Category Archives: The Man Booker Prize

Man Booker 2018/My shortlist

In advance of the real judges, I give you my personal shortlist. I am naturally confident of some of my choices, wishful about others.

2018 BLL Shortlist

In spite of what I may have said elsewhere, I have dropped Sally Rooney. I have re-read these titles and have decided she is not as good as or better than my selection. I fear though, after all the hype and presentation that she has received already that her place on the genuine shortlist is a shoe-in. This will be a dreadful mistake.

My titles are not placed in any particular order. They are all worthy to win, there is no outright candidate for me. Warlight, for example, might be in with a good chance were it not for the fact that Michael Ondaatje just won the Booker 50 Years Best Booker prize.

Donal Ryan has replaced Sally Rooney in my selection, it is an excellently constructed novel with an extraordinary twist in the very end. Interesting characters – introduced slowly and with some grace, and then wham!

The Guy Gunaratne is wide of my comfort zone and I certainly would not have picked it off the shelf in ordinary times. But what an eye-opener. Grimy, gritty and nail-bitingly fierce, scraped off the street – but how brilliantly managed, everything about it is unusual, and appallingly real.

Picador Poetry have slid in a fast one with The Long Take. It is not even on the shelf with the other novels but in another department all together. As long poems go, though, this is as much a novel as any. Robin Robertson is definitely narrating rather than meditating, and there happens also to be a considerable amount of actual prose, and it is a great story. Which is why it appears, in spite of my misgivings, in my list.

There has been much mining of the Greek myths and legends recently, so why not choose Oedipus for your target. This is a cleverly disguised re-telling by Daisy Johnson, with an androgynous character who fills the place of the abandoned Prince of Thebes, but everything else is there and then much else, because this is also a love story about water, river or canal: the reedy banks and the smell and Everything Under. So evocative and so differently weathered from its original setting: Greece. Almost, a poem. If chopped up to look like verse!!

And finally Washington Black, I wish this was just a little bit better as a book. But here it is on my shortlist. Esi Edugyan is a great storyteller and although I had qualms about the slave-to-free narrative, which I think did not quite get to the heart of the matter, I would certainly think that this is deserving of a second reading, and rewarding once re-read. Truth to tell, I thought her previous long listed title was better. But good luck with this one.




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Man Booker Longlist 2018/9

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.

2018 BLL RooneyNormal 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.

2018 BLL EdugyanWashington 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


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Man Booker Longlist 2018/8

A first novel is always a joy to find, whether good or bad, it is a new voice with new potential. In this case, The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh, the writing has already been recognised in the short story genre, but sustaining a novel is quite a different task.

2018 BLL MackintoshThis is a mildly dystopian novel.  Three girls and their parents are holed up on what the daughters think is an island, surrounded by protective wire, they are under the impression that they are being saved from pollution, and male savagery.

Their father takes a boat and gets stores; in the early days women (no men allowed) used to come in various states of weakness, to be cured. They were tended by the mother until they were well enough to undergo the water cure, total immersion in a salt bath with incantation.

One day, the father does not come back. They wait and then their mother vanishes…

The writing is good enough for this story to become compelling, although once read to the end it seems to have been slightly flimsy. There are so many “whys” that remain unanswered. It is not really my sort of novel, so maybe I am being unnecessarily harsh, but with other more believable and more engaging dystopian fictions abounding, many of them on the subject of female disempowerment, I think that this one rather misses the mark.

My alternative offerings are completely different. Both are love stories, one a defiantly gay novel, the other slightly adulterous in the human sense and utterly focused in another way.

Alan Hollinghurst is well known and unashamedly a gay writer of gay novels. His early novels, The Swimming Pool Library might have been a bit lubricious for general taste, but his new novel is more refined and covers the English homosexual scene from before the time it was legal right through to the present day.

SparsholtThere are two main characters in The Sparsholt Affair, though this is not quite accurate, they are the hooks upon which the whole book hangs. David Sparsholt and Evert Dax. We see them first in a University setting (Oxford as it happens) just immediately before the Second World War takes young men from their studies, David is learning to fly and Evert is undecided. In the final intense flurry before the war collects them and mashes them up in its jaws, these two form a strong and abiding friendship that lasts to the end of their lives.

At University they belong to a small group, men like Freddie Green who is doing something secret at Blenheim Palace and women like Connie who is also there in a different capacity.

