Sampling the Man Booker Prize 2016 Longlist 

New books. New term. The Man Booker Prize 2016 Shortlist will be revealed tomorrow.

I wanted to challenge myself to speed-reading the long-list, pick out my shortlist and see how they compare.

The process isn’t especially thorough and is borne out of pragmatism. I only had the idea last week when I saw the end of the Proms coming to an end. There are thirteen novels on the long-list. Available time and little money dictated I base my judgment on Kindle samples.

This pragmatic solution may appear a little brutal. But, regardless of the prestige of the Man Booker Prize, these are books after all. If the author can’t hook you in the first few pages doesn’t that suggest it’s not a winner?

So, deploying all of the skills I’ve honed reviewing endless Eurovision songs over the years, here’s my gut reactions to the thirteen novels in the Man Booker Longlist.
Don’t think for a moment that I consider myself an expert, please.

The Many / Wyl Menmuir

Two words put me off this in the first two pages: wheelman and gunwale. I don’t like things set on boats in olden times. I’ve had to be brutal. And I’m going on gut instincts, you understand.

All That Man Is / David Szalay

I assumed from the synopsis that this novel was anti-men. I felt defensive before I’d even read the first line. I pressed on. I liked the punchiness of the language and the immediacy of the setting.Enticing.

Serious Sweet / A.L. Kennedy

I adore the opening page. It describes things so swiftly. I feel like I’m there. This is the first of a handful of present-day settings which not only puts me at ease but makes the prospect of what follows somehow more relevant.

Work Like Any Other / Virginia Reeves

I thought I would be interested in this. Early days of electricity. Twentieth century American history. That kind of thing. But by page three it all felt so distant, so yellow and dusty, so Sunday afternoon, that my attention sagged.

Hot Milk / Deborah Levy – Shortlist

I found this sharp, arresting, and funny in places. This is one book I want to read regardless of whether or not it gets shortlisted. Pretty sure it will get shortlisted.

Eileen / Ottessa Moshfegh – Shortlist

The opening of this arresting. It takes time to get accustomed to the voice of the narrator, the perspective and the judgment. I like the way that makes the opening of this novel jar. An intriguing start. Shortlist.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing / Madeleine Thien – Shortlist

I’m fascinated by the setting. Want it to be shortlisted on that basis, but fear it may not.

Hystopia/ David Means – Shortlist

Enthralling from the first sentence. I love it.

His Bloody Project / Graeme Macrae Burnet

Have always had a weakness for stories within stories. Definitely want to read this.

The North Water / Ian McGuire

Another novel seemingly set on a boat. I don’t like boats. I don’t feel at home there. Reading this feels like a struggle for me. Can’t engage.

My Name Is Lucy Barton / Elizabeth Strout – Shortlist

The prospect is tantalising: one visit – unexpected. Rich. Seemingly straightforward, but alluring. Evocative prose, almost journalistic. There’s a sense of panic to her writing. Gives off a whiff of an easy read. What am I missing?

The Schooldays of Jesus / J M Cotzee – Shortlist

I am fascinated by the premise. Arresting and eye-catching title. The prospect of an allegory scares me a little but the introduction helps reassure. Punchy, arresting and attention-grabbing opening. Dark, complex, and three-dimensional opening.

The Sellout / Paul Beatty*

Like the premise, but I’m nervous by the prospect of ‘absurdist’. Sounds like it could be hard work – my issue, not the author’s. Beatty’s prose has an urgency to it. An exhilerating read. It makes me laugh. But at the same as realising why I’m laughing I realise I’m going to need to have some stamina to get to the end of it.

* I missed off The Sellout when I first published this post. But, I had read the sample. What you read here are the notes after reading the sample before the shortlist was announced. 



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