It’s Booker season again! The thirteen books on this year’s longlist are below, accompanied by the publisher’s blurb. Over at The Mookse and the Gripes Goodreads page, we will be talking about the books all season long. Come and join in!
The shortlist will be announced on September 13. The winner will be announced on October 25.
by Paul Beatty (US)
A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game.
Born in the ‘agrarian ghetto’ of Dickens on the outskirts of Los Angeles and raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, the narrator of The Sellout spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He was led to believe that his father’s pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family’s financial woes. But when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that’s left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral.
Fuelled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been wiped off the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident – the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins – he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.
In his trademark absurdist style, which has the uncanny ability to make readers want to both laugh and cry, The Sellout is an outrageous and outrageously entertaining indictment of our time.
The Schooldays of Jesus
by J.M. Coetzee (South African-Australian)
David is the small boy who is always asking questions. Simón and Inés take care of him in their new town Estrella. He is learning the language; he has begun to make friends. He has the big dog Bolívar to watch over him. But he’ll be seven soon and he should be at school. And so, Davíd is enrolled in the Academy of Dance. It’s here, in his new golden dancing slippers, that he learns how to call down the numbers from the sky. But it’s here too that he will make troubling discoveries about what grown-ups are capable of.
In this mesmerising allegorical tale, Coetzee deftly grapples with the big questions of growing up, of what it means to be a parent, the constant battle between intellect and emotion, and how we choose to live our l.
The Serious Sweet
by A.L. Kennedy (UK)
A good man in a bad world, Jon Sigurdsson is 59 and divorced: a senior civil servant in Westminster who hates many of his colleagues and loathes his work for a government engaged in unmentionable acts. A man of conscience.
Meg Williams is ‘a bankrupt accountant — two words you don’t want in the same sentence, or anywhere near your CV’. She’s 45 and shakily sober, living on Telegraph Hill, where she can see London unfurl below her. Somewhere out there is safety.
Somewhere out there is Jon, pinballing around the city with a mobile phone and a letter-writing habit he can’t break. He’s a man on the brink, leaking government secrets and affection as he runs for his life.
Set in 2014, this is a novel of our times. Poignant, deeply funny, and beautifully written, Serious Sweet is about two decent, damaged people trying to make moral choices in an immoral world: ready to sacrifice what’s left of themselves for honesty, and for a chance at tenderness. As Jon and Meg navigate the sweet and serious heart of London — passing through 24 hours that will change them both for ever — they tell a very unusual, unbearably moving love story.
by Deborah Levy (UK)
Two women arrive in a Spanish village — a dreamlike place caught between the desert and the ocean — seeking medical advice and salvation. One of the strangers suffers from a mysterious illness: spontaneous paralysis confines her to a wheelchair, her legs unusable. The other, her daughter Sofia, has spent years playing the reluctant detective in this mystery, struggling to understand her mother’s illness.
Surrounded by the oppressive desert heat and the mesmerising figures who move through it, Sofia waits while her mother undergoes the strange programme of treatments invented by Dr Gomez. Searching for a cure to a defiant and quite possibly imagined disease, ever more entangled in the seductive, mercurial games of those around her, Sofia finally comes to confront and reconcile the disparate fragments of her identity.
Hot Milk is a labyrinth of violent desires, primal impulses, and surreally persuasive internal logic. Examining female rage and sexuality, Deborah Levy’s dazzling new novel explores the strange and monstrous nature of motherhood, testing the bonds of parent and child to breaking point.
His Bloody Project
by Graeme Macrae Burnet (UK)
A brutal triple murder in a remote northern crofting community in 1869 leads to the arrest of Roderick Macrae, a seventeen-year-old from the village. There s no question that he is guilty, but why did he commit the crime? Was he insane? Whose account should we believe? And will he hang? A riveting drama.
The North Water
by Ian McGuire (UK)
A 19th-century whaling ship sets sail for the Arctic with a killer aboard in this dark, sharp and highly original tale that grips like a thriller.
Behold the man: stinking, drunk, brutal and bloodthirsty, Henry Drax is a harpooner on the Volunteer, a Yorkshire whaling ship bound for the hunting waters of the Arctic Circle. Also aboard is Patrick Sumner, an ex-army surgeon with a shattered reputation, no money and no better option than to embark as ship’s medic on this ill-fated voyage.
In India during the Siege of Delhi, Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which a man can stoop and imagined he’d find respite on the Volunteer, but now, trapped in the wooden belly of the ship with Drax, he encounters pure evil and is forced to act. As the true purposes of the expedition become clear, the confrontation between the two men plays out in the freezing darkness of an Arctic winter.
by David Means (US)
At the bitter end of the 1960s, after surviving multiple assassination attempts, President John F. Kennedy has created a vast federal agency, the Psych Corps, dedicated to maintaining the nation’s mental hygiene by any means necessary. Soldiers returning from Vietnam have their battlefield traumas “enfolded”-wiped from their memories through drugs and therapy-while veterans too damaged to be enfolded roam at will in Michigan, evading the Psych Corps and reenacting atrocities on civilians.
