We’re always excited when the Man Booker Prize longlist is announced. Over lunch I read the list to my husband. I have read only one of them, Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton, a stunning, lyrical novel about a writer’s complicated relationship with her mother. (I wrote about it here).
Here is a sample of Strout’s gorgeous prose.
It was May, and then June, and I remember how I would stand and look out the window at the sidewalk below and watch the young women–my age–in their spring clothes, out on their lunch breaks; I could see their heads moving in conversation, their blouses rippling in the breeze. I thought how when I got out of the hospital I would never again walk down the sidewalk without giving thanks for being one of those people, and for many years I did that–I would remember the view from the hospital window and be glad for the sidewalk I was walking on.
It is Booker-worthy, but will they give it to an American woman?
The award has not yet gone to an American, let alone an American woman. In 2015 Karen Joy Fowler got robbed . (Many of us women bloggers thought so.) In her quirky short novel, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, the narrator Rosemary relates the story of her search for Fern, the chimp who was raised as her sister for the first five years of her life by Rosemary’s psychologist parents in Bloomington, Indiana. Fowler won the PEN/Faulkner Award last year. But I rather get the idea that slim, lyrical women’s novels do not get the respect in the UK they did in the ’90s.
My husband has read none of the books on the list, but is very excited about Coetze’s The Schooldays of Jesus, though it will not be published in the U.S. until next February.
In the early innocent days of book blogging (I’m dating it 2006, though it may have been later), several English and Canadian bloggers earnestly read the complete longlist year after year. I thought it was very sweet, and I participated (though I didn’t read the whole longlist ever! And I’m sure there were other American bloggers, though I can’t think of them.). At our house we depended on Kevin of Canada, a good critic who was unswayed by others’ judgment. Alas, he died this year, and I’m not sure if the Booker blogging goes on without him.
In 2009, my husband and I read several on the longlist. I wrote at my old blog :
One hundred pages into A. S. Byatt’s stunning novel The Children’s Book, I’ve decided she wins the Booker Prize. I don’t have to read the rest of the contenders. The longlist was announced today, and Byatt’s on it, so she has a good shot, though my other nominee, Geoff Dyer, didn’t make it. I’m putting ALL my money on Byatt. It’s a good list this year – a relief after last year’s White Tiger debacle, when so many first-rate novels were winnowed from the list in favor of unpromising first novels. What happened to Hensher’s brilliant novel, The Northern Clemency, and Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies? My husband hated White Tiger, and I abandoned it after 30 pages.
My second on the list was the quirky Me, Cheeta, which our library solemnly catalogued as a biography. (Thank you, Library of Congress!) In my post, I flippantly categorized it as “a monkey comedy classic and spoof of celebrity autobiographies. Cheeta, the chimp who is Tarzan’s sidekick in the movies, tells all, bitching about the stars, animal rights, his own choice to be an actor rather than replaced by digital pixels, the pranks of Johnny Weissmuller and David Niven, the cocaine parties, the obnoxiousness of Lupe Velez, and more.”
Neither my first choice nor my second choice won. I was a little less enthusiastic for the next two years, and then I simply gave up the project because I wanted to read old books!
But I intend to try at least one of them this year.
The Man Booker longlist this year comprises the following:
Paul Beatty (American), “The Sellout”
J.M. Coetzee (South African-Australian), “The Schooldays of Jesus”
A.L. Kennedy (British), “Serious Sweet”
Deborah Levy (British), “Hot Milk”
Graeme Macrae Burnet (British), “His Bloody Project”
Ian McGuire (British), “The North Water”
David Means (American), “Hystopia”
Wyl Menmuir (British), “The Many”
Ottessa Moshfegh (American), “Eileen”
Virginia Reeves (American), “Work Like Any Other”
Elizabeth Strout (American), “My Name Is Lucy Barton”
David Szalay (Canadian-British), “All That Man Is”
Madeleine Thien (Canadian), “Do Not Say We Have Nothing”