As many critics warned, the internationalization of the Man Booker Prize implemented just last year, would soon lead to American domination of the competition. And this year, five of the thirteen books on the longlist are by American authors. I don’t know if this is quite domination, but still it represents a significant segment of the longlist finalists.
These five 2015 selections are: A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara; A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler; Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg; Lila by Marilynne Robinson; and The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami.
I will be discussing these five books and their authors at The Book Stall in Winnetka on the evening of Thursday, September 10. The Book Stall is located at 811 Elm Street, and the free presentation begins at 6:30 pm.
As Tolstoy reminds us in Anna Karenina “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Two of this year’s Man Booker Prize longlisted novels, Anne Enright’s The Green Road and Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread both delve into the unique dysfunctional dynamics of Enright’s Irish Madigan family and Tyler’s American Whitshank family.
However there are some interesting similarities in the dynamics of both families. Off-centered matriarchs; four children, two male and two female in each family; prodigal sons in both families; and the parents of these children with unspoken of dark family histories.
Ms. Tyler’s Baltimore locale is most familiar to me. A Spool of Blue Thread is the twelfth book of hers that I have read since 1981. Just as Joyce captured the universal human experience in Dublin and Dickens as well in London, Tyler’s does the same in Baltimore. She also shares a flair of depicting quirky off-beat characters so familiar in both Joyce and Dickens.
On the other hand, I have read only one other book of Ms. Enright, the 2007 Man Booker Prize winner, The Gathering, a book that, frankly, I found depressing and somewhat overwrought. There just too much suffering and dying of AIDS in that book, and the chapter of Dan in New York in The Green Road recreated that particular disturbing scenario.
Now don’t get me wrong. Ms. Enright is a remarkably gifted writer, especially in her lyrical descriptive prose of the beauties and wonders of the isolated western Irish landscapes. When she, on much too rare occasions, lightens her mood, she is brilliantly funny. One could almost see the twinkle in those Irish eyes. Yet her prevailing tone, in both books, is definitely glum.
In stark contrast, Ms. Tyler’s Spool, although similarly fraught with delicate and troublesome family issues , somehow lightens the narrative, and gives the reader a chance to occasionally smile and even laugh at times.
It was one of those enchanting evenings that make for a lasting memory. In the afterglow of a resplendent Sofia sunset, we entered the Military Academy Park to watch a performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet, Cinderella. The park had restricted entry until 2010. Now the public has access, and the park is the venue for operatic and ballet performances in the summer.
Scores of children, the vast majority of them little girls, made their way up the cobblestone path, accompanied by parents and grandparents. The girls wore their prettiest dresses, sensing that a special evening was ahead for them. The path led to steps that provided the entry way to a small amphitheater in a woodsy setting.
There was an orchestra pit, but it was empty. Prokofiev’s captivating music was prerecorded; a bit of static punctuating the captivating melodies. Yet, once the dancing began, all was magic. Through the highly imaginative choreography, the fairy tale unfolded. Poor Cinderella, fraught with hope and expectation, overcame the evil machinations of her step-mother and step-sisters, and triumphantly fit into the silver slipper and won the heart of the Prince.
The eyes of the little girls fixated on lovely Cinderella. Someday perhaps a handsome prince will come for them. This night emboldened their imaginations and dreams.
The ballet ended, and the children walked down the path to exit the park. A few of the girls split off the path to whirl and spin in dances of their own. Dusk settled into the park, and all the Cinderellas for a night headed for home.