The six books on the Man Booker Prize 2015 shortlist have just been announced. They are:
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
I have read four of these, not getting to the McCarthy and Sahota books as yet. Of the four that I read thus far, clearly the best book is A Brief History of Seven Killings. It is a modern epic, seven hundred pages or so, chronicling the turbulent political and social scene of Jamaica in the first two decades of its independence. James writes with passion and power, and this novel rises to realm of great literature.
Yanagihira’s A Little Life, a story of four friends, set in New York City, almost makes it to that realm, but not quite. Of about equal length as A Brief History of Seven Killings, her book lacks the drive and energy that is so pervasive in the James novel. Both are agonizing and gripping works, with memorable characterization, but the pace and consistency of A Little Life is somewhat off.
The Fishermen is an outstanding debut novel by Obioma. A highly compelling story, taking place in a small Nigerian town, the author narrates a family history, which is seemingly doomed from the book’s onset. It may be the sleeper on this year’s shortlist.
Although the judges for the Man Booker Prize are to consider the book, rather than the author, in making their decisions, one has the feeling that A Spool of Blue Thread is on the 2015 shortlist as an honor to Tyler’s body of work, rather than the particular merits of this particular novel. Typically Tyleresque, with quirky Baltimore citizenry, it is a nice story, but hardly worthy to be considered for the Man Booker.
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.