Booker Prize Longlist Reading & Shortlist Predictions

I’ve polished off another four from the Booker Prize longlist (my initial reactions and excerpts from existing reviews are here), with one more coming up for me next month.

 

Trust by Hernan Diaz

“History itself is just a fiction—a fiction with an army. And reality? Reality is a fiction with an unlimited budget.”

My synopsis for Bookmarks magazine:

Set in the 1920s and 1930s, this expansive novel is about the early days of New York City high finance. It is told through four interlocking narratives. The first is Bonds, a novel by Harold Vanner, whose main character is clearly based on tycoon Andrew Bevel. Bevel, outraged at his portrayal as well as the allegation that his late wife, Mildred, was a madwoman, responds by writing a memoir—the book’s second part. Part 3 is an account by Ida Partenza, Bevel’s secretary, who helps him plot revenge on Vanner. In the final section, Mildred finally gets her say. Her journal caps off a sumptuous, kaleidoscopic look at American capitalism.

Ghostwriter Ida’s section was much my favourite, for her voice as well as for how it leads you to go back to the previous part – some of it still in shorthand (“Father. Describe early memories of him. … MATH in great detail. Precocious talent. Anecdotes.”) and reassess its picture of Bevel. His short selling in advance of the Great Depression made him a fortune, but he defends himself: “My actions safeguarded American industry and business.” Mildred’s journal entries, clearly written through a fog of pain as she was dying from cancer, then force another rethink about the role she played in her husband’s decision making. With her genius-level memory, philanthropy and love of literature and music, she’s a much more interesting character than Bevel – that being the point, of course, that he steals the limelight. This is clever, clever stuff. However, as admirable as the pastiche sections might be (though they’re not as convincing as the first section of To Paradise), they’re ever so dull to read.

With thanks to Picador for the free copy for review.

 

Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet

That GMB is quite the trickster. From the biographical sections, I definitely assumed that A. Collins Braithwaite was a real psychiatrist in the 1960s. A quick Google when I got to the end revealed that he only exists in this fictional universe. I enjoyed the notebooks recounting an unnamed young woman’s visits to Braithwaite’s office; holding the man responsible for her sister’s suicide, she books her appointments under a false name, Rebecca Smyth, and tries acting just mad (and sensual) enough to warrant her coming back. Her family stories, whether true or embellished, are ripe for psychoanalysis, and the more she inhabits this character she’s created the more she takes on her persona. (“And, perhaps on account of Mrs du Maurier’s novel, Rebecca had always struck me as the most dazzling of names. I liked the way its three short syllables felt in my mouth, ending in that breathy, open-lipped exhalation.” I had to laugh at this passage! I’ve always thought mine a staid name.) But the different documents don’t come together as satisfyingly as I expected, especially compared to His Bloody Project. (Public library)


Those two are both literary show-off stuff (the epistolary found documents strategy, metafiction): the kind of book I would have liked more in my twenties. I’m less impressed with games these days; I prefer the raw heart of this next one.

 

Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley

She may be only 20 years old, but Leila Mottley is the real deal. Her debut novel, laden with praise from her mentor Ruth Ozeki and many others, reminded me of Bryan Washington’s work. The first-person voice is convincing and mature as Mottley spins the (inspired by a true) story of an underage prostitute who testifies against the cops who have kept her in what is virtually sex slavery. At 17, Kiara is the de facto head of her household, with her father dead, her mother in a halfway house, and her older brother pursuing his dream of recording a rap album. When news comes of a rise in the rent and Kia stumbles into being paid for sex, she knows it’s her only way of staying in their Oakland apartment and looking after her neglected nine-year-old neighbour, Trevor.

I loved her relationships with Trevor, her best friend Alé (they crash funerals for the free food), and trans prostitute Camila, and the glimpses into prison life and police corruption. This doesn’t feel like misery for the sake of it, just realistic and compassionate documentation. There were a few places where I felt the joins showed, like a teacher had told her she needed to fill in some emotional backstory, and I noticed an irksome habit of turning adjectives into verbs or nouns (e.g., “full of all her loud,” “the sky is just starting to pastel”); perhaps this is an instinct from her start in poetry, but it struck me as precious. However, this is easily one of the more memorable 2022 releases I’ve read, and I’d love to see it on the shortlist and on other prize lists later this year and next. (Public library)

 

Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

This was a DNF for me last year, but I tried again. The setup is simple: Lucy Barton’s ex-husband, William, discovers he has a half-sister he never knew about. William and Lucy travel from New York City to Maine in hopes of meeting her. For both of them, the quest sparks a lot of questions about how our origins determine who we are, and what William’s late mother, Catherine, was running from and to in leaving her husband and small child behind to forge a different life. Like Lucy, Catherine came from nothing; to an extent, everything that unfolded afterwards for them was a reaction against poverty and neglect.

