About a month ago, the twelve long-listed books for the Man Booker Prize were winnowed down to the chosen six, the half-dozen coveted spots on the Shortlist for the prestigious fiction award. Tomorrow, October 16th, the winner will be announced – until then, however, let’s have a look at the candidates:
A medical thriller set in post-World War I, protagonist Zach Busner – a renegade psychiatrist escaping a failed therapeutic venture — arrives at a North London asylum and discovers a multitude of patients that have fallen victim to the encephalitis lethargica sleeping sickness. He endeavours to cure the comatose patients, with “unforeseen consequences.” An immaculate exercise in speculative fiction, as well as an exploration of the effects of an obscure endemic, brings Will Self’s oeuvre to the top six choices for the Man Booker prize.
A historical novel, set during the 1520’s in Britain, during the reign of the notorious Henry VIII, Bring Up the Bodies serves as a sequel to Mantel’s Wolf Hall, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2009. Both focus on Thomas Cromwell, whose humble origins do not hamper his rise, by the 1530’s, to a privileged seat at the monarch’s right side, as his Chief Minister. Cromwell supports Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn and his consequent rift with the Catholic Church, yet, as time goes on and Anne fails to produce the promised Tudor heir, he watches with fear as his king’s affections wander towards the reticent and plain-faced Jane Seymour. The implications of Henry’s inconstancy with wives — for himself, Cromwell, and England itself — are revealed in this carefully constructed, beautiful piece.
A fantastical contemporary novel, Levy’s work deals with the metaphysical; she explores the psychological dimensions of marital relations as well as making almost a case study of a group of disturbing and exceptional individuals. Set in an exclusive resort in the hills of Nice (France), the story juxtaposes various enigmatic personalities and has them interact – from seemingly normal Joe, on a vacation with his family, to the capricious Kitty Finch, a self-proclaimed botanist with fittingly green fingernails. Witty, calculated, and profound, it is a subtly enticing masterwork.
Set in post-World War II Malaysia, Yun Ling Teo, a Cambridge Law graduate, takes a break from prosecuting Japanese war criminals to explore Northern Malaysia, where she grew up as a child. There she meets the exiled gardener of the Emperor of Japan, Aritomo, and begins to learn his trade. Though initially wary of the Japanese gardener, she soon becomes enthralled by his skill and by the oasis that they have jointly created: the ‘Garden of Evening Mists’ is a peaceful haven within the violent maelstrom of guerrilla warfare in Northern Malaysia. Eng’s gently woven tale, infused with a hint of suspense and inundated in historical import, is well worthy of a place on the short list.
This contemplative piece follows Futh, a middle-aged man gone for a walking holiday to Germany to restore his spirits after a separation. During his week of trekking along the Rhine, he reminisces on his life and past relationships, especially those with his parents. After an emotionally weighty walk, he returns to his squalid hotel – the Hellhaus – and is shocked by what has transpired there in his absence. A mysterious and paced novel, The Lighthouse seems to draw the reader into the journey with Futh, slowly immersing the former into the mind of the latter and creating a deep rhythm of thought that is completely upended upon the return to Hellhaus.
Set in Old Bombay and spread across a timespan of thirty years, Narcopolis explores the seedy underbelly of Indian life in the 1970’s, painting a colourful if frightening picture of the hidden, black-market transactions – of drugs, human beings, and other illicit goods – that occur everywhere and yet remain unaddressed and unacknowledged. A multi-faceted story, this novel is an amalgam of emotion and event, a rollercoaster ride along black alleyways.
Six stories. Six big blocks of text, with a gamut of emotion between their covers. All eloquently written and all worthy of their place in the shortlist. Who will win? Who shall prevail?
For more information on the Man Booker Prize shortlisted books, visit the website here.