – I’ve read reviews of all three but no one seems really inflamed by any of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I need to go back and read your review of Eileen and some others — I know a lot of people got more out of it than I did.

      I’d love to see His Bloody Project on the shortlist, but I guess it’s a longshot being such a little known author and publisher.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I mean, I’ll admit that Eileen is very odd. I enjoyed it because I kept expecting something awful to happen and the awful thing that did happen was not one of the Bad Things In Fiction that I’m programmed to expect!

        Like

    2. Agreed, but I think my issue was that you have to wait until the 85% mark for it to happen 😉

      Like

  4. I’m definitely not in a position to predict, as I’ve only read Eileen. But it’s fun to follow along and see what everyone else thinks! I do have my fingers crossed for Madeleine Thien. I can’t get a copy of her newest book right now, so instead I read one of her others over the summer (Dogs at the Perimeter) to get a sense of her writing, and I thought it was good.
    I would love to read The North Water and My Name is Lucy Barton. And Hot Milk sounds intriguing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can definitely recommend all three! I was amazed to see that my library system had copies of Thien’s latest. I’ll be looking forward to it.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m a quarter of the way through Do Not Say We Have Nothing and really enjoying it so I hope it’s on the longlist tomorrow. I preferred Eileen over Serious Sweet but I don’t think it’s to everyone’s taste!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post 🙂 The Booker is my favourite of the book awards really excited about the announcement tomorrow

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree — every year I follow it eagerly, much more so than the Baileys, Pulitzer, etc.

      Like

  7. All that a Man Is is an odd book, I hesitate to even call it a novel because there seems no over-arching theme that links the different stories together. The Manynis a terrific novel. Like you I have no interest in Hystopia having read the first chapter.

    Like

    1. I put in a library hold for The Many but I’m waaaaaay down in the queue. I’ll make a start on All That Man Is soon.

      Like

  8. I’ve read NONE of them! I really struggle with reading contemporary fiction as so much of it just doesn’t interest me or is too transgressive and violent.

    Like

    1. Do any of the shortlisted books appeal to you?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. To be honest, not really! But then I’m not sure they ever really do, to be honest. I don’t shy away from the difficult book or the unpleasant character, but I’ve just not been enamoured by most of the recent shortlists!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Well, I managed 50% on my predictions, with Burnet, Levy and Thien making the shortlist. Hooray! Very surprised that North Water and Lucy Barton didn’t make it but The Sellout did. I’ve read 4 out of 6 of the shortlist already and will try to read the other two before the prize announcement on the 25th of October, though this depends on my library hold for Thien coming in.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I picked 4 out of 6 my other two picks being Lucy Barton and The North Water, which I had actually picked to win, being my favourite of all the Longlisters so far! So there you are – really surprised that The North Water didn’t make it….is anyone else? Have read all shortlisters except All That Man Is (hard to get in Australia until now) and Do Not Say We Have Nothing, so I’d better get on it….
      Btw love your site 🙂

      Like

      1. Thanks, Genevieve! We’re in the same position re: the shortlist, though I started All That Man Is on Kindle last night.

        Like

  10. As always, I’m so impressed with the breadth of your reading!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I read “Childhood of Jesus” & let me tell you- good you didnt read it. It was a book about nowhere and no one. “Schooldays of Jesus” was not thankfully shortlisted. Nevertheless, I would had avoided it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I don’t think I’m missing much!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. […] my take on the final two from the shortlist (see my quick impressions of the others here and here), plus one from the longlist. I finish with thoughts about my favorites and the likely […]

    Like

  13. […] you’ve read her Booker-shortlisted debut, Eileen, you’ll be unsurprised to hear that Moshfegh has written another love-it-or-hate-it book with a […]

    Like

Leave a Reply to Two Final Wellcome Book Prize Longlist Reviews: Krasnostein & Moshfegh – Bookish Beck Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: