It’s the end of September, kids are back in school, and my mental countdown to Halloween is almost at an end. October not only brings the greatest global holiday of them all (in my opinion); it brings us the 2016 Man Booker Prize, i.e. ‘the best book of the year’.
So, here are the contenders (shortlisted books in bold):
J.M. Coetzee’s The Schooldays of Jesus
A.L. Kennedy’s Serious Sweet
Ian McGuire’s The North Water
David Means’ Hystopia
Wyl Menmuir’s The Many
Virginia Reeves’ Work Like Any Other
Elizabeth Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton
Paul Beatty’s The Sellout
Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen
Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk
Madeleine Thein’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing
David Szalay’s All That Man Is
Graeme Macrae Burnett’s His Bloody Project
In my completely uneducated and wholly amatuer opinion, the ‘best book of the year’ should be the book that really got under your skin, that really left an impression with you. Since thirteen books is a bit much for one review post, I’ll cover the stories that stood out for me, for better or for worse. Any books that I’ve left out you can assume were a solid ‘meh’.
This novel follows a black man who, having grown up with a father who beat him over the head with civil rights (literally and figuratively), has come to resent his own race. I wasn’t a fan at first; I thought it was way too absurd and a bit hammy. But it is a very sharp, harsh reflection of American culture and if I read it again, I reckon I’d find it far more insightful than I thought it was. It’s fresh and original enough to really make people think. Current political situation in mind, I think The Sellout has the best chance of winning.
For a book about a boring girl in a boring town doing a boring job, this novel surprised me. Eileen herself is a beautifully written character with so much depth. The first half was dull but this book had me go from slumped on my sofa to bolt upright, jaw dropping, with ONE SENTENCE. It builds up to Eileen meeting the wild Rebecca Saint John, and the tension leading up to the big reveal about Rebecca is a suspense masterclass. You have to wade through a lot to get to the real punch of the story but in my opinion, totally worth it. Sounds cheesy but books like this remind me why I love to read.
His Bloody Project
God damn. This book. I can usually finish a book pretty quickly – I finished our book club book Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children in about five hours – but this took me two weeks. Two whole weeks! I thought a crime thriller about a triple murder would be exciting but, with no chapters and a narrative that jumps from one place to another in random paragraphs, this book was a lot of work. Yes, by the time I got to the crime I was invested but more in a ‘please God let me finish this book so I can move on’ kind of a way.
My Name is Lucy Barton
This is a very contained, intrinsic story of a woman who is visited by her estranged mother while in hospital, all about the things they aren’t saying to each other. I’ve never read anything quite like it. It’s gentle and intimate and emotional on a very personal level. It felt less like a story about a character and more like Lucy Barton was an acquaintance I’d had for a very long time was finally telling me about her life and becoming a close friend in the process. Honestly, I’m devastated this isn’t in the shortlist. This is one truly exceptional novel.
The North Water
I’ll say this now: if you don’t have a strong stomach, don’t read The North Water. If you don’t care for gore or trauma: don’t read The North Water. If you’re triggered by literally anything ever, it will come up in The North Water. This novel is brutal and harsh and sickening. So I, of course, thought it was fantastic. A weird mix of The Revenant, Moby Dick and A Clockwork Orange, this novel follows Patrick Sumner as he joins a doomed whaling expedition with a reckless captain, rowdy crewmen, and a paedophile. Yep, that’s the plot. No spoilers either, that’s how this book starts. It’s a crime novel full of dramatic irony: you know who the criminal is and the tension builds because of that knowledge, rather than through the mystery of not knowing. Whether you’re as into destructive novels as I am or not, this is one that will definitely get under your skin.
For a TEENY TINY slip of a novel, The Many had more than any of the rest. We follow Timothy Buchannan as he moves to a fishing village he once visited with his girlfriend and tries to fit in. Surreal and eerie and disturbing and memorable, most importantly! This is what good writing is. To do so much with so few words needs real skill and talent as a writer. Not only should this have been in the shortlist, it should have won. My personal Man Booker Prize winner right here. Seriously, just read The Many. It will take you like 20 minutes.
‘Best book of the year’ is a big, big statement, and I definitely have different criteria to the Man Booker judges. Even if, come October 25th, I disagree with the winner they choose, I’ll be thankful that the longlist gave me some beautiful, imaginative, stand-out books to tide me over until
they finally realise I was right all along next year.
What’s the best book you’ve read this year? Tell us what you would have picked in the comments!