Not a secret I’m notorious for being a slave to the Bookers, pouncing on that Longlist the minute it comes out (almost literally) (literarily?) hoping to read all the eligible titles before the release of the Shortlist (to see if my picks match theirs) but this year, with the added stress of job hunting plus thises and thats of “real” life, I’ve hardly had time to think about it. I glanced over the list when it was released but that was that. I was interested but not INTERESTED.
Yes, I really just said that. Me, the BookerWhore. Even I may faint from shock and I already knew all this.
Five Star Billionaire Tash Aw (Fourth Estate)
We Need New Names NoViolet Bulawayo (Chatto & Windus)
The Luminaries Eleanor Catton (Granta)
The Marrying of Chani Kaufman Eve Harris (Sandstone Press)
The Kills Richard House (Picador)
The Lowland Jhumpa Lahiri (Bloomsbury)
Unexploded Alison MacLeod ( Hamish Hamilton)
TransAtlantic Colum McCann (Bloomsbury)
Almost English Charlotte Mendelson (Mantle)
A Tale for the Time Being Ruth Ozeki (Canongate)
The Spinning Heart Donal Ryan (Doubleday)
The Testament of Mary Colm Tóibín (Viking)
So, there it is.
Out of these I’ve read only Harvest by Jim Crace, which I reviewed then interviewed him for BookBrowse.com.
What a charming man!
Jim Crace is not just a writer of unparalleled skill but also a long-suffering gentleman who withstood my falling all over him, head over heels for his book, which is set during a purposely vague time somewhere in Middle Ages Britain. The agrarian culture is starting to give way to the wool trade, many tenant farmers kicked off the land they’d worked their entire lives and forced to roam until they found work elsewhere. And, with so many displaced at the same time, work is becoming scarce. Kind of like the present era, actually. Substitute the internet for the wool trade and it’s not far off.
This is a major shift in British history, one that will have a huge impact on its entire economy and politics as the rich get richer and the powerful attempt to keep the poor from rioting.
But Crace’s focus is very tight on this one, particular community, using it to represent “anyvillage” in this period of upheaval. They’re a very insular group, these villagers, born and raised together, marrying amongst themselves with no trust in strangers or the unfamiliar. At once a simple people they are also dangerous, their ignorance lending itself to irrational, paranoid delusions about things beyond their ken. Nor are they patient or reasonable people. The village is a powder keg waiting to explode.
At the center of the story is a man (unnamed) from “outside” who married into the community after growing up there, his father an employee at the manor. When his wife died he became the village pariah, blamed for everything that went wrong, distrusted all the more since he grew up a playmate of the current Master. The poor man had a very hard time of it.
His unique position as outsider – as well as a more rational, intelligent man – adds credence to his narration of the story. Growing up in the village he knew all that went on, being not “of them” lent him impartiality. Crace chose the ideal approach to this tale. It’s a stroke of brilliance, unsurprisingly, for a novelist with so much accomplishment.
When the book opens the village is preparing for the harvest and celebration that traditionally follows, once the work is done. It’s the most anticipated time of the year, when the crops are in and the tools put away. Not long after the harvest another outsider, a man hired to measure the land for its conversion to pasture, enters the picture. He’s suspected, naturally. The villagers, who can’t read or write, have no idea what he’s doing.
And then they learn the truth: their livelihood and homes are to be taken from them, suddenly and with little to no warning. The situation quickly degenerates into mayhem. And blood is spilled.
Short summary via Amazon:
On the morning after harvest, the inhabitants of a remote English village awaken looking forward to a hard-earned day of rest and feasting at their landowner’s table. But the sky is marred by two conspicuous columns of smoke, replacing pleasurable anticipation with alarm and suspicion.One smoke column is the result of an overnight fire that has damaged the master’s outbuildings. The second column rises from the wooded edge of the village, sent up by newcomers to announce their presence. In the minds of the wary villagers a mere coincidence of events appears to be unlikely, with violent confrontation looming as the unavoidable outcome. Meanwhile, another newcomer has recently been spotted taking careful notes and making drawings of the land. It is his presence more than any other that will threaten the village’s entire way of life.In effortless and tender prose, Jim Crace details the unraveling of a pastoral idyll in the wake of economic progress. His tale is timeless and unsettling, framed by a beautifully evoked world that will linger in your memory long after you finish reading.
Aside from having read The Harvest, I own a review copy of TransAtlantic. And that’s the sum total of my connection to any of these books. I feel very out of the loop this year; I’ve only heard of six authors and five books from the list. Supposedly this is the most diverse list yet. Maybe but I thought last year’s was. In any case, I’m hardly in any position to know, not that that stops me from my early speculation the winner will be one of these two:
Again, that’s very early speculation, based on almost complete ignorance. It’s how I make most of my life decisions and it’s given me ALL THIS. (You can’t see it, so the meaning’s pretty ambiguous. And this isn’t helping.) But I have successfully picked the Booker winner more than once. KEEP THIS IN MIND. Just because this year I chose the only two books I have any connection with doesn’t mean they won’t win. It’s unlikely but not impossible.
In any case, I have no time or money to even think of reading all the Longlisters (EVEN IF THE PUBLISHERS SENT ME REVIEW COPIES!!!!) – and not all are available here in the Colonies yet – so I’ll wait to see what the Shortlist brings. It’s due out September 10 (winner announced October 15). Maybe, MAYBE, I’ll tackle a couple titles that make it through the first round. If I can lay hands on them.
The Luminaries, for one, isn’t due to wash up on our shores until October 15 – THE DAY THE WINNER IS ANNOUNCED. That’s a little irritating. Though this is a British prize they could be a little more empathetic, for the sake of the rest of us. Would it kill them to care? Just a little? I could order the book from the UK – for an additional cost – but we’ll see if it makes the Shortlist, first.
May have to sit this one out, watching from the sidelines, rooting for Jim Crace, who claimed The Harvest will be his final book.
Or will it, after all?
P.S.: Here’s a list from GoodReads, speculating as to the full list of 150 eligible books from which the judges picked. Is it correct? I dunno but it’s interesting.
P.P.S: And here’s a blog participating in the reading of the nominated books. I’ll have to keep an eye on them…