The Booker Prize 2019 - Longlist Predictions

Saturday, 20 July 2019

In my mind, the Booker Prize has always been the pièce de résistance of the literary world.
Ishiguro, Atwood, McEwan, to win is to write your name on the list of literary giants that will be remembered across the centuries. To never, if the whim takes you, write a book again because having won the prize, you have achieved a seal of approval (a metaphorical finish line, if you will) that can never be beaten.
I do not why I have always placed it in esteem above the Pulitzer, or even the Nobel Prize for Literature (a symptom, probably, of the fact that I am British and therefore programmed to think all that we do, is superior to the actions of the rest of the world) but, to win the Booker has always had the place in my mind of being the ultimate achievement.
And, this carries on to the reader - to me, and my endless need to push my reading, my vocabulary and my comprehension. Because I have attempted, year after year, to read and truly understand the long-list and the eventual winner and I think, now, at the age of twenty-three, I may be finally getting somewhere.
And, because I have become more well-read and pretentious over the last few years, I think that I can claim (I have always been premature, I can admit to that) that this prize season, I might actually have some chance of predicting the long-list that will beguile and frustrate and escape me over the next few months.
I might.

Nickel Boys
Elwood Curtis has taken the words of Dr Martin Luther King to heart: he is as good as anyone. Abandoned by his parents, brought up by his loving, strict and clearsighted grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But given the time and the place, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy his future, and so Elwood arrives at The Nickel Academy, which claims to provide 'physical, intellectual and moral training' which will equip its inmates to become 'honorable and honest men'.
In reality, the Nickel Academy is a chamber of horrors, where physical, emotional and sexual abuse is rife, where corrupt officials and tradesmen do a brisk trade in supplies intended for the school, and where any boy who resists is likely to disappear 'out back'. Stunned to find himself in this vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold on to Dr King's ringing assertion, 'Throw us in jail, and we will still love you.' But Elwood's fellow inmate and new friend Turner thinks Elwood is naive and worse; the world is crooked, and the only way to survive is to emulate the cruelty and cynicism of their oppressors.
The tension between Elwood's idealism and Turner's skepticism leads to a decision which will have decades-long repercussions.


When All is Said
At the bar of a grand hotel in a small Irish town sits 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan. He's alone, as usual -though tonight is anything but. Pull up a stool and charge your glass, because Maurice is finally ready to tell his story.
Over the course of this evening, he will raise five toasts to the five people who have meant the most to him. Through these stories - of unspoken joy and regret, a secret tragedy kept hidden, a fierce love that never found its voice - the life of one man will be powerfully and poignantly laid bare.


This Brutal House
On the steps of New York's City Hall, five ageing Mothers sit in silent protest. They are the guardians of the vogue ball community - queer men who opened their hearts and homes to countless lost Children, providing safe spaces for them to explore their true selves.
Through epochs of city nightlife, from draconian to liberal, the Children have been going missing; their absences ignored by the authorities and uninvestigated by the police. In a final act of dissent the Mothers have come to pray: to expose their personal struggle beneath our age of protest, and commemorate their loss until justice is served.
Watching from City Hall's windows is city clerk, Teddy. Raised by the Mothers, he is now charged with brokering an uneasy truce.


Saltwater
When Lucy wins a place at university, she thinks London will unlock her future. It is a city alive with pop up bars, cool girls and neon lights illuminating the Thames at night. At least this is what Lucy expects, having grown up seemingly a world away in working-class Sunderland, amid legendary family stories of Irish immigrants and boarding houses, now-defunct ice rinks and an engagement ring at a fish market.
Yet Lucy's transition to a new life is more overwhelming than she ever expected. As she works long shifts to make ends meet and navigates chaotic parties from East London warehouses to South Kensington mansions, she still feels like an outsider among her fellow students. When things come to a head at her graduation, Lucy takes off for Ireland, seeking solace in her late grandfather's cottage and the wild landscape that surrounds it, wondering if she can piece together who she really is.


The Hiding Game
In 1922, Paul Beckermann arrives at the Bauhaus art school and is immediately seduced by both the charismatic teaching and his fellow students. Eccentric and alluring, the more time Paul spends with his new friends the closer they become, and the deeper he falls in love with the mesmerising Charlotte. But Paul is not the only one vying for her affections, and soon an insidious rivalry takes root.
As political tensions escalate in Germany, the Bauhaus finds itself under threat, and the group begins to disintegrate under the pressure of its own betrayals and love affairs. Decades later, in the wake of an unthinkable tragedy, Paul is haunted by a secret. When an old friend from the Bauhaus resurfaces, he must finally break his silence.


Where the Crawdads Sing
For years, rumors of the "Marsh Girl" have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life - until the unthinkable happens.


An Orchestra of Minorities
Umuahia, Nigeria. Chinonso, a young poultry farmer, sees a woman attempting to jump to her death from a highway bridge. Horrified by her recklessness, Chinonso joins her on the roadside and hurls two of his most prized chickens into the water below to demonstrate the severity of the fall. The woman, Ndali, is moved by his sacrifice.
Bonded by this strange night on the bridge, Chinonso and Ndali fall in love. But Ndali is from a wealthy family, and when they officially object to the union because he is uneducated, Chinonso sells most of his possessions to attend a small college in Cyprus. Once in Cyprus, he discovers that all is not what it seems. Furious at a world which continues to relegate him to the sidelines, Chinonso gets further and further away from his dream, from Ndali and the place he called home.


Turbulence
Twelve people on the move around planet Earth, twelve individual lives, each in turmoil, and each in some way touching the next.
In this nuanced and deeply moving sequence, David Szalay's diverse protagonists circumnavigate the world in twelve plane journeys, from London to Madrid, from Dakar to Sao Paulo, to Toronto, to Delhi, to Doha, en route to see lovers and parents, children and siblings, or nobody at all.
Along the way, Szalay deftly depicts the ripple effect that, knowingly or otherwise, a person's actions have on those around them, and invites us to consider our own place in the vast and delicately balanced network of human relationships that is the world we live in today.


On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family's history that began before he was born - a history whose epicentre is rooted in Vietnam - and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to the American moment, immersed as it is in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one's own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.


The Far Field
In the wake of her mother's death, Shalini, a privileged and restless young woman from Bangalore, sets out for a remote Himalayan village in the troubled northern region of Kashmir. Certain that the loss of her mother is somehow connected to the decade-old disappearance of Bashir Ahmed, a charming Kashmiri salesman who frequented her childhood home, she is determined to confront him. But upon her arrival, Shalini is brought face to face with Kashmir's politics, as well as the tangled history of the local family that takes her in. And when life in the village turns volatile and old hatreds threaten to erupt into violence, Shalini finds herself forced to make a series of choices that could hold dangerous repercussions for the very people she has come to love.


The Porpoise
A newborn baby is the sole survivor of a terrifying plane crash. She is raised in wealthy isolation by an overprotective father. She knows nothing of the rumours about a beautiful young woman, hidden from the world.
When a suitor visits, he understands far more than he should. Forced to run for his life, he escapes aboard The Porpoise, an assassin on his tail... So begins a wild adventure of a novel, damp with salt spray, blood and tears.
A novel that leaps from the modern era to ancient times; a novel that soars, and sails, and burns long and bright; a novel that almost drowns in grief yet swims ashore.
Pirates rampage, a princess wins a wrestler's hand, and ghost women with lampreys' teeth drag a man to hell - and in which the members of a shattered family, adrift in a violent world, journey towards a place called home.


Remembered
It is 1910 and Philadelphia is burning.
The last place Spring wants to be is in the rundown, coloured section of a hospital surrounded by the groans of sick people and the ghost of her dead sister. But as her son Edward lays dying, she has no other choice.
There're whispers that Edward drove a streetcar into a shop window. Some people think it was an accident, others claim that it was his fault, the police are certain that he was part of a darker agenda. Is he guilty? Can they find the truth?
All Spring knows is that time is running out. She has to tell him the story of how he came to be. With the help of her dead sister, newspaper clippings and reconstructed memories, she must find a way to get through to him. To shatter the silences that governed her life, she will do everything she can to lead him home.


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