The Many – Wyl Menmuir (Salt 2016) – A Man Booker Longlist Review

manbooker

menmuir

British author Wyl Menmuir has made the Booker longlist with his debut.  This short novel shows a very confident handling of mood and style.  In  a small fishing village strange things are occurring- the fish look sick and deformed due to some form of chemical pollution and an outsider has come to live in the long abandoned house of a villager lost at sea.

This is a very edgy novel which borders upon horror but is perhaps more of a study of loss and loneliness.  It is told using the viewpoint of two characters, Ethan, who has lost a friend and Timothy who comes with many questions into the village and moves into the dead man’s house.  He wants to find out more about the environment he is inhabiting but this information is not easy to come by.

I can appreciate the writing talent but I felt it was all a little at one level.  There wasn’t enough light with the shade for me and this haunting tale did not quite fully draw me in.  The mysteries within the novel are purposely left unresolved as I knew all along they would be.  I think congratulations are due to author and his publishers Salt for the longlist inclusion but I think this might be as far as Menmuir goes on this occasion.

threestars

The Many was published by Salt Publishing  in  June 2016

My Name Is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout – A Man Booker Longlist Review

manbooker

lucybarton

“…..I think of something Sarah Payne had said at the writing class in Arizona.  “You will only have one story”, she had said.  “You’ll write your one story many ways.  Don’t ever worry about story.  You have only one.”

This is the  fifth novel by American author, Elizabeth Strout.  She is most famous for “Olive Kitteridge” (2008), which I have not read but which recently gained a new lease of life following the multi-Emmy prize winning adaptation by HBO starring Frances McDormand.  It is a sparse tale, a well-written series of observations from the main character, a twice married author from a poverty-stricken background looking back on her life.

Lucy’s one story focuses on a nine week stay in a New York hospital in the mid 80’s as a result of complications after an appendectomy.  Her mother, who she has not seen for many years, comes to sit beside her bed.  The two, struggling through their difficult relationship swap incidents and memories of their past.  With the reality of their own past being too much to deal with the talk is often of people they knew distantly.  Lucy reflects on her childhood, her life at the time of her hospitalisation and on the years following this.  Much is understated and anyone wanting a full revelation of Lucy’s background will need to piece it together from the events described.  The tale moves quickly through short sections.  The only characters we really get to know is Lucy and her unpredictable, enigmatic and extremely bottled-up mother.  The city of New York has a part to play, the hospital is in the shadow of the Chrysler Building and the city swallows up the people who vanish from Lucy’s life.

It is a very quiet novel with the hushed calmness of the hospital dominating in its superficial way.  Like Lucy’s hospital room the calmness belies how much is going on under the surface.  It is a quick read and moments will no doubt linger but I wonder if it just a little too subdued to wow the Man Booker judges.  I would be pleased to see it on the shortlist but would be very surprised should it win.

Its length and the potential for open-ended discussion would make it a productive reading group choice.

fourstars

My Name Is Lucy Barton was published by Viking in 2016

The Sellout – Paul Beatty (Oneworld Publications 2016) – Man Booker Shortlist Review

manbooker

sellout

“And if you think about it, pretty much everything that made the twentieth century bearable was invented in a California garage: the Apple computer, the Boogie Board and gangster rap.”

Oneworld Publications are aiming to take the Man Booker Prize two years in a row after triumphing last year with Marlon James.  There can be said to be a number of similarities between that book and this – the African-American male author, the many cultural references that the British reader might struggle with, the mix of fact and fiction and both novels’ sheer edginess replete with words and images which may make the average reader feel uncomfortable. I’m not a huge fan of satire.  I feel for it to work well  you really need to know about the area being satirised (that’s why Margaret’s Thatcher’s favourite TV show was famously “Yes Prime Minister”).  Now I obviously do not have much awareness of Black American life in Los Angeles so this might not have been a good match. I say this but last year Paul Murray’s  satire on the Irish economy “The Mark & The Void” was my favourite new read so perhaps satire is something you get more into with age and experience as I really enjoyed this book too.

“The Sellout” is the main character (I’m not too sure why he’s considered a sellout) whose father talks down  suicidal African-Americans until he is shot by the Police.  This prompts the son to begin a process of reversing civil rights achievements beginning by redefining the boundaries of his neighbourhood that had become so notorious it was wiped off the map then introducing priority seating for whites on the buses and re-establishing segregated schools all as a way of improving lives.  When he unwittingly finds himself a slave-owner he falls foul of the law.  The satire is biting, there is little of the African-American existence which Beatty doesn’t have his characters comment upon and there are attacks on much of modern-day America.  I struggled through the Prologue but once I got my footing within the book and knew what was going on I really did begin to enjoy it.

An ex-child actor (from the real-life “Little Rascals” series) Hominy attaches himself to “The Sellout” when he takes on his father’s role and stops a suicide attempt.  Hominy is a great character seeking out the now-censored most racist of his film shorts because they contained his best acting.  The importance of The Little Rascals may not be appreciated by British readers as their history is complex.  These films were the first to portray black and white child actors as equals yet have been criticised for the stereotyping used in order to get laughs.

I think that like the Bob Marley assassination attempt themed “Brief History of Seven Killings” this may not appeal to the general reader and reading the “n” word so  frequently is difficult whatever the context but there is much to enjoy in this profane battering-ram of a novel.

The Sellout won the National Book Critic Circle Award for Fiction and has been shortlisted for the Wodehouse Prize for comic fiction.  It deserves a place on the Booker shortlist but the jury might opt for something very different from last year so would be an outside chance to scoop the prize.

Shortlist worthy? – Yes

Update – Sept 13th – Congratulations to Paul Beatty and Oneworld  for making the shortlist.

Update- October – He’s done it! Paul Beatty has won the Man Booker Prize 2016 with Oneworld making it two years in a row.  This was the first book of the longlist I read and although it did stick in my mind I did not think it was going to be the first past the post.  Congratulations!

fourstars

The Sellout was published by Oneworld in 2016.  Many thanks to the publishers for providing a review copy