The difficulty of ever really knowing another person, or even understanding oneself, is one of Strout’s recurring messages. There are a lot of strong lines and relatable feelings here. What I found maddening, though, is Lucy’s tentative phrasing, e.g. “And I cannot explain it except to say—oh, I don’t know what to say! Truly, it is as if I do not exist, I guess is the closest thing I can say.” She employs hedging statements like that all the time; it struck me as false that someone who makes a living by words would be so lacking in confidence about how to say what she means. So I appreciated the psychological insight but found Lucy’s voice annoying, even in such a short book. (Public library)

 

A Recap

I’ve read 6 of the 13 at this point, have imminent plans to read After Sappho for a Shelf Awareness review, and would still like to read the Mortimer if my library system acquires it. The others? Meh. I might consider catching up if they’re shortlisted.

My book group wasn’t chosen to shadow the Booker Prize this year, which is fair enough since we already officially shadowed the Women’s Prize earlier in the year (here are the six successful book clubs, if you’re interested). However, we have been offered the chance to send in up to five interview questions for the shortlisted authors. The Q&As will then be part of a website feature. And I was pleasantly surprised to see that my non-holiday snap of a Booker Prize nominee turned up in this round-up!

  

Here’s my (not particularly scientific) reasoning for what might make the shortlist:

A literary puzzle novel

Trust by Hernan Diaz or Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet

  • Trust feels more impressive, and timely; GMB already had his chance.

 

 

 

 

A contemporary novel

Nightcrawling by Leila Mottley or Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout

  • Oh William! is the weakest Strout novel I’ve read. Mottley’s is a fresh voice that deserves to be broadcast.

 

 

 

 

A satire

The Trees by Percival Everett or Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

  • Without having read either, I’m going to hazard a guess that the Everett is too Ameri-centric/similar to The Sellout. The Booker tends to reward colourful Commonwealth books. [EDITED to add that I forgot to take into my considerations Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo; while it doesn’t perfectly fit this category, as a political allegory it’s close enough that I’ll include it here. I would not be at all surprised if it made the shortlist, along with the Karunatilaka.]

 

 

 

 

A couple of historical novels

Booth by Karen Joy Fowler or After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz

and/or

A couple of Irish novels

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan or The Colony by Audrey Magee

  • I’m hearing such buzz about the Magee, and there’s such love out there for the Keegan, that I reckon both of these will make it through.
The odd one out?

Treacle Walker by Alan Garner or Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies by Maddie Mortimer

  • Maybe nostalgia will spur the judges to give Garner a chance in his 80s.

 

 

 

 

 

My predicted shortlist:

On Tuesday evening we’ll find out if I got any of these right!

 

What have you read from the longlist? What do you most want to read, or see on the shortlist?

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35 responses

  1. From today’s selection, it seems the Mottley is the one to look out for.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. And … I’ve just ordered it from the library.

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    1. Terrific! Glad I could tempt you.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Couldn’t get into the Mottley at all – a rare DNF for me. After Sappho is heavy and bitty, I’m just a couple of chapters in, and I just worry about the number of different voices yet to come – but I think it’ll make the shortlist. Loved the Keegan and Garner, and still want to read Diaz – I bought a copy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had actually tried the first 10 pages of the Mottley earlier in the year but not continued. However, when it was longlisted I was happy to get back into it.

      Interesting to hear that about After Sappho. I haven’t even opened up my digital review copy yet. The premise sounded so appealing. I feel like it’s too niche for the shortlist, though of course Galley Beggars had their coup with the Lucy Ellmann the other year.

