I was hoping to finish the Man Booker longlist in November, but I had a seriously tough time getting a copy of Guy Gunaratne’s In Our Mad and Furious City. I could tell you the whole story of paying for copies I never received and discovering that none of the libraries in my local loan system would carry a copy when the US version released, but I’ll leave it at the fact that I did finally get a copy and managed to fit it in just before the new year. If it wasn’t a title I was particularly looking forward to reading and the only Booker nominee I had left, I probably would’ve given up out of sheer frustration. But I’m glad I didn’t!
About the book: London is a place full of anger and tragedy for the five main characters of this novel. Three teenaged boys try to hold on to their summer freedom in the aftermath of a murder that brings riots and protests sweeping through the city. Two parents recall the gruesome paths that led their families to the Stones Estate. All five live very different lives, though the chaos in the city streets will link them all in the end.
This book’s chapters are subdivided into character sections. Each story is told differently, though the present situation in London runs clearly through the novel in chronological order. Some characters use flashbacks to convey important events. But the most notable difference in these sections is the use of dialect and slang that varies in heaviness by character. I found Nelson’s chapters the most unusual, in terms of wording and grammar, but most of the characters use colloquial phrases that are clear mainly through context. Though at some points I had to slow down my reading to parse exactly what was being said, I did feel that the variations in narration were a nice literary touch that helped distinguish each character and recalled the different backgrounds that had molded these people into the Londoners they’ve become. The characters are wonderfully diverse.
“How would it have felt to come from the same story? To have been molded out of one thing and not out of many? There was nothing more foreign to us than that. Nothing more boring and pale to imagine.”
Each of these characters take a stand in some way for themselves and/or their beliefs in the novel. Ardan pursues his passion for rap music, Caroline turns to independence when her family resorts to abhorrent behavior, Nelson advocates for minority rights and safety, Yusuf sides with the members of his religion when their mosque is challenged, and Selvon hones his body to fight his way free of the city that tries to hurt him and hold him back. Though each of these journeys is specific to each character’s motivations and history, their efforts tie their stories into one narrative that shows how suffering and victory affect more than the individual, especially in a place where the people live so close together. There’s a ripple affect.
In the end, my favorite aspect of the book was the underlying negative view of London. I’ve never been, and often in literature London seems to be displayed as this wonderfully messy and historic city that outsiders should envy; I very much appreciate seeing the other side of that coin. I found this dark glimpse much more compelling than any city idyll.
“So here it all is, this London. A place that you can love, make rhymes out of pyres and a romance of the colors, talk gladly of the changes and the flux and the rise and the fall without feeling its storm rain on your skin and its bone-scarring winds, a city that won’t love you back unless you become insoluble to the fury, the madness of bound and unbound peoples and the immovables of the place. The joy. The light lies in the armored few, those willing to run, run on and run forever just to prove it possible. The only ones that can save us in the end are the heroes.”
My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I think after all the trouble I went through to get my hands on this book, I may have been expecting more from this story than I had a right to. My patience was thin by the time I picked it up. Even so, I’m not sure why this book didn’t advance to the shortlist, as it’s quite excellent. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for more work from Gunaratne.
My reaction to the 2018 Man Booker longlist: what an adventure! This was my first year reading the entire longlist, and I’m sure it won’t happen every year going forward. I loved the look of the list when it was first announced, and added so many of the titles to my TBR that it made sense to push myself to pick up each one. I didn’t love them all equally, but even the books that disappointed me were engaging to read and I don’t regret the time I spent with them. The shortlist did not contain the six books I thought best from the longlist, but I am thrilled with Anna Burns’s Milkman taking the win! For more thoughts on each title, here are the rest of my longlist reviews, ranked in order of personal favoritism:
Milkman, Everything Under, The Water Cure, Normal People, From a Low and Quiet Sea, (In Our Mad and Furious City,) The Mars Room, The Long Take, The Overstory, Sabrina, Warlight, Washington Black, Snap.
What was your favorite Man Booker title for 2018 (even if you didn’t read them all)?
The Literary Elephant