It’s here! It’s likely you’ve already seen the 2020 Booker Prize for Fiction longlist and various reaction posts, but I always have a good time talking about lit prizes with you lovely readers! So here we are.
I’ve only read one of the longlisted titles so far, own one more, and ultimately am not expecting to have as much coverage for this prize this year as I did for this year’s Women’s Prize. I just am not interested enough to fully commit right now. Although, I believe I said the same thing last year and ended up reading 12 of the 13 titles, so who knows! Matters are further complicated this year by the fact that I’m not sure interloan services are up and running at my library, which will affect how many of these titles I can read.
Okay, let’s look at the list!
The New Wilderness by Diane Cook
Pub: Aug. 11 2020 US ~ Sept. 3 2020 UK
Sci-fi/Dystopia in which a polluted City is fast becoming uninhabitable; there is one area of open land left, where our protagonist and her 5 year-old daughter volunteer to live with a small group in a sort of experiment to determine whether humans can exist in raw nature without destroying it.
My stance: Other than the focus on the mother/daughter relationship, all of this appeals to me. It’s not out yet and it doesn’t look like my library has it on order, but it might appear there closer to its release. I’d love to read this one.
This Mournable Body by Tsitsi Dangarembga
Pub: Aug. 7 2018 US ~ Jan 16 2020 UK
Literary fiction set in Zimbabwe, following a protagonist whose hope and potential turns into a struggle for survival as she searches for an appropriate job and is eventually forced to return to her parents’ impoverished homestead. Themes revolve around the toxicity of colonialism and capitalism.
My stance: I’m excited about this one! I read Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions in a postcolonialism class in college and remember liking the experience. This newer release actually follows the same protagonist from Nervous Conditions, later in her life. If I can get this via interloan at my library, I am tentatively planning to reread Nervous Conditions and follow it with this one. There is apparently one more novel between these two- the jury’s out on whether I’ll be able to track down a copy (it’s not in my library’s catalog) or resign myself to reading the books out of order. I’m getting the sense that while they are sequential they also stand alone, so I won’t let the missing second book (The Book of Not) deter me from picking this one up.
Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi
Pub: unknown US ~ July 30 2020 UK
This is the story of a wild young woman who abandons a loveless marriage, joins an ashram, becomes a beggar, and chases an artist. It is also the story of her daughter, who, when grown, must return, “caring for a woman who never cared for her.”
My stance: I’m less interested in this one. It seems very focused on the mother/daughter relationship, which I learned with this year’s Women’s Prize list just isn’t where my interest lies right now. I’ve added this book to my TBR mainly to keep it on my radar- I’ll look for reviews and keep an eye out for availability before determining whether or not to give it a go, but initially I’m not prioritizing this one.
Who They Was by Gabriel Krauze
Pub: unknown US ~ Sept 3 2020 UK
Literary fiction featuring the youth of London who scrape the bottom of the barrel and live in the moment.
My stance: Not sure. I can’t see when/if this will be available in the US, and I’m not getting a great sense of what it’s really about from the synopsis. Troubled people whose stories don’t typically get told? Does it dig into race, class, etc.? I need more info, and reasonable availability. Initially, I’m not drawn to this title based on its scant synopsis.
The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
Pub: March 10 2020 US ~ March 5 2020 UK
Historical fiction covering the final months of Thomas Cromwell’s stint as Henry VIII’s right hand man. This is the third volume in Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy, which opens with Wolf Hall and continues with Bring Up the Bodies.
My stance: I’ll be reading this for sure. I am planning to finish and review both the second and third books in this series before the Women’s Prize winner is announced in September; I’ll probably work on this throughout August, but I’ll be shocked if it’s not shortlisted so I’m not feeling particularly rushed in relation to its Booker standing.
Apeirogon by Colum McCann
Pub: Feb. 5 2020 US ~ Feb 25 2020 UK
Two men- one Palestinian and one Israeli- build a friendship based on loss. In a story that spans centuries and continents and tests the line between fiction and nonfiction, this is a grand tale told in small pieces, born in a world of violence.
My stance: Unsure. If interloan services are running I could easily read this, but I’m not including it in my test run of holds. I’m not especially drawn to it or the author, but here’s the thing: every year there seems to be a rather long, ponderous book written by a man that makes it to the shortlist that I maybe got something out of but did not ultimately enjoy- I think this is 2020’s version of that book. I’m torn because I suspect this is a book I might appreciate having read, but not appreciate actually reading it. So, to be determined. Please persuade me one way or the other!
The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste
Pub: Sept. 24 2019 US ~ Jan. 30 2020 UK
Historical fiction chronicling Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, specifically focused on women’s untold role in the early days of WWII. This is a tale of female power that “breathes life into complicated characters on both sides of the battle line, shaping a heartrending, indelible exploration of what it means to be a woman at war.”
My stance: Sure, why not? It’s a piece of history I’m not familiar with and I always like a good story of powerful women. I’ve placed a library hold through interloan services, so I’ll pick this up if/when it comes in.
Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Pub: Dec. 31 2019 US ~ Jan. 7 2020 UK
Contemporary fiction set in the US. A young African American woman babysitting a small white child is confronted in public and accused of kidnapping the child. Responses to the incident highlight racial tensions in America.
