The longlist for the Man Booker Prize 2018 is here and it’s anything but predictable. Barring a few exceptions like Michael Ondaatje – on the list for his novel Warlight – the list eschews literary heavyweights for newer voices and fresh formats. Belinda Bauer’s Snap is conspicuous for being a rare crime novel that could win the literary prize. But the real stand-out is Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina, an experimental telling of a woman’s disappearance, which is the first graphic novel in history to be in the running for the Man Booker Prize. The inclusion of a crime writer (Val McDermid) and a graphic novelist (Leanne Shapton) on the prize jury may have helped nudge these decisions. Apart from two of the novels on the longlist that haven’t been published yet – Sally Rooney’s Normal People and Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black – here is how the novels in the running begin:
Snap, Belinda Bauer
It was so hot in the car that the seats smelled as though they were melting. Jack was in shorts, and every time he moved his legs they sounded like Sellotape.
The windows were down, but no air moved; only small bugs whirred, with a sound like dry paper. Overhead hung a single frayed cloud, while an invisible jet drew a chalky line across the bright blue sky.
Sweat trickled down the back of Jack’s neck, and he cracked open the door.
“Don’t!” said Joy. ‘”Mum said stay!”
“I am staying,” he said. “Just trying to get cool.”
It was a quiet afternoon and there wasn’t much traffic, but every time a car passed, the old Toyota shook a little.
When a lorry passed, it shook a lot.
“Shut the door!” said Joy.
Jack shut the door and made a tutting sound. Joy was a drama queen. Nine years old and always bursting into tears or song or laughter. She usually got her own way.
“How long now?” she whined.
Jack looked at his watch. He’d got it last birthday when he’d turned eleven.
He’d asked for a PlayStation.
“Twenty minutes,” he said.
That was a lie. It was nearly an hour since the car had coughed and jerked and rolled to a crunchy halt on the hard shoulder of the southbound M5 motorway. That made it over half an hour since their mother had left them here to walk to an emergency phone.
Milkman, Anna Burns
The day Somebody McSomebody put a gun to my breast and called me a cat and threatened to shoot me was the same day the milkman died. He had been shot by one of the state hit squads and I did not care about the shooting of this man. Others did care though, and some were those who, in the parlance “knew me to see but not to speak to” and I was being talked about because there was a rumour started by them, or more likely my first brother-in-law, that I had been having an affair with this milkman and that I was eighteen and he was forty-one. I knew his age, not because he got shot and it was given by the media, but because there had been talk before this, for months before the shooting, by these people of the rumour, that forty-one and eighteen was disgusting, that he was married and not to be fooled by me for there were plenty of quiet, unnoticeable people who took a bit of watching.
In Our Mad And Furious City, Guy Gunaratne
See the four blocks rising behind the shop roofs, red shells and pointed arches pitched at the sky. I pick my pace up as I run through the market. Proper orphaned corner, this. Full of absent people stuck between bus stops and bookies. See them shuffling bodies. Lining up at cash machines and dole queues. Man only come around these Ends for a barber’s, canned food or like batteries, ennet. Nuttan more. Pure minor commerce. Any real money lands in spastic corners, in some bingo joint down near Wimpy sides or suttan. Don’t make no sense to me. Every time I run past this place I feel like raggo, blessed I never grew up in Estate proper.
South Block is the nearest block to my road so I head through the market and towards the gate. Smell hits me hard as I turn into the stalls. See carrots and lemons and cabbages in boxes, piles of coloured fruit stacked in blue crates. Shopkeepers putting out their plastic pap. Mobile phone parts and baby clothes. Kitchenware hung on coat hangers. Run past it all, dodging the stools and the old dears. Maintain my breathing-tho, keep a compact chest.
Everything Under, Daisy Johnson
The places we are born come back. They disguise themselves as migraines, stomach aches, insomnia. They are the way we sometimes wake falling, fumbling for the bed-side lamp, certain everything we have built has gone in the night. We become strangers to the places we are born. They would not recognise us but we would always recognise them. They are marrow to us; they are bred into us. If we were turned inside out there would be maps cut into the wrong side of our skin. Just so we could find our way back. Except, cut into the wrong side of my skin are not canals and train tracks and a boat, but always: you.
It is hard, even now, to know where to start. For you memory is not a line but a series of baffling circles, drawing in and then receding. At times I come close to violence. If you were the woman you were sixteen years ago I think I could do it: beat the truth clean out of you. Now it is not possible. You are too old to beat anything out of. The memories flash like broken wine glasses in the dark and then are gone.
The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner
Chain Night happens once a week on Thursdays. Once a week the defining moment for sixty women takes place. For some of the sixty, that defining moment happens over and over. For them it is routine. For me it happened only once. I was woken at two a.m. and shackled and counted, Romy Leslie Hall, inmate W3I4I59, and lined up with the others for an all-night ride up the valley.
As our bus exited the jail perimeter, I glued myself to the mesh-reinforced window to try to see the world. There wasn’t much to look at. Underpasses and on-ramps, dark, deserted boulevards. No one was on the street. We were passing through a moment in the night so remote that traffic lights had ceased to go from green to red and merely blinked a constant yellow. Another car came alongside. It had no lights. It surged past the bus, a dark thing with demonic energy. There was a girl on my unit in county who got life for nothing but driving. She wasn’t the shooter, she would tell anyone who’d listen. She wasn’t the shooter. All she did was drive the car. That was it. They’d used the licence plate reader technology. They had it on video surveillance. What they had was an image of the car, at night, moving along a street, first with lights on, and then with lights off. If the driver cuts the lights, that is premeditation. If the driver cuts the lights, it’s murder.
