Well I never! (Or bien je jamais – as my mother-in-law used to say). How do you put Coetzee on a long-list and then leave him languishing? Well, the judges have done just that; so here is the list:
Graeme Macrae Burnett – His Bloody Project: this I opined was part of the gore-fest that made up so many of the long-listed titles. While excellently capturing the horror of this random deed rather in the way of Truman Capote‘s – In Cold Blood, it did not really seem to me to be a winner.
Deborah Levy – Hot Milk: This one belonged in the mother-daughter section of the long-list, of which there was more than one and if I had been forced to choose I would certainly have put Elizabeth Strout ahead with My Name is Lucy Barton. Which just goes to show how very perverse these prizes can seem to be.
David Szalay – All that Man Is: No comment, I do not really accept that this is a novel at all, merely a themed collection of short stories and if this can be considered where is Alice Munro, for just one example?
Madeleine Thien – Do Not Say We Have Nothing: This is my outright winner then. Though don’t rush to the bookies as I have very seldom been correct in my personal choice.
This is also almost in the mother-daughter category, although there is more than one mother and it also involves sons as well as daughters. Exceptional crafting has gone into the relationships and how they combine in different spheres and at different times as the developing catastrophe washes over them, scattering them and then bringing them together again. It brought to mind another Oriental writer Kenzaburo Oe, whose novels about his Japanese author with writer’s block also has these complicated and sometimes circular relationships with people (family and other) and things.
This is a book I will definitely and gladly read more than once, in due course. It is a many-layered and intricate tale of love, music, musical careers, records (played and written) and betrayal set against the Cultural Revolution in China with all its concomitant excuses and reasons for not being brave.
Ottessa Moshfegh – Eileen: this was an interesting and alternative take on aspects of caring, that is in: who is responsible for caring when the parent has hideously neglected the child, but who now needs to be cared for? Who exactly is responsible in a young persons’ reform prison situation for caring about the inmates, and for making sure decent and responsible people are looking out for them?
Eileen is a very curious, twisted and amoral character, with some depressing side issues about ownership! Her fantasy world, though, leads her into a tangled infatuation which evolves into a situation from which she may escape but not in quite the way she expected.
Humiliation looms fairly large and often in this amoral tale written, looking backwards over her own life, by Eileen; without any sense of self-criticism or remorse – amoral – as I said. This would be my second option as a winner if Ms Thien does not achieve the prize.
Paul Beatty – The Sellout: I think I made it pretty clear at the time what I thought of this book. I assume it is on the short-list because it is edgy, controversial and different. Great literature it is not!