Read To Win

A reader’s guide to the Man Booker Prize 2016 longlist

Literary, yes, but these works of fiction represent different genres.

There aren’t any Indians or even Asians on the list. Which means that none of the 13 books longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016 may have made it to Indian bookstores yet.

The Sellout, Paul Beatty
Beatty is an author and poet who received an MFA from Brooklyn College and an MA in Psychology from Boston University. In 1990, he was named the first Grand Poetry Slam Champion of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. He has also edited an anthology of African-American humour, titled Hokum.

The Sellout, Beatty’s fourth comic novel, is a satirical work about a character who sets out to reinstate slavery and segregate the local high school in a fictional neighbourhood in Los Angeles.

“If not a classic, The Sellout is destined to be a ­really good cult jam. It’s a post-soul ­parody, trying to feel more like the skits between songs than the song itself. And Beatty, a little like your daddy’s radio, mostly skips hip-hop, reckoning more with life before hip-hop went global,” says a review in The New York Times.

His Bloody Project, Graeme Macrae Burnet

Burnet studied English Literature at Glasgow University, taught for a few years in France, the Czech Republic and Portugal, and got an M Litt in International Security Studies at St Andrews University. His first book, The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau, was published in 2014.

His Bloody Project is a crime thriller set in “a remote northwestern crofting community in 1869”, where a young man named Roderick Macrae is arrested for a grisly triple murder.

A review in the Daily Express says that the novel is “...a truly ingenious thriller as confusingly multi-layered as an Escher staircase”.

The Schooldays of Jesus, JM Coetzee
Coetzee, who has already won two Booker prizes and the Nobel Prize for Literature, is on the list for his sequel to The Childhood of Jesus.

The Schooldays of Jesus is an allegorical tale which follows David, a young boy who fled with his new guardians Simón and Inés at the end of the last book, into his new life with them in the town of Estrella. David enrolled into an Academy of Dance, where he “learns how to call down the numbers from the sky,” but also “make troubling discoveries about what grown-ups are capable of.”

The Irish Times says of Coetzee and this book in particular: “He is a proven master with an increasingly wilful streak...While it is always dangerous to push an as yet unpublished work, in the case of Coetzee, this could be a book of the year, never mind an expected contender.”

Serious Sweet, AL Kennedy
Kennedy is a Scottish writer of fiction and nonfiction, and a stand-up comedian. She is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Warwick.

Serious Sweet is Kennedy’s eighth novel. It is a love story set in 2014 in London, and follows two characters – 59-year-old divorcee Jon Sigurdsson and 45-year-old accountant Meg Williams – over 24 hours in the city.

According to a review in The Times, “AL Kennedy shakes her city until the right atoms collide. She stands back to give a picture of the whole of London on one day, and then suddenly swoops down to pick up a tiny detail.”

Hot Milk, Deborah Levy
Levy is a British playwright, poet and novelist whose 2012 book, Swimming Home, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Her work has been staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Hot Milk is Levy’s sixth novel, and follows the story of a mother and daughter who travel to a Spanish village in search of “medical advice and salvation.” The mother suffers from an illness which leaves her wheelchair-bound, while her daughter, Sofia, oversees her treatment while simultaneously trying to understand the illness.

A review in The Guardian says of the book: “Hot Milk is a powerful novel of the interior life, which Levy creates with a vividness that recalls Virginia Woolf.”

The North Water, Ian McGuire
Ian McGuire is the co-founder and co-director of the University of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing. His short stories have appeared in the Paris Review and the Chicago Review. The North Water, his second novel, is about a 19th century whaling ship which “sets sail for the Arctic with a killer aboard.”

A review in The Independent says the novel “resembles a particularly gruesome Grand Guignol, stuffed to the gills with scenes of death, violence and depravity,” adding that it makes the Leonardo DiCaprio starrer The Revenant look like “something out of A A Milne”.

Hystopia, David Means
Means is an American short-story writer and novelist. He has already published four critically-acclaimed collections of short stories, but Hystopia is his first novel.

The novel is set in an alternative version of 1970s USA, in which John F Kennedy was not assassinated but elected for a third presidential term after surviving multiple assassination attempts.

