I know I said I’d be back at the start of October…. but then Himself booked us a holiday. Not my usual sort of holiday where at least half the time is spent holed up somewhere cosy with book in hand, but one where every minute of every day is filled with stuff to see and do. So, realising that I was never going to make it, I decided to schedule a different post for October.
First then, my reaction to the shortlist announcement: I’m delighted to see Trees made it through, and to see Oh William! there too (if surprised), while even more surprised by the lack of After Sappho (in particular) and Trust. I was aware The Colony had quite the buzz about it, and managed to squeeze it in just before the shortlist announcement. I’ll admit that certain aspects of it felt like a Booker book, but overall I’m content it didn’t get through. I’m rather pleased to find many books I’ve yet to read have made it through to the short-list, so onward! 😀
Although the prize-winner will have been announced by the time this post gets published, I will honestly tell you my choice for the prize, regardless of outcome. On then to reviewing the remaining candidates…
The Colony – Audrey Magee
Lloyd, an English painter, travels in some considerable level of comfort to a small island off the west coast of Ireland, determined to paint the cliffs ever since he read about them. His peace is disturbed by a Masson, a Frenchman studying language, who is fiercely protection of the purity of language and the life of the few inhabitants. Descriptions of daily life on the island are punctuated with short reports of the killings during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Clearly a metaphor for colonialism, and how the Irish were (and a suggestion that they always will be) betrayed by the English.
My view: As another reviewer commented, there was a lot of mundane descriptions of tea and rabbit snaring, before we got to the heart of the matter. I found out it hadn’t made it through to the shortlist as I was reading, and had very mixed feelings about its winning credentials anyway.
Small Things Like These – Claire Keegan
Another Irish book, but with a totally different feel. Short in length, but long on restrained emotion. Bill – a hardworking family man – discovers one of what we now know as the Magdalene laundries in his town. The son of a woman whose employer supported her and provided them both with home, employment and education after she fell pregnant outside of marriage – Bill’s personal conflict is played out against a town allowing the Church to tell them how to live and who to judge.
My view: Simply beautiful. Moving without being maudlin. The perfect depiction of how the Church got away their behaviour until just a few decades ago. I would love to see this win, but I suspect – sadly – it will not.
Nightcrawling – Leila Mottley
Kiara – a 17 year-old black girl, living from hand-to-mouth, with her older brother Marcus who dreams of making it big as a rap artist. Meanwhile, Kiara gets her young neighbour to school, makes sure he’s cared for when his mother’s out of it or plain not there, and tries to get the rent paid. One night she drunkenly gets handsomely paid after having hasty sex outside a bar, which leads to a life she never wanted. Caught by the cops, she becomes yet one more young girl using her body to pay the bills, except the cops often don’t pay her. Then a cop kills himself, leaving behind a confession but, although it goes to grand jury, it never gets to trial.
My view: Based on a true story, this tale is both shocking and far too easy to believe. A powerful tale about living in poverty and the corruption of authority, told in an authentic first person voice. Well worthy of it’s place on the shortlist, but not the winner for me.
Treacle Walker – Alan Garner
Even shorter than Small Things Like These, this tale blends real life, folklore, the concept of time and comic books. Joe Coppock meets Treacle Walker, a rag and bone man, gets a magic cream for his lazy eye and starts to see things differently. The language throughout is unusual – suggestions I’ve read are that its colloquial and local to Cheshire where the author lives – but for me they were simply nonsense words which added nothing to the experience. Maybe if it had been longer, I’d have got my ear attuned….
My view: I’m afraid this one didn’t do it for me at all. I neither understood it, nor found it charming – simply odd and perplexing. I suspect knowing about folklore would help immeasurably in understanding, and in finding pleasure in it. That said, the judges valued enough to put it on the shortlist and it’s certainly unusual enough to be a winner – if not my choice for the prize.
Glory – NoViolet Bulawayo
A blend of Animal Farm and Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe were my first thoughts. This is a tale of a nation who, having overthrown their colonial rulers, ended up with one of their own – a tyrant who fixed elections, and used extreme violence and brutality to remain in power. Finally he too is ousted, when his evident dementia emboldens his wife to make a play for power – and in this most patriarchal of continents, that cannot be tolerated. Except in the the age old way of Africa – it turns out to be same story, different cast.
My view: Although the language positively vibrated with authenticity, I really struggled reading this one. While the subject matter isn’t an easy one, it wasn’t that. Maybe it’s the Titanic effect – when you know it’s not going to end well, no matter how much you hope. And those of us who love Africa do always have hope. All that said, it didn’t feel it had that X-factor winning ingredient to me.
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida – Shehan Karunatilaka
Imagine finding yourself in some sort of processing centre where they keep insisting that you’ve died, despite you having no memory whatsoever of your death. Sure, you’re a photographer who takes pictures of the conflict ravaging your country, and you have a secret stash of dynamite shots which no-one knows about, so there’s plenty of candidates for who might have done the deed. You also learn that you have to decide what to do next within 7 moons, or be left to wander forever as a ghost or ghoul or some other afterlife being. You’re determined to get that secret stash out in public, and to find out how your life ended. As all this is taking place in Sri Lanka during a particularly unlovely time in its history, you probably don’t expect to find humour – dark to be sure – but humour nevertheless.
My view: When I first opened it, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind, so it ended up being the final book I read. But, on my second try, I was immediately engaged. I quickly found myself racing along with Maali, becoming involved, rooting for him and for Jaki (I always suspected that DD was too much a chip off the parental block). I felt it had decided winning potential, even though I didn’t get long to think about it, having finished it right up against the deadline of the winner being announced.
Maps of our Spectacular Bodies – Maddie Mortimer
When I say the previous book was the last one, I mean the last one I read before the prize winner was announced. Unfortunately, this long-lister didn’t make it through to the short-list, and I’m afraid I never made the time to read it.
I like the concept, so will probably get to read it sometime – especially as it’s already on my Kindle. But it remaining unread, means I did not complete my Readathon this year.
My favourite this year was Small Things like These; indeed it was the only book I gave the full 5-stars to. That said, there was a lot else going on in my world, which probably kept me from fully engaged. Or perhaps I’ve finally reached the end of my Booker love affair?
As to my choice for the prize – I felt torn between the eventual winner The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida and The Trees, although I suspected it might turn out to be Treacle Walker.
So there you have it. I don’t think I’ll do another one of these for a while – but never say never eh? 😉
© Debra Carey, 2022