Hollinghurst describes and covers all the situations that have taken and destroyed men and reputations; then the changes that made the whole thing different but privately acceptable and finally brought the rainbow spectrum fully into the open. This is a very subtle and complex history and it is beautifully discovered and displayed in this delightful novel. The relationships between the older men and their younger companions, the women that have admired and adored them, the unrequited and the fulfilled loves are all here in this loving and delicate story.

VickersThe second, The Librarian, is also a love story, but the main characters are the children’s books that the librarian of the title helps her young readers to enjoy and explore. In this novel, Salley Vickers is doing two things. She is writing about a beautiful love story between the librarian and the local doctor, and banging the drum for the importance of libraries in the development of the imagination of young children. In fact, libraries in general, but especially those for children.

Set in East Mole, the first part of the book is about the arrival of Sylvia Blackwell as the local children’s librarian. The Senior Librarian, a Mr Booth, is a decidedly reprobate character, his envy of her ability and evident success leads on to its bitter conclusion; the second part of the book tells of one of the characters returning, now herself a successful children’s author, to speak up against the closure of the East Mole library, and what happens as a result.

Salley Vickers has paid tribute to the librarian who inspired her as a child, her name was really Miss Blackwell. She also helpfully lists all the books that she has cited in the novel, many of them real favourites, especially Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce, which links lots of the characters who have read it (or not read it). She also reveals that two of her own children also write, Rowan Brown (one of three dedicatees, the others being Philip Pullman and Jacqueline Wilson) and Richard Kingfisher – which I never realised and am please to learn, since I love their books too.

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Man Booker Longlist 2018/7

My post today is unusual in that I am including a non-fiction book as an alternative to the longlist novel.

Tree huggers and arboriculturalists will have understood the pun in the title of Richard Powers new novel. It is a book about trees and forests, and for the rest of you I will explain the hidden meaning in the title.

A true forest contains units which are trees – roots, trunks and branches; when there are a lot of trees together the upper leaves and branches are the canopy; down on the forest floor there will be an assortment of smaller bushes, vines, young trees and this is called the understory.

2018 BLL PowersThe Overstory introduces us to several main characters and for the whole of the first part of the book, entitled Roots, they have no connection with each other, and each one is a short story in itself; it is not until the second part of the book that some of these characters end up in the same place and it is not until the final part of the book that the threads that pull them together, finally knot up into a complete whole.

Each of the characters has a relationship with a particular tree or species of tree; for Nick Hoel it is the American Chestnut, planted by his great-great-great-great grandfather in Iowa, and which because of its isolated spot has not succumbed to the disease that killed all its other families in Connecticut and Massachusetts, a tree which had ‘built’ America: houses, fences, furniture, paper pulp and more besides. Every fourth tree in a forest stretching two hundred miles would die.

For Mimi Ma, daughter of Chinese immigrants fleeing from Chairman Mao, it is the Mulberry Tree. Her grandfather had handed over three jade rings carved in miniature with the delicacy of a magician; The Lote – the tree of life for the Persians; Fusang – the mulberry tree and Now, the tree of the future plus a precious scroll of wizened men, one leaning on a staff at the edge of a forest, one peering through a narrow window and one seated under a twisted pine: the adepts who have passed through the Enlightenment and know the answers to life.

Adam Appich is an artist, he is somewhere on the spectrum of autism but that doesn’t matter; eventually he ends up as a research student studying under Professor Rabinowski.

We meet Ray Brinkman and Dorothy Cazaly who plant trees in their back yard on the anniversary of their getting together; Ray is a property lawyer dealing in copyright and Dorothy is a stenographer in court, which is where they meet.

We first meet Douglas Pavilcek when he takes part in an experiment and is placed in a jail situation; this is to earn money and eventually the experiment fails but he gets a taste of what confinement is like and the powerlessness of it. He has been a typical American, a war veteran and an odd job man, but he takes a trip North and on his way discovers that the forest he supposes he is driving through is only a spectre, that behind the concealing strip, loggers are clear felling the trees by the thousand – so he takes up tree planting.

Another character we meet is Neelay, the Gujarati son of poor parents. But one day when he is about eight his father comes home with a computer kit and together they put it to work. Neelay learns coding, and ends up inventing internet games.

