Total laptop crash has delayed things somewhat, and I have read quantities of books during the enforced break in communication.
So to the last two Man Booker titles: Normal People by Sally Rooney and Washington Black by Esi Edugyan.
The Sally Rooney novel has had so much publicity and hype that is surely must be on the short list when that is published (20th September), unless the judges are put off by the seeming ubiquity of this novel. I do not read many papers, but it has been all over the ones I do read, so I assume other papers and radio programmes are also bigging-up this book. I have seen some pretty extravagant claims – “JD Salinger for the 21st Century”, for example.
Normal people is a love story, but with a twist. It is clear to the reader what is going on, but somehow, like ships that pass in the night, Connell and Marianne keep arriving at the same place but slightly at different times. They meet over the course of the book several times, from childhood sharing chocolate spread through to adulthood and new jobs, each time they seem on the brink of getting it together…
Whether or not this is Salinger, it is an interestingly tantalising narrative, plainly spoken. Any novel that covers childhood to adulthood could be described as “a coming of age plot”, this one has been judged highly.
Washington Black is of another order entirely for it covers the life story of a black slave who by miraculous means escapes from the island sugar plantation by balloon with his white owner’s brother. His subsequent adventures are also a little short of miraculous. As a slave-to-freedom narrative, this novel has its moments and those are quite graphic and absorbing.
The underground railway features briefly, as do some white people who are odd but good; the bad people are entirely bad and generally white.
I don’t personally find this novel as satisfactory as her previous Man Booker nomination, Half Blood Blues, which I rated very highly. There are other and better slave-to-freedom novels and I just wonder whether it is quite tasteful for anyone, whatever background, to make so little of this transition, in this case through almost magical means.
I think that both of these will make it on to the shortlist, so there is no shadow choice