The Booker Prize shortlist was announced today. Here it is:
- Julian Barnes The Sense of an Ending
- Carol Birch Jamrach’s Menagerie
- Patrick deWitt The Sisters Brothers
- Esi Edugyan Half Blood Blues
- Stephen Kelman Pigeon English
- A.D. Miller Snowdrops
I have read four of the six, not having read the shortlisted novels of Barnes and Edugyan as yet. Jamrach’s Menagerie is phantasmagorical historical fiction at its best akin to Barry Unsworth’s Booker Prize winning opus Sacred Hunger. Admittedly I was shocked by Carol Birch’s agonizing and seemingly endless riff on cannibalism at sea. Ms. Birch doesn’t take a second fiddle to Conrad or Golding in grisly descriptive narrative. This is a tale of a poor London lad who ships out to sea at an early age and suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, yet in the end overcomes them, and makes a successful life for himself, and finally ends up with the girl of his dreams as well. This novel at its heart is truly Dickensian.
I didn’t think that I would like The Sisters Brothers at all. I hardly ever read any Westerns, so I began reading it with low expectations. But the from the first page on, Patrick deWitt’s language and characterizations captivate you. I couldn’t put the book down. I was thrust into the world of desperados during the California Gold Rush era, and I couldn’t leave it until the author eased me nicely out of it at the novel’s conclusion.
Stephan Kelman’s first novel, Pigeon English, is truly a gem. In the context of magical realism, it relates the story of a boy detective Ghanaian immigrant who lives in a tough London housing project. As he tries to figure out the pieces of a local crime puzzle, he gets himself deeper in danger, as he cannot escape the clutches of a terrorizing neighborhood hooligan. Yes there is a talking pigeon, who dispenses words of wisdom to the boy, and who, in the end, presages his unfortunate fate.
Another brilliant first novel on the Booker shortlist is A. D. Miller’s Snowdrops. The backdrop is post-Soviet Moscow, and the protagonist is a nearing forty British expatriate lawyer, who despite his inherent good sense, becomes romantically entangled with a beautiful Muscovite femme fatale. As a result, he goes on a zany Russian odyssey that inexorably leads to dire consequences. Lessons learned, he returns to the UK, poorer and more skeptical, yet much more wise to the world. Mr. Miller, a journalist for many years, has made a successful transition to fictive writing. One sees many elements of Ian McEwan’s style and tone in his writing.
All four of these shortlisted novels are worthy of the Booker.