      Trust seems like a book for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Just got the Keegan through library ebook loan! And I’m still in the queue for the Mottley, which I’m very excited for.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love reading this stuff without having to commit to any of the books! I’ll look out for the shortlist with interest …

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve read the longlist and, in order of preference, my shortlist is:
    Trust
    The Colony
    The Trees
    Oh, William!
    Small Things Like These
    Nightcrawling

    I think The Colony will win.
    There are two books that I didn’t care for at all: Glory and Case Study.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, so we agree on 4. I’d be surprised to see Oh William! there, but you may be right!

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  7. I’ve only read three: Oh, William (which I liked a great deal, although I see your point about the narrator’s voice); Small Things (fabulous) & Trust (very clever & very good). I’d be happy to see all three short listed. I’m becoming increasingly eager to read Night Crawling & The Colony, but I’m afraid I’ve no interest at all in Glory, Seven Moons or Booth. I will say I found the long list this year to be far more interesting than it’s been for some time & I’ll be very interested to see how your picks fare.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Seven Moons is the sort of book I’d read only if it was shortlisted and my library acquired a copy.

      I agree that it was a refreshing and reasonably appealing longlist this year!

      Like

  8. I’ve read just two of these. I’m waiting for the shortlist. That sounds disappointing about Graeme Macrae Burnett’s book. I really loved His Bloody Project.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved His Bloody Project, too. I didn’t think this lived up to it, but you might feel differently!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I read something else by him that wasn’t quite as good.

        Like

  9. I’ve read Oh William! and Case Study – enjoyed both for different reasons but are they prize winners? Not sure.
    You’ve convinced me I need to check out Nightcrawling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think Case Study could yet surprise me and make the shortlist. I did enjoy the narrator’s voice and the evocation of the 1960s.

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  10. I hope you’re right about the Keegan! But I also loved Oh, William (sorry you don’t like Lucy. I’m reading the new Lucy book now, so you probably won’t want to read that one).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I actually really liked My Name Is Lucy Barton. But, as so often, I feel that the sequels are unnecessary.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I see your point… this new one, Lucy by the Sea… it is very good but, I’m not as emotionally connected as I was with the first one.

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  11. Interesting! I’ve still read zero books from the shortlist haha. I have Nightcrawling on my TBR but your review actually puts me off a bit; I agree those turns of phrase are horribly precious and I didn’t click with Bryan Washington’s Lot.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ack, I completely forgot to consider Glory — which means it’ll probably be shortlisted! Will edit to add above.

      Ah, you might not like Nightcrawling then. Once she gets deeper into the plot the language is less obtrusive, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow – Mottley is only 20 years old. I’d like to read her book for that reason alone. And everyone really seems to love the Keegan.
    I’ll be interested to see which ones make it to the shortlist!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Plus she’s Ruth Ozeki’s protegee!

      I didn’t love the Keegan as much as everyone else, but I would have no problem with it being shortlisted.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Great post!! I have really enjoyed Trust from the list, and Booth too! I’ve read Oh William, Case Study, Small Things and thought they were ok – so none of this i’ve read will obviously now make it to the shortlist haha!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We shall see! My favourites never seem to make it through.

      Like

  14. The Garner I’d like to see on the shortlist, maybe because of the nostalgia, but mostly because I need an excuse to push it higher in my list to read before the year is out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve only ever read The Owl Service, which I didn’t care for. It would be my excuse to try something else of his.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. His latest is shorter, for sure! But I agree, he’s not an easy writer to get into, as it were. I’ve often found I never saw the point until a second or even third read, and even then I wouldn’t be absolutely certain I’d sussed it.

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  15. The only one I’ve read is Small Things Like These which is wonderful but probably not inventive enough for the judges.

    Night crawling and Trust are calling most strongly at the moment.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I feel like I am seeing SO much love for Small Things Like These, from critics and readers alike, that Keegan might have her day.

      I hope those two make it through. They’d be well worth your time.

      Like

      1. I’d like to think that reader response would count but sadly I find the Booker judges can be cloth-eared. They seem more interested in advancing their own agendas.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Well, I got 3 (or 4, if I cheat a bit) right. I’m astounded about the Strout. And disappointed that Nightcrawling didn’t advance as it was my favourite read from the longlist so far.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. […] gel with the characters or the vernacular language and abandoned it after 29 pages. However, Rebecca really liked […]

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