The two last characters we meet are Patricia Westerwood, an early illness has caused deafness and she is mildly mute, though can be understood with patience. Patricia makes up for physical disability with an extraordinary mind, eventually she publishes a paper that states that trees have means of communication that humans have failed to recognise; this study get panned and she retires from public life and writes a book which she calls The Secret Forest. Olivia Vandergriff is a student, she has married far too young and is just freeing herself from this when she electrocutes herself. In the few minutes in which she is dead, her life changes…

We have reached page 152 and so far, none of these characters have anything in common. That all changes in the second part which is entitled Trunk.

This is part novel and part environmental polemic, everywhere on every continent and country, trees are being chopped down at an incredible and unsustainable rate. Campaigns to prevent this devastation bring some of these characters together with differing and terrible results.

There are two more parts Crown and Seeds, and by the end of the book everything is clear; but not for the trees which are being slaughtered at an increasing rate. The ill-effects of this are widespread and known, but somehow the destruction cannot be stopped.

Richard Powers cannot write a bad novel, his imagination is vivid and wild and his books, eleven novels so far, range over a lot of different subjects. The Overstory is quite a hard book to read, since its apocalyptic message is written across most of the latter parts of the book. Is this what people want in a novel? There is an encyclopaedic amount of information about trees and growing, seed formation and suckering, regeneration and death. Salutary, naturally. It is a book that appealed to me but then, I might be considered a bit of a tree hugger; I hope lots of people read this book but it may already be too late.

WildingMy non-fiction offering is the story of a Sussex farm who are trying to turn the clock back a bit. It too is a riveting if depressing read.  We have practically destroyed the butterfly population already in Europe, we need many more farms like this to take up the challenge, and it too may already be too late. Wilding by Isabella Tree is hopeful, if only a small voice crying out against the loud hum of the combine harvester.

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Man Booker Longlist 2018/6

My shadow books first. The Melody by Jim Crace and The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton. Both writers that I discovered thanks to the Man Booker Prize.  Both such mellifluous titles, but both actually about menace.

CraceIn The Melody the principal character, Alfred Busi is a widower, in his prime he has been a renowned singer, songwriter. We meet him first as he is about to be significantly honoured by his town, an unnamed seaside town, with an Avenue of Fame: town worthies remembered, pedestalized and in bronze and Mister Al, is to be one of them.

But the might before his honouring ceremony, he had a damaging encounter with a feral creature that has got into his larder. His nights have often been disturbed by urban foxes and other creatures upsetting his bins and scavenging for food; but on this occasion he has been alerted by the tinkling of some Persian Bells, and goes down to investigate, but when he opens the larder door, something attacks him, scratching his face badly and biting his hand.

He calls for his sister-in-law, Terina to help him and she dismisses it as an animal, but he responds “a cat with dentures by the look of it”.

He does not call the police, and later on this incident is reported badly and inaccurately in the press. The town is alerted to the feral menace of possible “Neanderthals” hiding out in the bosk, the wild wooded area away from the sea at the back of the town.

This is a novel about change and “progress”. The first part is about changes in Alfred himself, partly brought on by the first attack, and then exacerbated by another more personal attack, and by a discovery which pulls away all his certainties. Two years a widower, there are bound to be alterations to the daily grind, or in the taking of pleasure but to become a victim in one’s own home is another order of magnitude, a disconcerting and destabilising event.

In the second part of the book, which follows some six or seven years later, the disruption seen in the first part has been completed.

I must first have come across Jim Crace in 2001, when he was listed for Being Dead, and I have gone back into his other novels.  One Quarantine, is the book I have given away most often.

Tim Winton, an Australian writer, I discovered through the Booker listings in The Riders. This must have been in about 1992, it is not his best I think, but I have read most of the others since, also going back through earlier novels. The Shepherd’s Hut though, is streets ahead of all of them. I cannot imagine why this is not on this year’s longlist, only that it was not presented for consideration.

WintonJaxie Clackton is the son of a butcher, his father is one of a dubious but successful breed of bully. Jaxie’s mother has died of cancer before the book opens, his childhood has been punctuated with good times, with his Auntie Marg and his cousins, and bad and worse times at home; his mother has been persistently bullied and beaten, but like so many battered wives, has stuck by her man. Now she is gone, Jaxie is the main punchbag.

