It may seem perverse to still post on the Longlist when the Shortlist has been published, but these three only made onto the bookstands a week or so before this happened. Notably, one title is not yet published: Margaret Atwood‘s The Testaments.
So to the last three but one. Salman Rushdie Quichotte, this signals in its title that it is yet another retelling of a classic story. Even if you have never read the Spanish original Don Quixote, the story is so well know that it has added to our language: quixotic and tilting at windmills to name two. Rushdie has transposed this to modern day America, not a straight swop. A writer of spy thrillers, Sam Duchamp, creates a character Quichotte who falls in love with a TV star and sets off on a quest to prove that he is worthy of her love. I didn’t like The Golden House much and this is a similar type of novel, indeed I am given to understand that it is part of a trilogy. It is rather over written.
Chigozie Obioma also has a man driven by love to try to make himself worthy of the woman he loves. The whole novel is deeply imbued with Nigerian and Igbo cosmology. The narrator is the chi, or guardian soul of the man – a poultry farmer called Chinonso, the chi is appealing to the greater spirits because Chinonso had made a terrible error with regard to Ndali, the woman who he loves beyond all measure. Once you get into the rhythm of the words it becomes a story of love, humiliation and madness. It is heart wrenchingly sad. The title of the book, The Orchestra of the Minorities, is the sad sound made by poultry when one chick is stolen by a kite, but equally it is the silent song and sadness of a status ridden society.
Finally Deborah Levy‘s third book on the Longlist The Man Who Saw Everything is a book which swings vertiginously between East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, a minor road accident at Abbey Road and a major road accident to the same person in the same place many years later. Saul Adler is a journalist and his ex-girlfriend in Jennifer Moreau, a photographer. The first accident is in 1988 and leads to the end of his relationship to Jennifer, the later accident leads to a hallucinatory experience in a hospital bed visited by both the living and the dead. It is hard most of the time, to know exactly which.
The Shortlist includes both Salman Rushdie’s novel and Chigozie’s. It also includes Lucy Ellman’s Ducks, Newburyport – a worse waste of trees I can hardly imagine; Elif Shafak’s 10 minutes, 38 Seconds in This Strange World – a book that I loved reading, full of characters of charm and interest all encapsulated in the last minutes before the brain actually dies and Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other – welcome to twelve wonderful women living in England at different times and in different places. And finally Margaret Atwood.