Next week, the shortlist of finalists for this year’s Booker Prize will be announced. That’s usually when I perk up and make selections of what to read for this annual, prestigious award. Not this year, though. The longlist is too enticing. It includes Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These that I read last year and Hernan Diaz’s Trust that I read earlier this year. Both excellent. Here are three more I’ve read since the longlist was announced. The Booker Prize is awarded to the best novel written in English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland.
I fell so hard for the islanders and the power of the island’s beauty and history in this Irish novel that I hesitated to put it down and turn out the light at night. I’d say it’s a certainty for a finalist, but then the criteria and whims of the award’s judges are always mysterious. The story of The Colony involves an English painter and a French linguist who arrive on a small island off the west coast of Ireland, the one to paint the cliffs and the other to study the disappearing Irish language. Each believes they’ll be a lone visitor, and they’re furious at the other’s presence. Tension remains taught between the two outsiders. The islanders, old villagers who’ve lived their lives by the fruits of the sea, adjust to them, with the young widow Mairéad (Margaret) and her son Seamus (James) becoming involved with the artist’s work. Ten pages from the end, I was so nervous, knowing something upsetting was going to happen — I had no idea what that was going to be — I had to walk away from the book to prepare myself. That’s what happens when you love the characters in a story. That’s how perfect Audrey Magee is in crafting this lyrical human drama.
I similarly got caught up in The Trees but for very different reasons. Percival Everett has crafted a potent page-turner with a revenge theme neatly tucked into a murder mystery. It’s brilliant how he merges a whodunnit, racist history, and laugh-out-loud character interactions and dramatic insanity. It’s not a comedy, though. Far from it. We’re laughing because of the blunt absurdity playing out in a story set in noticeable Money, Mississippi (think Emmett Till). Two White racist men are murdered in separate occasions. There’s an unidentified dead Black man at the first murder scene, and his corpse disappears from the morgue. It reappears at the second murder scene and disappears again. This strange disappearing act of a dead Black man keeps happening, so not only does the MBI (Mississippi Bureau of Investigation) get involved but also the FBI for what appear to be hate crimes evolving into a national crisis. The writing and storytelling are explosively intelligent and wildly entertaining with Everett’s take-down of White supremacy. He’s written a lot of novels and with this one, he’s hit it out of the park.
Completely opposite to The Trees and The Colony, I couldn’t seem to read Case Study beyond 30 pages at a time. I found the main character to be unlikeable — I couldn’t fully believe she was telling me the truth. The young woman suspects a controversial psychotherapist drove her sister to commit suicide and becomes an undercover patient to go after him. We’re reading the notebooks she wrote to record her experience, not only of sessions with the bizarre Collins Braithwaite but also of her uncomfortable romantic encounters with men, and of dysfunctional incidents at home with her father and housekeeper. It’s unquestionably a witty, intelligent narrative, fast-stepping through the woman’s psyche and the therapist’s history, all the while building an incisive motif about individual identity, i.e., how we see ourselves versus how we present ourselves. It’s one of those novels I may not have loved reading it but admire and appreciate having finished it, recognizing its power and the author’s mastery. For what it’s worth, I had trouble with Graeme Macrae Burnet’s previous novel, also a Booker contender, so it may be this author’s style isn’t for me.
That’s probably as far as I’ll get by September 6, when the shortlist is announced. If I get to another, it will be either Alan Garner’s Treacle Walker or Maddie Mortimer’s Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies. British bookies are favoring Garner’s novel for the win.
The remaining six longlisted nominees include: After Sappho, Glory, Nightcrawling, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida, Oh William! and Booth. I’ve linked each to their Booker page/description. Also, you can read some fun facts about the books in 13 things you need to know about the Booker Prize 2022 longlist. Here’s number six, as an example:
If it goes on to win the Booker Prize, Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan would become the shortest book to win, at a petite 116 pages. The most concise winner so far is Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald (1979), at a marginally less terse 132 pages.