Today the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize was announced.
- Peter Carey: Parrot and Olivier in America
- Emma Donoghue: Room
- Damon Galgut: In a Strange Room
- Howard Jacobson: The Finkler Question
- Andrea Levy: The Long Song
- Tom McCarthy: C
I’m glad to see Galgut and McCarthy on the list, as those were two excellent books. I’m not surprised to see Carey on the list, though I hope it does not win. Like many others, I’m surprised not to see David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet there. My surprise, though, is based on the fact that so many people loved it, and not because I think it is deserving. Personally, I’m happy to see it off the list, as I hope Mitchell one day wins for a stronger work. Of the four longlist titles I read, it was my least favorite — a real disappointment, actually. However, from word of mouth, I suspect I will like Room even less. The Finkler Question and The Long Song are two I’ve been curious about, so I hope to read them.
As for availability in the United States, you can get Carey, McCarthy, and Levy in hardback (though I haven’t seen the Levy in stores for a while; perhaps that will change now — I hope.). You can purchase Galgut and now Jacobson from the Kindle store. Donoghue will be published on September 13.
My guess would be that, as it stands, 2 of the panel favour McCarthy (including – crucially – Andrew Motion), 2 Donoghue and 1 Galgut. I think the others are probably consensual remainders. That can change with a third reading, obviously. I think when the decision comes – for ‘C’ – you’ll hear a lot of stuff about ‘novel of ideas’ and ‘fresh’ and ‘daring’ and ‘innovative’ and so on. I hope it’s Jacobson or Galgut.
After seeing, picked at random, According To Queeney and Netherland not make the final cut, the Mitchell omission doesn’t surprise me. Though it should.
From something Stu said on Kevin’s blog, I think Motion might be behind Jacobson, which is fine by me. I’m getting on the halfway point and enjoying it immensely. On my list, it would be second, behind Galgut, ahead of McCarthy.
I’d have to say, a shortlist that has three titles I’d be happy to see take the prize is a very good shortlist.
Yeah, certainly hope that’s the case. Ultimately, I totally second your one-two order of merit. I would be absolutely delighted if Galgut or Jacobson won – a rare state of affairs indeed, as literary prizes tend to infuriate by doling out the gongs to stuff I’m less than keen on. A lot of rumblings as to the validity of Galgut as a contender re: the suggestion that the book is not a novel and so on. What do you think?
Regarding Galgut, I certainly have no problems with its designation as a novel. As far as I know, there are two claims against it: (1) it is nonfiction and (2) it is a trio of short stories.
For (1), I don’t think In a Strange Room is straight nonfiction. To me, it’s not even that hybrid popularized by works like In Cold Blood. Galgut may be looking back on events that really happened to him, but, as he himself might say, his memories themselves are fictional. How we puts these memories together, the perspective from which he chooses to view them, the motives he places upon himself and the other characters as he reflects — he has a lot of latitude to stray from facts.
Incidentally, I have no problems with claims that this is nonfiction, but I think that is limiting. Furthermore, to my knowledge, Galgut has never specified how much of this is really an account of his own past. Probably it is based on some experiences, but he hasn’t said where his play has entered the past to create something different, something perhaps more true.
On (2), I certainly think these stories are linked sufficiently that the book should be read as a whole. Galgut has a central character going through three separate but related experiences with three separate but related individuals. The themes from one carry into the others. One could read these individually or in any order, just like one can read an exerpt from a novel, but the power is in their presentation as a whole. Only reading these as a whole can we see how Galgut is exploring three separate modes of emotional connection, and how those modes converge or diverge.
I’ll add an additional aside here: I wish the Booker were open to collections of short stories (though I’m certainly not conceding that In a Strange Room is a compilation of three independent short stories, however they were produced and originally published). If people complain that Galgut got in while Munro got out, that isn’t, to me, a complaint that should be directed at Galgut or even these judges (incidentally, Munro did get in for a book of related short stories: The Beggar Maid), but at the parameters in which the Booker has chosen to lock itself.
I attempted to read “The Long Song” but gave up after 45 pages. Thought she was trying too hard.
I started it a few weeks ago, too, Tony. I gave up a bit before you, but not necessarily out of any distaste. I just wasn’t in the right mood and I figured if I read it like that it was doomed. I had some other things I wanted to read, and I didn’t want to torture myself. Sometimes, of course, a book I’m not particularly in the mood for when I start it becomes a book I’m very much in the mood for (like The Finkler Question, which I’m loving), but that didn’t happen with The Long Song. I think I’ll give it a whirl again a bit later.
