The Man Booker Prize longlist for 2016, which was announced on July 27, is less diverse in its selection this year as compared to 2015. There are five American and six British authors on the list and one each from Canada and South Africa. Unlike the longlist, the diversity in themes and genres (historical fiction, allegorical tale, dystopia, psychological crime thriller, satire) continues. There are six women writers on the list and four debut novels. The shortlist of six books will be out on September 13 (each author will receive £2,500 and a specially-bound edition of their book), and the winner will be announced on October 25. Here’s a brief introduction to the 13 books in the running for the £50,000 Prize:
The Sellout, Paul Beatty
Paul Beatty’s fourth novel, The Sellout, is a satire about race relations in America. Its black narrator-protagonist, Bonbon aka Sellout, tries to bring back slavery and segregation in Dickens, a fictional town on the outskirts of Los Angeles, after his father is shot dead by cops and the town removed from the map causing an identity crisis among its mostly black and Latino residents. Bonbon’s actions land him in the Supreme Court.
Beatty, 53, who teaches writing at the Columbia University, New York, started his literary career with poetry. He has written two books of poetry Big Bank Take Little Bank (1991) and Joker, Joker, Deuce (1994). His first novel The White Boy Shuffle (1996), a coming-of-age story of a black boy’s search for identity, is considered a cult classic.
Opening line: “This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I’ve never stolen anything.”
The Schooldays of Jesus, JM Coetzee
Two-time Booker Prize winner (Life & Times of Michael K, 1983; Disgrace, 1999) and 2003 Nobel laureate JM Coetzee’s yet-to-be published The Schooldays of Jesus is a sequel to his 2013 novel The Childhood of Jesus.
In the first allegorical novel, two refugees – a man and a five-year-old child – arrive in a socialist city Novilla where they try to settle down and search for the boy’s mother. The adoptive father finally offers the child’s upbringing to a woman they meet in a park.
In the sequel, the odd family of sorts moves to a new town where David, the boy, now nearly seven, is enrolled in a dance academy where “he will make troubling discoveries about what grown-ups are capable of”. The Schooldays of Jesus will be released in UK in September this year and USA in February 2017.
Serious Sweet, AL Kennedy
Scottish writer AL Kennedy’s eighth novel is a love story which unfolds across the course of a day and follows the inner and outer lives of two dysfunctional Londoners trying to keep their date. Jonathan, 59, is a civil servant whose personal and professional life is a mess (he hates his job, had a bad marriage, has had a bitter divorce), and Meg, a “bankrupt accountant” and recovering alcoholic.
Kennedy, 51, has a prolific body of work: six literary novels, a sci-fi novel, seven short story collections and three works of non-fiction. Twice on the Granta list of Best of Young British novelists, she is also a stand-up comedian who currently teaches creative writing at the University of Warwick in Coventry, England.
Opening paragraph: “A family sits on a Tube train. They are all in a row and taking the Piccadilly Line. They have significant amounts of luggage. They seem tired and a little dishevelled, are clearly arriving from somewhere far away: a grandmother, a father, a mother and a daughter of about twelve months. The adults talk in Arabic.”
Hot Milk, Deborah Levy
South Africa-born British writer Deborah Levy’s latest novel Hot Milk (2016) is her second book to make it to the Booker list, her previous Swimming Home (2011) being the first (It was on the 2012 Booker shortlist.). Hot Milk explores a complex mother-daughter relationship, that of British woman Rose and her half-Greek daughter-carer Sofia, who arrive in a Spanish village to seek a cure for wheelchair-bound Rose’s mysterious paralysis.
Levy’s body of work spans across genres, and includes plays, short stories, poetry and even a libretto, besides six novels.
Opening line: “Today I dropped my laptop on the concrete floor of a bar built on the beach.”
His Bloody Project, Graeme Macrae Burnet
In 1869, a 17-year-old farm tenant in a Scottish village is arrested for a brutal triple murder. Roderick Macrae is covered in the blood of the parish constable and his children when he surrenders. There is no doubt of his guilt but no clear idea as to his motives. The narrative put together through documents – Roderick’s prison memoir, police statements, contradictory testimonies by villagers, medical reports – plays with perception, and makes it difficult for the reader to arrive at the truth.
A psychological crime thriller, His Bloody Project (2015), is Burnet’s second novel. His first book, The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau (2014), was a literary crime thriller set in a small French town.
Burnet taught English in Prague, Portugal, France and London and has worked as a researcher in television. He has a Master’s degree in English Literature/Film and Television Studies from Glasgow University and an MLitt in International Security Studies from St Andrews University, Scotland.
Opening paragraph: “I am writing this at the behest of my advocate, Mr Andrew Sinclair, who since my incarceration here in Inverness has treated me with a degree of civility I in no way deserve. My life has been short and of little consequence, and I have no wish to absolve myself of the responsibility for the deeds which I have lately committed.”
The North Water, Ian McGuire
In this work of historical fiction, a disgraced ex-Army surgeon finds himself onboard as a medic on a whaling ship with a sinister, violent harpooner as a crew mate. The clash between the two, set against the testing Arctic landscape, forms the crux of the novel.
UK-based Ian McGuire teaches creative writing at The University of Manchester and co-directs its Centre for New Writing. He has a PhD in nineteenth-century American Literature. His first novel Incredible Bodies (2006) was an academic satire set in a fictional university.
