The Booker Prize shortlist was announced earlier today, so this seems like a good time to check in with my progress and plans for the rest of the Prize this year.
As soon as I saw the 2019 longlist I knew I probably wouldn’t be reading all thirteen books this year, so I’ve been taking it easy. That said, I do have a lot of fun chatting with the book community about the nominated books, and eventually I want to read the entire Booker longlist “on time,” i.e. before the shortlist announcement, so it seemed like good practice to read at least a few of this year’s nominees.
At this point, I’ve now read:
- My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite – a fun spoof of a slasher thriller with an excellent sister dynamic and a strong undercurrent of feminist commentary. It’s short and readable but also offers some substance to sink the teeth into. Not an all-time favorite for me, but even so, 5 stars.
- Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli – a dense book that perhaps takes itself too seriously at times, but ultimately offers a unique road trip story and a fresh perspective on the current border crisis in the southern US. I didn’t love every moment of my experience with this one, but it left a strong impression. 4 stars.
- Lanny by Max Porter – a dream-like story full of magic and experimental writing. The various parts of this book are very distinct from each other, and some of them seem stronger than others. Nevertheless, an interesting concept and an engaging read. 4 stars.
- Night Boat to Tangier by Kevin Barry – a brief look into the troubled lives of two Irish criminals. I found the prose evocative and exquisite, though the story itself didn’t quite live up to the strength of the premise. 3 stars.
- An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma – an intriguing concept of injustice in Nigeria that was for me completely muddied by poor characterization and an ineffectual attempt at connecting the story to Homer’s The Odyssey. Though I thought Obioma had an excellent idea with this one, the execution fell completely flat for me. 2 stars.
- Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson – a superb exploration and continuation of themes from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This book lays an extremely readable fictionalization of Mary’s life alongside a modern retelling that speculates on the future of AI and includes a strong non-binary character. I loved every single page. 5 stars.
- The Wall by John Lanchester (full review forthcoming) – a quick dystopian read that pits natives against “Others” in a world that has survived a disastrous climate change. Though an intriguing concept, I found the plot and themes predictable and unexciting. Though not a problematic book, a sadly underwhelming one. 2 stars.
I chose these seven books to read (well, five, as I’d read two of them prior to the longlist announcement) primarily because they were the only titles readily available to me. I had to purchase two of them from Book Depository (so few of the longlisted books were published in the US at the time of the longlist announcement!) but I bought only the two I was most interested in at the time and only because they came at fairly low prices. I found the others through my library.
Since I had only read half the list and not found many titles I was invested in seeing advance, I posted a half-hearted shortlist wishlist to my Instagram feed rather than a thoughtful prediction post on my blog. I guessed three titles correctly.
In case you haven’t already seen the results, this year’s shortlist includes:
- Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
- 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak
- Quichotte by Salman Rushdie
- The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
- An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma
- Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo
While I am thrilled to see four women on this list, I am not particularly excited by the group as a whole. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the longlist in the first place, so I haven’t been feeling entirely invested in the result of this year’s Booker Prize. At a glance, I’ve only read one of the shortlisted books so far, and I strongly disliked it. I’m disappointed that neither Frankissstein nor Lost Children Archive advanced- both of which I thought had a good chance and would have deserved a spot on the shortlist. I would gladly have swapped the Obioma for either. Otherwise, it’s difficult to say I have any strong opinions when I haven’t read the rest of the list yet!
I’m not sure I’ll be reading the entire shortlist, though. Here’s where I stand on the longlisted titles I haven’t read yet (titles linked to Goodreads, as I can’t give any sort of synopsis on these):
- The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy – This is the only longlisted title I haven’t read yet that hasn’t been shortlisted. The reviews I’ve seen for it have been mainly mediocre, and my interest in the synopsis wasn’t high to begin with (thought I still think I could be persuaded by the right review). It’s not out in the US until October 15. If my library gets a copy and it ends up being the only longlisted book I haven’t read, I might pick this up… someday. Definitely not before the winner announcement, which is scheduled for October 14.
- Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann – The title I’m currently most excited about. I’ve heard some great things that make this 8-sentence 1000-page behemoth sound right up my alley. I’ve been waiting impatiently for the US release date of September 10. I’m planning to read it as soon as I get a copy this month.
- The Testaments by Margaret Atwood – I’m certain about reading this one prior to the winner announcement as well; I’d pre-ordered (release date September 10) before seeing it longlisted, based on my general appreciation of Atwood’s writing and my enjoyment of The Handmaid’s Tale a few years ago. I’m definitely curious about this book.
- Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo – My interest in this title has grown in light of several positive reviews from other longlist readers, so I’m confident that I will read this one eventually. I’m not committing to reading it prior to the winner announcement because it is not released in the US until December 3, but anything could happen with this one.
- 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World by Elif Shafak – My curiosity for this book is growing as well, though I’ve seen enough mixed opinions that I don’t think I’m confident enough to buy a copy. If I pick it up, I’ll wait until it’s US release date of December 3, when (if) my library gets a copy.
- Quichotte by Salman Rushdie – I’m torn on this one. I love literary retellings (Frankissstein = case in point) and am interested in sampling this major author I haven’t read yet; but I haven’t read Don Quixote, and I want to read that original classic first. I think I will read both works eventually, but I already have a few long books on the docket for September and October (starting with Ducks!) which means I probably won’t have time to read both Don Quixote and Quichotte before the winner announcement. But this title is available at my library, and if it turns out that I’m reading the rest of the shortlist before the end of the year, I might make more of an efort to fit this in as well.
Clearly my plans are still not set in stone. What I know for sure is that I will read Ducks and Testaments before the winner announcement, which will mean I’ll have read at least half of the shortlist by that time, and 9 titles from the longlist. I’ll post a reaction to the winner and a progress update in October.
If you’ve read any of the titles I haven’t picked up yet, please share your thoughts and convince me one way or the other!
Are you reading (or have already read) anything from the shortlist this year?
The Literary Elephant