The Water Cure, Sophie Mackintosh
Once we have a father, but our father dies without us noticing.
It’s wrong to say that we don’t notice. We are just absorbed in ourselves, that afternoon when he dies. Unseasonable heat. We squabble, as usual. Mother comes out on the terrace and puts a stop to it by raising her hand, a swift motion against the sky. Then we spend some time lying down with the lengths of muslin over our faces, trying not to scream, and so he dies with none of us women bearing witness, none of us accompanying him.
It is possible we drove him away, that the energy escaped our bodies despite our attempts to stifle it and become a smog clinging around the house, the forest, the beach. That was where we last saw him. He put a towel on the ground and lay down parallel to the sea, flat on the sand. He was resting, letting sweat gather along his top lip, his bare head.
Warlight, Michael Ondattje
In 1945, our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals. We were living on a street in London called Ruvigny Gardens, and one morning either our mother or our father suggested that after breakfast the family have a talk, and they told us that they would be leaving us and going to Singapore for a year. Not too long, they said, but it would not be a brief trip either. We would of course be well cared for in their absence. I remember our father was sitting on one of those uncomfortable iron garden chairs as he broke the news, while our mother, in a summer dress just behind his shoulder, watched how we responded. After a while she took my sister Rachel’s hand and held it against her waist, as if she could give it warmth.
Neither Rachel nor I said a word. We stared at our father, who was expanding on the details of their flight on the new Avro Tudor I, a descendant of the Lancaster bomber, which could cruise at more than three hundred miles an hour. They would have to land and change planes at least twice before arriving at their destination. He explained he had been promoted to take over the Unilever office in Asia, a step up in his career. It would be good for us all.
The Overstory, Richard Powers
First there was nothing. Then there was everything.
Then, in a park above a western city after dusk, the air is raining messages.
A woman sits on the ground, leaning against a pine. Its bark presses hard against her back, as hard as life. Its needles scent the air and a force hums in the heart of the wood. Her ears tune down to the lowest frequencies. The tree is saying things, in words before words.
It says: Sun and water are questions endlessly worth answering.
It says: A good answer must be reinvented many times, from scratch.
It says: Every piece of earth needs a new way to grip it. There are more ways to branch than any cedar pencil will ever find. A thing can travel everywhere, just by holding still.
The woman does exactly that. Signals rain down around her like seeds.
Talk runs far afield tonight. The bends in the alders speak of long-ago disasters. Spikes of pale chinquapin flowers shake down their pollen; soon they will turn into spiny fruits. Poplars repeat the wind’s gossip. Persimmons and walnuts set out their bribes and rowans their blood-red clusters. Ancient oaks wave prophecies of future weather. The several hundred kinds of hawthorn laugh at the single name they’re forced to share. Laurels insist that even death is nothing to lose sleep over.
The Long Take, Robin Robertson
And there it was: the swell
and glitter of it like a standing wave
the fabled, smoking ruin, the new towers rising
through the blue,
the ranked array of ivory and gold, the glint,
the glamour of buried light
as the world turned round it
this autumn morning, all amazed.
And it stayed there, watching.
as they made towards it,
the truck-driver and the young man,
under pylons, wires, utility poles,
past warehouses, container parks,
deserted lots, between the long
oily marshes, landfill sites and swamps,
before slipping down
under the Hudson, and coming up
on the other side
to find a black wetness
of streets trashed and empty
and the city gone.
“Try the docks. They can always use men.”
It was in me, burning like a coal-seam fire. The road.
Back there in Broad Cove, on the island, it was just working the mines or the boats. Taking on the habit of old ones – the long stare out to sea – becoming like a thorn tree, twisted hard, to the shape of the wind, its grain following the grain of the weather’ cloth caps and tweed, ruddy, raw –boned faces, wet eyes, silences that lasted weeks; the women wringing red hands or dishcloths or the necks of chickens just to make more silence.
From A Low And Quiet Sea, Donal Ryan
Let me tell you something about trees. They speak to each other. Let me think what they must say. What could a tree have to say to a tree? Lots and lots. I bet they could talk forever. Some of them live for centuries. The things they must see, that must happen around them, the things they must hear. They speak to each other through tunnels that extend from their roots, opened in the earth by fungus, sending their messages cell by cell, with a patience that could only be possessed by a living thing that cannot move. It would be like me telling you a story by saying one word each day and I would give no more until the next day, no matter how you begged. You’ll have to have the patience of a tree, I’d say. Can you imagine how that would be? If a tree is starving, its neighbours will send it food. No one really knows how this can be, but it is. Nutrients will travel in the tunnel made of fungus from the roots of a healthy tree to its starving neighbour, even one of a different species. Trees live, like you and me, long lives, and they know things. They know the rule, the only one that’s real and must be kept. What’s the rule? You know. I’ve told you lots of times before. Be kind. Now sleep, my love, tomorrow will be long.
Sabrina, Nick Drnaso
Following from Nick Drnaso’s award-winning debut graphic novel Beverly, published in 2016, Sabrina, the only graphic novel to be longlisted for the Man Booker, is an eerie, incisive commentary on the present state of a world contaminated by exploitative news cycles, distortion of the truth and the disembodied human relationships and isolation of the digital age. Spurred by the disappearance of a young woman, the eponymous Sabrina, the characters of the novel find themselves grappling with the realities of a time that is harsh, unforgiving and hard to pin down as it frantically and unpredictably changes form.