My stance: I’m so unsure about this one! I’ve seen rave reviews, I’ve seen some readers detest it, and I’m entirely uncertain about whether this will work for me or not. I haven’t been faring well with non-literary contemporary novels in general this year, but I was intrigued by the synopsis. If I can get it through the library, I might give it a try, but it looks like I’ve got a bit of a wait with the holds list so I have time to change my mind several times.
Real Life by Brandon Taylor
Pub: Feb. 18 2020 US ~ Aug. 27 2020 UK
Literary fiction following a gay black man’s difficult decision over whether or not to stay in his biochemistry grad program while dealing with casual racism from everyone involved in his school and social circles.
My stance: This is the one I’ve read! I loved it! Highly recommend, and I’d be thrilled to see it shortlisted. Very deserving of its place on the longlist, and this positive experience is essentially why I’m feeling generous enough about the longlist to want to read what I can. You can find my review here if you missed it.
Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler
Pub: Apr. 7 2020 US ~ Apr. 9 2020 UK
Contemporary fiction featuring a “creature of habit” man who is faced with some sudden major surprises- like his woman friend confessing that she faces eviction, and the son he didn’t know he had showing up at his door. This is a story of “misperception, second chances, and the sometimes elusive power of human connection.”
My stance: I’m sorry, but I hate the cover image, hate that font, and am not at all interested in the synopsis. Everything about this is turning me off. This is obviously not a reflection of the book’s merit, as I haven’t read it yet. In fact, I’ve never read Anne Tyler. This is under 200 pages and as available through interloan services as any of the others, so maaaaaaybe I’ll end up taking a chance?
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart
Pub: Feb 11 2020 US ~ Aug. 6 2020 UK
Historical fiction in which a young boy spends his 1980’s childhood in Glasgow with an alcoholic mother who can’t quite care for her children the way they need her to. The two remain close through the years even as they struggle with addiction, sexuality, and the flaws within their own relationship.
My stance: I’ve seen mixed reviews, but have been interested in this one for a while and am happy for the nudge to pick it up and see for myself. If interloan is working, I will be reading this one for sure.
Love and Other Thought Experiments by Sophie Ward
Pub: unknown US ~ Feb. 6 2020 UK
Literary fiction in which two women hoping to have a baby have a bitter fight instead, when one of them wakes up convinced that an ant is stuck in her eye and the other doesn’t believe the claim.
My stance: I am so intrigued by this absurd situation, and by the fact that it’s inspired by philosophical thought-experiments. Unfortunately I can’t seem to find it in the US and have no idea when/if I might. This is the one I’m most tempted to buy.
How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang
Pub: Apr. 7 2020 US ~ Apr. 9 2020 UK
Historical fiction in which two Chinese immigrant siblings whose parents have died find themselves on the run from their Western mining town in the dying days of the American gold rush. The book combines Chinese symbolism with American history and explores race in an expanding country.
My stance: This was already on my TBR and one of the titles here I’m most looking forward to reading, if interloan services pull through!
And that’s the list! (If you happen to know/find any of the US pub dates missing in my list above please let me know so I can add them in, there were a few I failed to locate, if they exist!)
Overall thoughts: There are a few titles I’m familiar with that I’m particularly happy to see (namely, Real Life, though I’m also happy for the extra nudge with Shuggie Bain, How Much of These Hills is Gold, and The Mirror and the Light), a couple of new titles I’m now particularly interested in (Love and Other Thought Experiments, This Mournable Body, The New Wilderness, and The Shadow King), and a few that likely wouldn’t have made the list if I were in charge (Redhead by the Side of the Road, Burnt Sugar, Who They Was, Apeirogon– no shade to them, they just don’t excite me at the moment). Of course, having only read one title so far and basing the rest off of hasty first impressions, my opinions are entirely subject to change.
On the whole though, while I’m happy with some of these, this is not my favorite Booker longlist. I’m fairly certain I won’t like all of these (if I were to read them all), and there aren’t a lot of themes and premises here that really hook me and call to my particular reading taste. Which isn’t to say it’s a bad list or that someone else won’t enjoy it more than I do. Time has been so unaccountable this year that I barely have any grasp on which books were even eligible this year, so I suppose it’s a plus that I didn’t have a list of predictions I was attached to that didn’t make the cut. There were a few Women’s Prize books I wouldn’t have minded seeing here that have been omitted (Hamnet, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line) but to be honest I’m not too surprised not to see them, and aside from the fact that I’ve yet to read The Mirror and the Light I’m content to be putting the 2020 Women’s Prize behind me, with the exception of the winner announcement still coming up.
Anyway, I’m confident I won’t be able to read all of these before the shortlist announcement on the 15th of September; depending on availability and my excitement level I might try harder to read the shortlist at least. In the meantime, I’m happy with the diversity here and pleased to see quite a few debuts! Not too many already-big authors, and more than half of the list was written by women, always a plus in my book. I’ll read what I can, but at this point the only guarantee I can make (barring whatever curveball 2020 throws at us next) is The Mirror and the Light, which is already in my possession.
What do you think of the list? Which titles have you read or do you plan to read?
The Literary Elephant