After a particularly severe beating, when his eye is pretty nearly punched out, Jaxie goes off to hide out. A night or so later, he returns home but what he finds spooks him so badly that he hastily packs up a bag and makes a run for it.

Monkton, which is where is he is running from, is somewhere in Western Australia. (It may not even exist, I haven’t checked).  He heads into the bush, mostly mulga scrub and some tree cover where there are eucalyptus groves. He steers away from the roads and highways, though he can often hear the huge “roadtrains” passing.

He is in pretty dire straits when he discovers the prospector’s shack, where there is water but not a lot else. He has his father’s gun and some cartridges, lives rough for a while but cannot keep the kangaroo meat, as it goes off in the heat. But he realises he is not far from the salt lakes, so he goes off to get salt and finds more than he bargains for.

Jaxie thinks he is a lucky man, and by any definition this must be true, but luck is not always a two-way street, and those whom he meets are not always quite so fortunate.

This is a book full of quite brilliant descriptions: exquisite tenderness and love; the wilderness of Western Australia; survival; and also acute and devastating tension. Tim Winton writes beautifully.

I have camped out by those salt lakes, they are both wonderful and terrifying. Turning the mulga scrub into grassland for sheep permanently damaged the land. The salt lakes are a leprosy left by European settlers and rangers, some of them spread by a metre in diameter every year, the land is no longer good for cattle or sheep, which is why the eponymous hut is abandoned to its present incumbent when Jaxie gets there.

Unless you are completely turned off books by Australians, simply because I love them so much, this is a truly remarkable and astounding novel, which I cannot recommend too highly.

2018 BLL GunaratneBack to this year’s Man Booker longlist. An extraordinary debut novel by Guy Gunaratne, a BAME writer of considerable talent, who lives in London with a wife and two cats. Anyone who has two cats gets my vote.

In OUR MAD and FURIOUS CITY, the title of Gunaratne’s novel (deliberately written here more or less exactly as it appears on the book jacket) we find ourselves in Neasdon. Not a name to conjure with, honestly. In the novel, it sounds as dreary, messed up and conflicted as its name. We are kicking around with a group of young boys, they have mostly been around each other since primary or secondary school, though perhaps their attendance has not been 100%. They are all of them either BAME or mixed; the novel is bookended by an unidentified voice, but one who clearly knows the group, but may not be part of it.

The characters appear, each in their own section. Part 1 is called Mongrel, the chapters are Estate, Square, Ends. Here, we meet in this order: Selvon, Caroline, Ardan, Yusuf and Nelson. These characters are not all the same generation so the reader needs to pay attention because relationships will be revealed later that make a difference to how we view each boy. Sections 2 and 3 are Brother and Blood.

I do not think I would have picked this book off the shelf; the book jacket is quite threatening even without the title! But I am glad to have read it. The writing is original, visceral and fully-fledged. For a debut novel, even though Gunaratne has written short stories, this is an accomplished masterpiece. The city gets up and whacks you in the face; and has affected its young inhabitants in ways that it is hard to grasp, from its leafier suburbs.

This is a book that I would be glad to see on the shortlist, though I do not see it as an outright winner, so far.

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Man Booker Longlist 2018/5

While I was surprised and hesitant about the inclusion of a poem in the longlist, having read The Long Take I do understand why it was included. There is no doubt that is has a narrative, it also has quite a few pieces that are absolutely prose and even the poetry can read like prose. [My husband would have derided it as “chopped up prose”] I remain extremely doubtful whether poetry ought to qualify, but am heartily glad this book arrived on the longlist as I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

2018 BLL PoemRobin Robertson is a well know poet, he has already published five volumes of poems and has received many honours. Since I haven’t read anything by him before (almost certainly my loss) I cannot say whether narrative poetry is his usual genre. Never mind, The Long Take is a narrative.

Walker is a Second World War veteran, of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders, a Canadian regiment – my sister-in-law claims that the Stuarts founded Nova Scotia, a family myth that I haven’t pursued, she may even possibly be right, but I warmed immediately to this man.

