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.