My Man Booker Shortlist

Those of you who’ve followed my reading of the Man Booker longlist this year know that I’ve been unimpressed with the offerings. The judges this year seem to value experimentation over storytelling and mistake darkness for daring. Even though most of the books were under 500 pages, they felt long, and almost all of them seemed to be trying too hard.

So with all that said, I had a lot of trouble assembling my shortlist. There were only two books that I felt I’d want to include in just about any year, and even those two weren’t books likely to become firm favorites. I’ve found myself thinking wistfully of the 2009 Booker list, which featured Brooklyn, The Children’s Book, The Little Stranger, Summertime, and Wolf Hall. Even the one book I read from that list and disliked (The Glass Room) was more interesting and engaging than most of the books on this list.

(I should note here that I did not receive The Schooldays of Jesus in time to read it before assembling my longlist or weighing in on what the Shadow WoMan Booker’s choice should be. I liked both of the books I’ve previously read by Coetzee, and the subject matter of this book could make it a top pick or send it to the bottom of my list. There’s also the fact that it’s the second in a series.)

When putting together my list, I struggled to balance enjoyment and merit. There were a couple of books on the longlist (Eileen and The Sellout) that I didn’t enjoy much but that I have a hard time critiquing because so much of my disinterest is rooted in personal preference. I decided, however, that this is my list and that I would focus on my enjoyment. However, enjoyment here is graded on a curve.

And now, without further ado, is my personal shortlist, with links to my reviews.

  • The North Water by Ian McGuire. The most entertaining book on the list.
  • The Many by Wyl Menmuir. This is my pick to win because it offers the best mix of enjoyment and originality.
  • All That Man Is by David Szalay. I don’t care what the marketing says, this is a short story collection. The stories are all centered on a single theme of toxic masculinity, and they’re mostly engaging and disturbing.
  • Hot Milk by Deborah Levy. Rich in symbolism and weirdness, this isn’t my favorite type of book, but it’s a good example of its type.
  • Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves. Standard literary fiction. Nothing objectionable about it. I found it pleasant enough.
  • His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet. Clever and entertaining, but gets draggy and repetitive toward the end.

As I write this, our shadow jury is debating our shared list, and I’ll have a post on it tomorrow. I can guarantee that it won’t match my own.

As far as the real list, which will be announced Tuesday, I’m throwing my hands in the air and assuming they jury will shortlist all the books I didn’t select. Our tastes just do not overlap.

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12 Responses to My Man Booker Shortlist

  1. Bellezza says:

    I would happy with The Many winning, as well. It was my second favorite of the bunch. We see eye to eye on the components we like, and that makes me smile. I also liked several phrases in your first paragraph such as “darkness as daring”, and the general feeling of length though they were all under 500 pages. This long list made me appreciate the Booker International Prize long list even more, when I compare them! Not a good year for me in reading for these two prizes.

    • Teresa says:

      Yes, I think you and I were the closest on our general priorities and interests, even when our lists didn’t match. We’re traditionalists at heart perhaps.

  2. Amy says:

    I started to read The North Water but, of all things, found myself put off by the constant use of F-bombs. Keep in mind that I’m someone who drops a version of that word several times a day. But it felt anachronistic in the time period. It probably isn’t–I’m too lazy to look it up–but it just stuck out so much to me, broke the fictional dream, as it were.

    • Teresa says:

      I wish I could remember where I’d read it, but I have read the the F-bomb has a longer history than we might expect. It just wasn’t commonly used in writing. But I can see how once something like that starts to grate, it won’t stop.

  3. I am curious to see how you react to the Coetzee novel as it is also a novel of ideas rather than a traditionally plotted or told story.

    I am going to duplicate the comment I left at Meredith’s place. This year’s list was decidedly imperfect to many but I was able to easily pick 6 that I felt stood apart from the others. I feel that the titles I chose speak to the sense of alienation running through our world right now, the less plotted efforts a reflection of those loss of moorings in the world. I do feel that each was about storytelling but adopted different ways to effect that. Like The Many which I completely agree with you about. Its complexity might drive it through to the end. Or it might not even show up on the list Tuesday. :) Who knows at this point? But it was what I think you would define as experimental as well.

    Always enjoy the conversation with you, and am looking forward to discussing the official shortlist come Tuesday.

    • Teresa says:

      With Coetzee, it will probably depend on the ideas. As a former seminary student, I could find them interesting or seriously old hat, given the subject matter. I may have to remind myself that ideas kicking around among theologians for centuries aren’t common knowledge for everyone.

      I think you’re definitely the most appreciative of the list, and I’m glad someone did enjoy the list overall. And I think you’re right about the alienation theme. I still would have liked more traditional (or more skillful) plotting overall. It’s a type of writing that I think gets dismissed as simplistic and uninteresting, when excellent plotting is a special skill that the Booker has recognized in the past.

  4. Scott says:

    I’ve read 11 (excluding All That Man Is – not available here (USA), and Hystopia).

    My predictions:
    Do No Say We Have Nothing
    Hot Milk
    My Name Is Lucy Barton
    The North Water
    The Sellout
    Work Like Any Other

    I chose “Lucy” based on the popularity of the novelist, not on the merit of the book. If it isn’t included in the shortlist, maybe Hystopia?

    • Teresa says:

      That seems like a pretty solid set of predictions, although I’m still banking on everything I didn’t choose :p But in seriousness, from your list, I think I’d replace Work Like Any Other with Eileen. I also think Serious Sweet has a pretty good chance.

      • Scott says:

        I wouldn’t be surprised if Eileen appeared. I actually loved the book until the woman-in-the-basement “scene” which, in my opinion, led to a weak and perplexing conclusion. If Serious Sweet gets in, it’ll be a reflection of her lifetime’s work and the sheer ambition of this one. I thought it had a few great set-pieces but overall was a mess.

  5. Pingback: It’s Monday and I’ve just finished Akata Witch | Real Life Reading

  6. Frank says:

    Hi, Teresa: Thanks for your comments on the Man Booker. I have just started a book blog and as an experience book blogger, I would appreciate your comments on my latest post about the Man Booker. My blog is still in its formulative stage so I have to work on some design changes. Thanks. Frank

  7. Even I didnt enjoy reading The Sellout too much, however it is received well as entertaining & funny. I am currently reading “Eileen”. Little discouraged by your views on it. I enjoyed reading ” His Bloody Project”.

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