We meet him first in New York, recently de-mobbed. It is 1946 and he feels too befouled by his wartime experiences to go back to Lake Ainslie and his home and family. The title of the book comes from the cinema.  A year or so has passed and it is now 1948, Walker moves to Los Angeles, he is a press reporter and has been asked to write up some movie reviews. He chooses Deadly is the Female (a good choice) and the film make him think.  The poem expresses it thus:

He thought about it all night. That long take

inside the getaway car: one shot that lasted three minutes easy

and was just real life. Right there.

Later on Walker meets the director, Joseph H Lewis,  and talks about this one long shot and gets to hear how it was accomplished and why the title of the film was changed to Gun Crazy.

This short passage too may show you how the poem can be seen as “chopped up prose”, though I am not really rubbishing poetry written like this. Above, I have written it out exactly as it appears in the book; but you could equally have read it in a prose novel as: “He thought about it all night. That long take inside the getaway car: one shot that lasted three minutes easy and was just real life. Right there.” And you would not necessarily have thought, that sentence simply doesn’t work.

The actual prose pieces are mostly in italics, these are Walker’s flashbacks, partly to his pre-war life in Canada and his girlfriend, and nature: the lake, otters, trees and colour and then his war. The flashbacks are part of his PTSD, which is part of his not now going home, he is simply not a fit person to pick up his old life, from what he has seen and, more importantly, what he has done. Here are two pieces, separated by about 40 pages which demonstrate the state he is in mentally. [This describes his D-Day experience]:

It was all about timing. Waiting to jump from the scramble net down the side of the merchant ship to the LCA below. Trying to find the rhythm of it: the swell of the water, the boats colliding. Your best chance was just before the landing craft slammed against the ship’s hull. Mistiming the jump meant drowning or crushing. You got it right. Picked yourself up. The steel deck slippery with vomit.

Forty pages on, his mind swings back to this day

The rating with the bilge bucket is swilling off the puke, and what is left of McPherson who hadn’t timed it right, his jump from the nets to this landing craft below.

There are also occasions, within the poem, that Walker loses his grip, and this loss of control accelerates towards the end as Los Angeles itself is pulled to pieces by the demands of the automobile barons and the CRA (the very corrupt planning office); making highways and destroying public transport and ghettoising many areas of the expanding city.

While working for the Press, Walker requests permission to write up the homeless, jobless situation in Los Angeles and San Francisco. So the poem is full of characters in bars and cafes. Here is the section in which he describes his colleagues: [This is a pretty long piece, for which I make no apology – I want people to go out and get this book to read]:

He’s got to know more people at the Press

who’d been there as long as the boss, and all from out east like him:

Templeton from Iowa’s an okay guy,

well-bred, sense of humour, smart,

and May Wood from Boston, the face of the paper.

Some said she’s a dyke, but he didn’t think so

and he liked her anyway – liked to make her laugh.

The rest were harder going.

The compositors and proof-readers

looked up at him with eyes of ruminants: carefully,

without movement. If something required scrutiny

there was a slow, elaborate shift of the shoulders. The stare.

Rennert and Sherwood were his team, in their cheap suits,

three-day shirts and stained ties,

keeping his straight on the city:

the organized crime, the stoolies, bent cops and politicians,

the ninety-six clubs, hash joints, card rooms, cathouses.

They knew the city from Griffith Park to the harbour at San Pedro,

from Pasadena to Malibu, Point Dume.

They smoked full-time, traded girls like baseball cards,

wore their hats tipped back,

had a bad word to say about everyone, told stories

even they didn’t believe.

And then there was Pike:

holding up the stacks of manuscript pages

and tapping them down on the desk to align them,

patting them straight at the tope and the sides.

There is more about all these people, especially Pike who is a snake and about the bums that he interviews, there is domesticity in his own life, illness and death, violent sometimes; but in his deeper being there is darkness and regret.

The book ends in Los Angeles in 1953. Robertson has covered pretty much everything that has happened, the Korean War, the HUAC, MacCarthy, elections and all sorts. Walker fumbles through it all, bowed down by memory and loss.

I have not got a shadow book for this post. I want you to read this book. I hope it makes it to the shortlist.

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Man Booker Longlist 2018/4

2018 BLL BurnsMilkman by Anna Burns: I had heard and read a lot about Milkman before actually reading the book, and nothing that I had heard or read prepared me for how dense it was. It is a first person narrative, set in an unnamed town, fully of unnamed but identified people.