This is not the right place for it, but there is no other vehicle that I can think of, so I’ll inflict it on this site in the hopes that Tony returns and Trevor might address it (or Kerry if he gets to it — frankly he would be even better, given his background).
The American experience with slavery is very different from the Caribbean experience with slavery. And while the former has been written about extensively, the latter lives on much more in memory than in chronicling the abuse. Those of us in the “escapist” countries — other end of the Underground Railway, home to immigrants — may have more historical impressions (or less historical bias) to bring to the story.
Don’t read The Long Song as a story about slavery from the traditional perspective in the U.S.. Particularly don’t try to compare it to the American version, because that is not what Levy is writing about. Read it as a novel about the willingly colonized (that in itself says Americans are different) and how they adapted — and how their masters did not know what was going on.
I don’t mean that as a criticism of any of the excellent American literature on the subject — this is a different story. In fact, there is a part of me that says that no thinking American could understand this book, unless they are willing to put their own country’s history on hold. As much as the story might seem similar, it is different on a major scale. By way of contrast, compare Sam Selvon’s marvelous Moses trilogy with any of the current novels about Hispanic emigration to the U.S. They are about the same motivator, but from there on the stories diverge.
I can understand why Americans would not find value in this book and part of me is delighted that they do not because their country continues to have its own wars to fight on this issue. Alas, that is part of the problem with the world right now. While the rest of the world is trying to figure out a way to get along with each other, elements of America who want to burn the Koran (and I appreciate that is a minority point of view — but so then are those who engage in terrorism) are attracting all the attention. Are these people the modern version of those who burned KKK crosses? I think they are and I am very disappointed that my continental neighbors are not only refusing to deal with them, but appear to be willing to vote for them come November.
Frankly, when a pastor in Florida wants to publicly burn the Koran — and I am not a religious person in any way, shape or form , and deplore all religions equally, but silently — I think Americans need to read books like novel and respond to them. This is far worse a travesty than anything which takes place in Levy’s book. Perhaps reading books like The Long Song will help that change.
(I have written two comments here but the window keeps closing!!!! So this will be much shorter that intended)
Kevin, I’m looking forward to going back to The Long Song. As I mentioned above, I read the first forty or so pages of The Long Song and it was more me than the book that caused me to stop — I had something else on hand that I was anxious to read, and I stopped reading The Long Song more to avoid hating it than because I was. That said, I appreciate you comment above as it will guide my reading greatly.
On another note, I want to express my complete agreement with what you’ve said about the ugly strains still creeping around in broad daylight in the United States. I’m watching Soledad O’Brien interview Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam at the center (though not the cause) of the current carefully constructed controversy surrounding the construction of a mosque (though a bit different — but even if it was a fully fledged mosque . . .) two blocks from the World Trade Center site. I have been baffled by the ugly uproar around the country! There is no rational basis for it, only prejudice. I would like to say that most people I know personally (and most of us work right by the World Trade Center site — my office looks out upon it) have no problem with the mosque but have major problems with the population (apparently 71 percent of us) who are against it, partially due to those who have ignorantly or maliciously claimed that Imam Feisal is a terrorist or that the mosque is going to be built on the actual World Trade Center site. Last week a man got in a taxi, asked the driver if he was Muslim, and then shot the driver when he said yes. (Of course, this leaves out the repulsive Arizona law).
Soledad O’Brien, who has mispronounced Imam Feisal’s name, keeps interviewing in circles — awful.
From a twitter feed about Soledad’s interview: “Soledad O’Brien to Martin Luther King, Jr.: ‘You are making whites angry. How are you building peace?'”
I didn’t think she would exemplify the ignorance I was just talking about.
Here is my problem with “The Long Song” that perhaps is due to my US perspective, perhaps not. At the very beginning of the novel, the overseer beats up the woman slave for some very minor offense at the exact moment she is giving birth to the child he implanted in her. I thought that was pretty much stacking the deck even if it did happen in real life. I almost gave the book up at that point but waited about 20 pages, all the time questioning the accurateness of the narrator. I’ve read “The Color Purple” and some of Toni Morrison’s excellent novels and did not have this problem.
Nobody is more against that Christian idiot in Florida burning the Koran than I am.
