Reading Summaries

2014 Man Booker Prize Shortlist

Man Booker 2014

Of the 13 titles long-listed for the 2014 Man Booker Prize only 6 captured my interest sufficiently to buy, pre-order or place on my wishlist. These were:

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Us by David Nicholls

The Dog by Joseph O’Neill

Orfeo by Richard Powers

How to be Both by Ali Smith

Let’s see how many of these made it to the shortlist….

The 2014 Man Booker Prize Shortlist

to rise again at a decent hourPaul O’Rourke, 40 year-old slightly curmudgeonly dentist, runs a thriving practice in New York. Yet he is discovering he needs more in his life than a steady income and the perfect mochaccino. But what?
As Paul tries to work out the meaning of life, a Facebook page and Twitter account appear in his name. What’s at first an outrageous violation of privacy soon becomes something more frightening: the possibility that the online “Paul” might be a better version of the man in the flesh. Who is doing this and will it cost Paul his sanity?
(Viking)

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the narrow road to the deep north
The Narrow Road to the Deep North is a love story unfolding over half a century between a doctor and his uncle’s wife.
Taking its title from one of the most famous books in Japanese literature, written by the great haiku poet Basho, Flanagan’s novel has as its heart one of the most infamous episodes of Japanese history, the construction of the Thailand-Burma Death Railway in World War II.
In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Death Railway, surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. Struggling to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from beatings, he receives a letter that will change his life forever.
(Chatto & Windus)

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we are all completely beside ourselvesAs a child, Rosemary used to talk all the time. So much so that her parents used to tell her to start in the middle if she wanted to tell a story. Now Rosemary has just started college and she barely talks at all. And she definitely doesn’t talk about her family. So we’re not going to tell you too much either: you’ll have to find out for yourself what it is that makes her unhappy family unlike any other. Rosemary is now an only child, but she used to have a sister the same age as her, and an older brother. Both are now gone – vanished from her life. But there’s something unique about Rosemary’s sister, Fern. So now she’s telling her story; a looping narrative that begins towards the end, and then goes back to the beginning. Twice.
(Serpent’s Tail)

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jSet in the future, a world where the past is a dangerous country, not to be talked about or visited, J is a love story of incomparable strangeness, both tender and terrifying.
Two people fall in love, not yet knowing where they have come from or where they are going. Kevern doesn’t know why his father always drew two fingers across his lips when he said a world starting with a J. It wasn’t then, and isn’t now, the time or place to be asking questions.
Ailinn too has grown up in the dark about who she was or where she came from. On their first date Kevern kisses the bruises under her eyes. He doesn’t ask who hurt her. Brutality has grown commonplace. They aren’t sure if they have fallen in love of their own accord, or whether they’ve been pushed into each other’s arms. But who would have pushed them, and why?
Hanging over the lives of all the characters in this novel is a momentous catastrophe – a past event shrouded in suspicion, denial and apology, now referred to as What Happened, If It Happened.
(Jonathan Cape)

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the lives of othersCalcutta, 1967. Unnoticed by his family, Supratik has become dangerously involved in extremist political activism. Compelled by an idealistic desire to change his life and the world around him, all he leaves behind before disappearing is this note…
The ageing patriarch and matriarch of his family, the Ghoshes, preside over their large household, unaware that beneath the barely ruffled surface of their lives the sands are shifting. More than poisonous rivalries among sisters-in-law, destructive secrets, and the implosion of the family business, this is a family unravelling as the society around it fractures. For this is a moment of turbulence, of inevitable and unstoppable change: the chasm between the generations, and between those who have and those who have not, has never been wider.
(Chatto & Windus)

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how to be both
How to be Both is a novel all about art’s versatility. Borrowing from painting’s fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it’s a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There’s a renaissance artist of the 1460s. There’s the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real – and all life’s givens get given a second chance.
(Hamish Hamilton)

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Previously entry was restricted to citizens of the Commonwealth. This year’s broadening of the eligibility criteria to all English language writers yielded 4 American authors included in the long-list, with 2 of those, Joshua Ferris and Karen Joy Fowler making it to the shortlist.

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Did your favourites make the cut?

Only 1 of my top 6 made it onto the shortlist – How to be Both by Ali Smith.

I’m not really that surprised so few of the titles that caught my interest are still in the game. My taste is often not aligned with that of literary panels. While I haven’t read my copy yet, I am surprised that David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks didn’t make it given it was on most people’s prediction lists.

I’ve heard rave reviews about Aussie author Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Although I personally need a break from war content at the moment, the patriot in me is pleased to see him still in the running for the prize.

The winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize will be announced on 14 October.