This destabilized, alternate version of American history is the vision of the twenty-two-year-old veteran Eugene Allen, who has returned from Vietnam to write the book at the center of Hystopia, the long-awaited first novel by David Means. In Hystopia, Means brings his full talent to bear on the crazy reality of trauma, both national and personal. Outlandish and tender, funny and violent, timely and historical, Hystopia invites us to consider whether our traumas can ever be truly overcome. The answers it offers are wildly inventive, deeply rooted in its characters, and wrung from the author’s own heart.
by Wyl Menmuir (UK)
Timothy Buchannan buys an abandoned house on the edge of an isolated village on the coast, sight unseen. When he sees the state of it he questions the wisdom of his move, but starts to renovate the house for his wife, Lauren to join him there. When the villagers see smoke rising from the chimney of the neglected house they are disturbed and intrigued by the presence of the incomer, intrigue that begins to verge on obsession. And the longer Timothy stays, the more deeply he becomes entangled in the unsettling experience of life in the small village. Ethan, a fisherman, is particularly perturbed by Timothy’s arrival, but accedes to Timothy’s request to take him out to sea. They set out along the polluted coastline, hauling in weird fish from the contaminated sea, catches that are bought in whole and removed from the village. Timothy starts to ask questions about the previous resident of his house, Perran, questions to which he receives only oblique answers and increasing hostility. As Timothy forges on despite the villagers’ animosity and the code of silence around Perran, he starts to question what has brought him to this place and is forced to confront a painful truth. The Many is an unsettling tale that explores the impact of loss and the devastation that hits when the foundations on which we rely are swept away.
by Ottessa Moshfegh (US)
The Christmas season offers little cheer for Eileen Dunlop, an unassuming yet disturbed young woman trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s carer in his squalid home and her day job as a secretary at the boys’ prison, filled with its own quotidian horrors. Consumed by resentment and self-loathing, Eileen tempers her dreary days with perverse fantasies and dreams of escaping to the big city. In the meantime, she fills her nights and weekends with shoplifting, stalking a handsome prison guard named Randy, and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father’s messes. When the beautiful, charismatic Rebecca Saint John arrives on the scene as the new counselor at the prison, Eileen is enchanted and unable to resist what appears to be a miraculously budding friendship. In a Hitchcockian twist, her affection for Rebecca ultimately pulls her into complicity in a crime that surpasses her wildest imaginings.
Played out against the snowy landscape of coastal New England, blending true noir and the eerie, unforgettable books of Shirley Jackson and Flannery O’Connor, this mesmeric, terrifying, sublimely funny debut novel enthralls and shocks, and introduces one of the most original new voices in contemporary literature.
Work Like Any Other
by Virginia Reeves (US)
Placing itself perfectly alongside acclaimed work by Philipp Meyer, Jane Smiley and J M Coetzee, this debut novel charts the story of Roscoe T Martin in rural Alabama in the 1920s. Roscoe has set his sights on a new type of power spreading at the start of the 20th century: electricity. It becomes his training, his life’s work. But when his wife Marie inherits her father’s failing farm, Roscoe has to give it up, with great cost to his pride and sense of self, his marriage and his family. Realising that he might lose them all, he uses his skills as an electrician to siphon energy from the state, ushering in a period of bounty and happiness on a farm recently falling to ruin. Even the love of Marie and their son seems back within Roscoe’s grasp. Then everything changes. A young man is electrocuted on their land. Roscoe is arrested for manslaughter and — no longer an electrician or even a farmer — he must now carve out a place in a violent new world.
My Name Is Lucy Barton
by Elizabeth Strout (US)
Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Her unexpected visit forces Lucy to confront the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of her life: her impoverished childhood in Amgash, Illinois, her escape to New York and her desire to become a writer, her faltering marriage, her love for her two daughters.
Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable. In My Name Is Lucy Barton, one of America’s finest writers shows how a simple hospital visit illuminates the most tender relationship of all-the one between mother and daughter.
All That Man Is
by David Szalay (Canada-UK)
Here are nine men. Each of them is at a different stage in life, each of them is away from home, and each of them is striving – in the suburbs of Prague, in an over-developed Alpine village, beside a Belgian motorway, in a crap Cypriot hotel — to understand just what it means to be alive, here and now. Vibrating with detail and intelligence, pathos and surprise, All That Man Is is a portrait of contemporary manhood, contemporary Europe and contemporary life from a British writer of supreme gifts — the master of a new kind of realism.
Do Not Say We Have Nothing
by Madeleine Thien (Canada)
In Canada in 1991, ten-year-old Marie and her mother invite a guest into their home: a young woman who has fled China in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square protests. Her name is Ai-Ming. As her relationship with Marie deepens, Ai-Ming tells the story of her family in revolutionary China, from the crowded teahouses in the first days of Chairman Mao’s ascent, to the Shanghai Conservatory in the 1960s and the events leading to the Beijing demonstrations of 1989. It is a history of revolutionary idealism, music, and silence, in which three musicians, the shy and brilliant composer Sparrow, the violin prodigy Zhuli, and the enigmatic pianist Kai struggle during China’s relentless Cultural Revolution to remain loyal to one another and to the music they have devoted their lives to. Forced to re-imagine their artistic and private selves, their fates reverberate through the years, with deep and lasting consequences for Ai-Ming — and for Marie. Written with exquisite intimacy, wit and moral complexity, Do Not Say We Have Nothing magnificently brings to life one of the most significant political regimes of the 20th century and its traumatic legacy, which still resonates for a new generation. It is a gripping evocation of the persuasive power of revolution and its effects on personal and national identity, and an unforgettable meditation on China today.
This year’s judges are:
- Dr. Amanda Foreman (Chair)
- Jon Day
- Abdulrazak Gurnah
- David Harsent
- Olivia Williams