Kevin, while you say this may not be the place for your above comments, I welcome them. They help us Americans better frame the novel before reading it. And, Trevor, I appreciate your comments on the whole prejudice issue as well. I agree with all of what you both said, and it helps me better relate to and understand your book reviews and criticisms. Reading and writing about fiction is one of the most subjective pursuits I can think of, so knowing what worldly POV a critic has which informed his/her critique helps me decide how much stock to put into their opinions. And I for one and putting a “boatload” (technical term) of stock into all that both of your write.
Interestingly, as I write this I realize that this may be why I don’t post more often, at least direct opinions about books/authors. It’s just so subjective, and therefor personal, that I’ve still got to get more comfortable with it. Oh, well. Looking forward to reading the short list.
Tony: I agree — if you are looking for a reliable narrator, give up The Long Song. That is part of why I would argue the book is not about slavery in Jamaica. It is about how individuals cope in the environment — and one way that they cope is by making up stories. Maybe even involving their own birth (I’m inclined to think July’s version of her birth is more convenient than true, but that is just an opinion). I haven’t read nearly as much of American literature in this vein as most have, but the example that is closest for me is Shadow Country. Matthiessen formalizes the “unreliable” narrator process there by looking at the same chain of events from three different perspectives (originally in three different books). They are quite different, even if they are about the same events.
After rereading my earlier comments, I must apologize that they are so judgmental when the example I used is an obviously marginal sect. What I meant to indicate is that even in advanced modern societies there are elements with power who force those without power to create “stories” in order to survive (the strongest Canadian example is with our First Nations people). Trevor’s example of the community centre/mosque in New York and the reaction to it is probably far more appropriate. Those closest to it (like the plantation owners in Levy’s book) are in many ways as oppressed as those being directly discriminated against. It is a theme that she develops very well.
Kevin, you’ve made me very interested in the Levy. I believe I will like it goin into it from your perspective. If that is the case, then this is, for me, a great shortlist. I love the Galgut and Jacobson, admire the McCarthy, and don’t particularly mind the Carey. I hope Carey doesn’t win, but if any ofthe other three do, I will be happy. Add Levy to the mix . . . And, hey, maybe I will even like Room!
Interesting debate here, to say the least. I totally second your views (from a considerable remove of course) on the mosque issue, and didn’t realise you were that close by. And I also quietly abhor all organised religions. But there’s another story.
On the Galgut: totally agree. It’s too narrow in any case, and the fact that there are arguments about the amorphous nature of a piece of fiction (which may or may not have non-fictional elements – and in any case, doesn’t this book, focusing on memory as it does, expertly engage with the problems we’re discussing?) highlights the problem: short-stories should’ve been admissible long ago, and what a boon to a neglected market that would be were someone to instigate their long overdue inclusion in the Booker. And, at the same time, ridiculous and potentially pernicious parameter-marking haughtiness would be moot.
As an aside, I should set the record straight, for Brent’s benefit since he has pointed out that he likes knowing the perspective from which we write, that I am religious. Kevin knows that and knows his views don’t offend me, but Lee’s comment (which also did not offend me) made me wonder if I suggested I abhor religion.
As for short stories being included, I do think it is okay to limit a prize to a novel if that is what you want to reward. It is a distinct (well, not always) form. But I also think the Booker, with it’s stature, shouldn’t limit itself. Plus, I wonder what state the short story in England would be in today if it were allowed. As it stands, its state is pretty sad.
Let me make this clear also! Not at all, Trevor. And furthermore: I do not abhor anyone’s religious beliefs. I don’t want to appear as an intolerant nutter with disdain for anyone with religious leanings.
On the short story in England, what can I say? You’re not wrong. There are many reasons. Creative writing schooling, agents, a massive demographic of celebrity autobiog/misery memoir/my pet was amazing and helped me get along with my sick Granny type readers, a weirdly rife stance of ‘Gee, I really like spending a lot of time with a protagonist I care about and feel mortally thwarted if that relationship is suddenly cut short’, a desperation for narrative above and beyond everything else, an intolerance for innovation and so on. The US has Lydia Davis, George Saunders, Thom Jones, Wells Tower, Richard Ford, Tobias Wolff and so many others (that can slip in and out of long and short forms), ditto Canada. It’s embarrassing! We’re dire in comparison, absolutely dire. All the more reason to include them.
I am another one who can’t understand why the Booker doesn’t consider short stories — certainly every prize in North America does and short story collections are frequently deserving winners.