The much awaited longlist for the Man Booker Prize 2017 is finally out! This year’s list is dominated by comeback novels from literary heavyweights such as Paul Auster, Zadie Smith, and Arundhati Roy. Personally, I am most excited about the fact that in a list comprising mainly of UK and US writers, two Pakistan-based writers have made the cut: Kamila Shamsie and Mohsin Hamid.
A shortlist of six titles will be announced by chair of judges, Baroness Lola Young and her fellow judges on September 13 and the winner will be announced on October 17. Here’s a brief overview of all 13 books and my predictions of their chances of being on the shortlist.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith’s much-anticipated return to fiction last year was in the form of this exuberant bildungsroman about two young brown girls. Residents of neighboring housing estates in North West London, their chance meeting at a dance class develops into a complex lifelong friendship. The novel pirouettes from an intimate portrayal of black girlhood into an expansive exploration of personal and racial identity. Dance and cultural appropriation forms the crux of this complex story of frayed relationships. Prediction: 70% (Here’s our review.)
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
This is the third time that this talented British writer has been nominated for the Booker Prize. I certainly hope third time’s a charm because this novel is just as stunning as his previous ones. Reservoir 13 is the haunting story of a missing girl in an English village and the impact this has on so many lives. Rather than turning this premise into an archetypal crime novel, the narration focuses on meticulously exploring how the entire community deals with this loss. Subtly elegant, insightful and immersive, this exquisite novel once again proves why Jon McGregor is one of the most remarkable writers of our generation. Prediction: 80%
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
From the Orange and Baileys Prize-shortlisted author comes this contemporary re-imagining of Sophocles’ Antigone. Home Fire is an urgent and searing story of two British families of Pakistani descent and asks big questions about loyalty, love in the current international relations scenario. This timely novel masterfully depicts the internal struggles of individuals in a family and sets them against the wider political context of xenophobia and extremism. The themes addressed in this book are extremely relevant which makes me think that it has a good chance of making it to the shortlist. Prediction: 80%
4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
This epic bildungsroman is the story of a New Jersey man, Archie, who lives four parallel lives. At almost 900 pages, this ambitious tome chronicles the different permutations of an individual’s life from boyhood all the way to death. Auster explores the notions of time and fate with clever sophistication. At once a chronicle of American history and a coming-of-age story of literary ambition, 4321 is a panoramic and experimental literary feat.
Elmet by Fiona Mozley
This is one of two debuts nominated this year which alone makes this upcoming novel very interesting. This atmospheric and thrilling novel is set in Yorkshire and is perfect for fans of The Loney and The Essex Serpent. Elmet tells the story of a father and his two children who get into trouble with greedy landowners after building a home in the little copse in Elmet. This book is an unsettling and lyrical commentary on contemporary society as well as a beautiful meditation on landscape. As this book is not out until a few months, I’ll be keeping an eye on the early reviews of this one.
The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
This dazzling masterpiece marks the Booker winning writer’s much awaited return to fiction. This novel takes readers on an epic journey across the Indian subcontinent. The sprawling story follows Anjum, a trans woman and the the three men who fall for her. Ambitious in scope, this novel is intricately layered, subtly political and a humane story of the oppressed people of India. Involving a vast cast of vibrant characters, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is a memorable and stirring literary work about a society stuck in the clutches of class and caste. Prediction: 80%
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
This propulsive debut follows a 14 year old girl named Linda who lives in the secluded woods of northern Minnesota with her parents. Their nearly abandoned commune stands as a last vestige of a lost counter-culture world where they live a semi-wilderness life. The frigid quietness of the woods is vividly brought to life in evocative prose which lends an air of intrigue to the plot. When Linda tries to break out of her sequestered world, she is confronted with grave consequences. History of Wolves is a starkly affecting coming of age story of a teenage girl’s awakening. Prediction: 40% (Here’s our review.)
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack
This book might just be the dark horse in the list. This Goldsmiths Prize winning novel is an experimental and ambitious piece of fiction. Once a year, on All Souls’ Day, it is said in Ireland that the dead may return. Solar Bones is the story of one such visit home by a man. The entire book is written as one long continuous sentence which perfectly complements the stream of consciousness flow of narrative. The story delicately traces the day to day pleasures and worries of man and the reader is swiftly caught up in the cadence of the beautiful writing. Reading this book is an extraordinarily original experience. Prediction: 90% (Here’s our review of the original UK edition.)
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry
This lyrical Western saga from award winning writer has already won The 2016 Costa Prize for Book of the Year. It is a poignant story of an Irish immigrant man and how he comes to fight the Indian Wars and the Civil wars with his brothers-in-arm, John Cole and the makeshift family they create along the way. Days Without End is a bold and enthralling account of the horrors of history and stolen love. Prediction: 40%
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
This transcendent story explores the refugee crisis through the lens of magical realism. In an unnamed country on the brink of civil war, two young people begin a torrid courtship. When the turmoil escalates, they are forced to flee from their homeland. With only each other to rely on in a foreign land, Hamid intimately explores how migration and alienation shift the dynamics of their relationship. Exit West depicts the terrifying experience of being an immigrant in spare, translucent prose. Hamid’s book is a prescient, urgent and compassionate look at the events of our times. Prediction: 90% (Here’s our review.)
Autumn by Ali Smith
This highly awaited book from one of the most inventive storytellers of our times is the first of a quartet of novels inspired by seasons. Hailed as the first post-Brexit novel, this is the compact story of a platonic friendship between an old man and a young woman who happen to be neighbours. Set in the jingoistic Britain after Brexit, Smith uses gorgeous prose to probe a perilous world and poignantly meditate on the way we experience time and memories. Prediction: 80% (Here’s our review.)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
This long-awaited novel from the venerated short story writer is an ingenious masterpiece. It is set over the course of a single night in a Georgetown cemetery where the body of Willie Lincoln, the 11 year old son of Abraham Lincoln, lies. From this simple premise, Saunders conjures a magnificent narrative comprised of the voices of the dead that surround Willie as he exists in the bardo, the transitional stage between death and rebirth. Saunders deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices to ask profound questions about sorrow, loss and mortality. Prediction: 70% (Here’s our review.)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
This book has already snagged the coveted Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award which makes it a hot favorite for the shortlist. This electrifying novel recreates the torturous horrors that African Americans had to endure in pre-Civil War America. Using magical realism, Whitehead tells the suspenseful tale of escape and pursuit with potent insight. The Underground Railroad is the story of a young slave girl who dares to escape the plantation after finding out about the Underground Railroad – a covert railroad system that helped slaves escape into free states during the Confederacy. This book documents a horrifying phase in American history with remarkable verve. Prediction: 80% (Here’s our review.)
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A Karachi-based critic, bylines in Book Riot, Vol1Brooklyn, Brooklyn Mag, The Spectator, Irish Times and elsewhere. Can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org