The time is clearly Northern Ireland in the 1970s, the place maybe Belfast, but if so it is not entirely recognisable, there is no mention of the docks or the sea, for example. The narrator belongs to a fairly large family: ma, da (deceased), first brother, second brother (deceased), third brother and fourth brother (run away over the border); there are also sisters and first-brother-in-law and third brother-in-law and the “wee ones”, three younger sisters.  There are neighbours, the maybe-boyfriend, Somebody McSomebody (not the boyfriend), the milkman and Milkman.

It is a narrative that begins at the end and circles back to the same ending. There is violence, suspicion, betrayal, death (violent and accidental). There are those “over the water” who are in this city: the soldiers and others; there are those on the side of those “over the water” like the police. Then there are the informers and the renouncers – both sides have these, both “our side of the road” and those on “the other side of the road”. And there is a great deal of menace and rumour and gossip.

There is one shocking episode that is scarcely credible, but must be true, I fear. Partly because it would be hard to make it up and partly because if you did, there would be an outcry and a lawsuit pending. It concerns the killing of all the dogs and runs from page 93 through to page 100, it involves the British soldiers killing all the dogs because they barked and gave away their positions, then having killed all bar one, they left them with their throats cut in “the entry”, presumably one of the safe roads into the “our side”.

The narrator explains, digests, digresses, thinks and reads while she walks, generally novels written before the nineteenth century. She is aloof but also considered; she thinks a lot about being a maybe-girlfriend and whether or not she wants to join coupledom; her maybe-boyfriend has the same thoughts but until now they have never coincided at the same moment, so it hangs in there unresolved.

Then there is a rumour that she is going with Milkman; she isn’t, although she has met him – or rather he has sidled into her life in a less than straightforward manner. He draws up beside her in his van, but she will not get in; he runs beside her in the park and makes threatening remarks about maybe-boyfriend and then he “runs into her” after a French lesson, but she thinks he must have been waiting for her unseen. He upsets her, she half knows what he wants but is repulsed. He is a known renouncer, a known terrorist and he is married (she thinks). He appears to know a great deal about her, her family, her habits and her maybe-boyfriend.

The writing is dense in the sense that the paragraphs are immensely long, they represent her thinking and her way of relating this to an imaginary friend (the reader probably); it is not precisely stream-of-consciousness because it is also actually narrative, without it we could not possibly know what was going on. There are six chapters but there could equally be ten or five, the breaks come slightly arbitrarily though generally starting with encounters with Milkman or post-Milkman encounters when she is trying to ingest what has happened.

Certainly the writing captures explicitly the tension which must have prevailed everywhere in Northern Ireland at the time; the local rules which if broken could end in tar and feathers, knee-capping, beating or death; the kangaroo courts held in out of the way sheds or hutments; the curfew; the suspicion of neighbours, of “the others”; the surveillance. It must have been nearly intolerable and then to add to the mix the innuendo, the rumour and the gossip. This is all there on every page, so that you must stop and take a breather.

Then finally there is a beautiful love story which lifts the whole tenor of the novel into another plane; wonderfully and delightfully revealed in the last chapter. Sheer joy and relief!

Do I think this will make it to the shortlist? The answer is yes.

My shadow book is an out-and-out love story; a debut novel by Anne Youngson.

YoungsonMeet Me at the Museum is an epistolary novel.  Initially Tina Hopgood writes to a Professor Glob, the finder of the Tollund Man but he is no longer there, being as it were 104 had he still been around. But the Curator of the Silkeborg Museum writes back and there develops over a period of about a year and a bit, an intense friendship.

In tone it is not unlike 84, Charing Cross Road, an epistolary memoir.  Helen Hanff wrote to a bookseller in London at this address and over time they created a warm and rewarding relationship, though they were never to meet, as Frank Doel died before Helen Hanff ever came to Britain, their correspondence lasted over several decades.

This novel is more intense, as the letters go back and forth by email attachment.

It also reminds me a lot of Neil MacGregor’s History of the World in 100 Objects, because Anders Larsen, the curator (who is fictional) writes quite a lot in his letters about the Tollund Man and the artefacts that are found that relate to his time.

Tina Hopgood describes her life on an East Anglian farm and he describes his life as a curator and widower. Their letters gradually draw out more detail and become more intimate and then right at the crux Tina has to make a serious decision.

Will their relationship on paper survive, and will she go to meet him at the Museum?

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