“In Hystopia, Vietnam grinds on and on at Kennedy’s command and has been stripped of all elements of geopolitical strategy or significance, however misguided or trumped up. The novel is set entirely in the state of Michigan, and while many of its characters are veterans psychologically swamped by the horrors they endured or perpetrated in the war, no one bothers to speak of why,” says a review in the Guardian.

The Many, Wyl Menmuir
Menmuir is an author, editor and literacy consultant who was born in Stockport in 1979 and lives in Cornwall with his wife and two children. The Many is his debut novel, one of four first novels on the longlist.

It follows Timothy Buchanan as he buys an abandoned house in an isolated village on the coast. In the process of renovating the house and trying to find out more about its past owner, Timothy faces more and more resistance and hostility from the villagers.

The Many unfolds like an unsettling dream, shifting illogically, asking the reader to accept leaps from reality to what seems like it may be fantasy...Its portrayal of a community left behind by technology and bureaucracy, suspicious of the threat represented by 'outsiders', is recognisable and timely,” says a review on Learn This Phrase.

Eileen, Ottessa Moshfegh
Moshfegh is an American author. She has had several stories published by The Paris Review. Moshfegh holds an MFA from Brown University. Eileen is her debut novel. The book has already received the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for this year.

Eileen Dunlop is the eponymous protagonist of the novel. She works at a boys’ prison outside of Boston in the early 1960s, spending her days taking care of her alcoholic father, her nights shoplifting and dreaming of escape. She develops a friendship with Rebecca Saint John, a new lawyer at the prison, and gets drawn into “a very strange crime”.

“As an evocation of physical and psychological squalor, Eileen is original, courageous and masterful,” says a Guardian review.

Work Like Any Other, Virginia Reeves
Reeves is a graduate of the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. Originally from Montana, she is now based in Austin.

Work Like Any Other is Reeves’ debut novel. It is set in rural Alabama in the 1920s, and follows the story of an electricity engineer, Roscoe, who must reckon with his imprisonment for manslaughter after a young man is electrocuted by one of the illegal power lines that Roscoe has built.

“Reeves writes with incredibly intelligent compassion, and in Roscoe Martin has created an extraordinary man who more than earns his place among the complicated population of the literary South. Thick with dread and beauty, this is a stunning chronicle of a time, a place, and a mind,” writes Fiona MacFarlane, author of The Night Guest.

My Name Is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Strout
Strout is an American novelist, short story writer and academic. She received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Olive Kitteridge, a collection of connected short stories. My Name Is Lucy Barton is the story of Lucy, whose estranged mother starts visiting her at the hospital, where Lucy is recovering from an operation.

“A short novel about love, particularly the complicated love between mothers and daughters, but also simpler, more sudden bonds…It evokes these connections in a style so spare, so pure and so profound the book almost seems to be a kind of scripture or sutra, if a very down-to-earth and unpretentious one,” says a Newsday review.

All That Man Is, David Szalay

Szalay is an English writer who won the Betty Trask Award and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for his debut novel. He has been named one of The Telegraph’s Top 20 British Writers under 40 and Granta’s 2013 list of the Best of Young British Novelists.

All That Man Is, Szalay’s fourth novel, is about nine men, each of them “at a different stage in life...away from home, and...striving – in the suburbs of Prague, in an over-developed Alpine village, beside a Belgian motorway, in a crap Cypriot hotel – to understand just what it means to be alive, here and now.”

“There is everything to relish about this intelligent, moving, thoroughly European search for the meaning of life,” says a review in The Times.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Madeleine Thien
A Canadian novelist and short story writer, Thien was awarded the Canadian Authors Association Air Canada Award for most promising Canadian writer under age 30 in 2001. For five years, she was part of the international faculty of the MFA programme at the City University of Hong Kong, and subsequently wrote about its shutdown and attacks on freedom of speech in Hong Kong.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing is set in China. It tells the story of two generations of an extended family living through two major moments in Chinese history: Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the mid-20th century and the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

“This is a moving and extraordinary evocation of the 20th-century tragedy of China, and deserves to cement Thien’s reputation as an important and compelling writer,” says a Guardian review.

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