Opening line: “Behold the man. He shuffles out of Clappison’s courtyard onto Sykes Street and snuffs the complex air—turpentine, fishmeal, mustard, black lead, the usual grave, morning-piss stink of just-emptied night jars.”
Hystopia, David Means
This dystopian novel-within-a-novel begins with a series of editor’s notes and statements from relatives and friends about the author’s struggles to come to terms with his experiences in the Vietnam War. It is 1970 and Eugene Allen’s manuscript has been found by his mother after his suicide. It imagines an alternative course of history where the Vietnam War continues and US president John F Kennedy has survived multiple assassination attempts. Traumatized soldiers returning from war are subjected to a process called enfolding wherein their war memories are erased.
Means has a MFA in poetry from Columbia University. He is the author of four short story collections: A Quick Kiss of Redemption (1991); Assorted Fire Events (2000); The Secret Goldfish (2004), which was short-listed for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Prize; and The Spot (2010). He is a visiting associate professor of English at Vassar College in New York state. Hystopia is his first novel.
Opening line: “April’s the cruelest month, they say, but I wouldn’t go that far.”
The Many, Wyl Menmuir
Just 160 pages, The Many is set in an insular coastal village where maritime pollution has led to a decline in fishing. Timothy Buchannan buys an abandoned house in the village and becomes obsessed with the mystery surrounding its previous dead owner, Perran. The village in turn grows fixated with this outsider. He then befriends a fisherman, Ethan, who knew Perran and is still grieving for him. But there are no easy answers.
This little-known debut work of fiction has been praised for its sparse prose and Gothic-folk horror elements. Menmuir is a UK-based freelance editor and literacy consultant.
Opening line: “A thin trail of smoke rises up from Perran’s, where no smoke has risen for ten years now.”
Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh
Eileen is already being touted as the next Gone Girl. The film rights to Ottesa Moshfegh’s 2015 literary thriller have been bought by film producer Scott Rudin (of The Social Network (2010) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) fame).
The story is set over the course of a week in 1964. Eileen works as a secretary at a correctional facility for boys in a small coastal town in Massachusetts. She is a troubled loner who lives with an overbearing, alcoholic father and dreams of moving to New York. Things begin to look up for her when the charming Rebecca Saint John joins the prison as the education director and strikes a friendship with her. But there is more to Rebecca than what meets the eye.
Born to a Croatian mother and Iranian father (both musicians), California-based Moshfegh, a short fiction writer, won the 2016 PEN/Hemingway Award for Eileen. Her 2014 novella McGlue is about an alcoholic sailor who gets embroiled in a murder.
Opening line: “I looked like a girl you’d expect to see on a city bus, reading some clothbound book from the library about plants or geography, perhaps wearing a net over my light brown hair.”
Work Like Any Other, Virginia Reeves
Virginia Reeves’s debut novel is a tale of redemption set in Alabama of the 1920s. Roscoe T Martin loves being an electrician, but is forced to turn farmer after his wife inherits her family farm. He hates it at first but soon begins to steal power from the state for the farm. After a state power board employee is electrocuted, Roscoe is jailed for theft and manslaughter for 20 years.
Virginia Reeves has a Master’s degree in teaching and an MFA in creative writing from the Michener Center for Writers, University of Texas, Austin. She teaches middle and high-school English at the Khabele School in Texas, USA.
Opening line: “The electrical transformers that would one day kill George Haskin sat high on a pole about ten yards off the northeast corner of the farm where Roscoe T Martin lived with his family.”
My Name Is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout
Elizabeth Strout’s fifth novel is set in a hospital and explores the nuances of a mother-daughter relationship. Lucy Barton is in hospital due to an undiagnosed illness when her estranged mother pays her a visit. The two reconnect but talking of the past also brings back bitter childhood memories. The book was longlisted for the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for fiction.
Strout won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for Olive Kitteridge: A Novel in Stories, which was adapted into an HBO mini-series and won eight Emmy awards in 2015. Her first novel Amy and Isabelle (1998) was adapted into a film for TV, and her 2013 novel The Burgess Boys is being made into a mini-series by American actor-director Robert Redford.
Opening line: “There was a time, and it was many years ago now, when I had to stay in a hospital for almost nine weeks.”
All That Man Is, David Szalay
Canada-born David Szalay moved to the UK when he was one. He studied English at Oxford University and has written radio plays for the BBC. In 2013, he was on Granta’s list of Best of Young British novelists. His first novel London and the Southeast (2008) was about the life of an advertising salesman, which was followed by The Innocent (2009; set in Stalin’s USSR ) and Spring (2011; “the anti-thesis of a romantic comedy”).
His latest All That Man Is interconnects nine stories of men of different ages and nationalities across 13 countries dealing with their inner lives and personal crises.
Opening line: “Berlin-Hauptbahnhof.
It is where the trains from Poland get in and the two young Englishmen are newly arrived from Krakow. They look terrible, these two teenagers, exhausted by the ordeal of the train, and thin and filthy from ten days of Inter Railing.”
Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien
Of Chinese-Malay descent, Canada-based writer Madeleine Thien’s fourth novel looks at China under Mao Zedong and his subsequent legacy through the tragic lives of three musicians.
Thien’s first book, Simple Recipes, was a collection of short stories. Her other works include The Chinese Violin (2002), Certainty (2006), and Dogs at the Perimeter (2011; it won the Frankfurt Book Fair’s literary prize LiBeraturpreis in 2015 ).
Opening line: “In a single year, father left us twice.”