Are you interested in high quality literary fiction? Do you have trouble figuring out the best of the best in literary fiction? You’re in luck: the Man Booker Prize committee has just announced the Man Booker Dozen, also known as the Long List of books eligible for the prize, and we have most of those books right here at the Field Library (unfortunately, some of the books on the long list haven’t even been published in the United States yet, so none of us can read them in this country).
Start with The Green Road by Anne Enright. She won the Booker prize in 2007 for her book The Gathering. This book is about the reunion of an Irish family from all corners of the world at the request of their dying matriarch, and has all the drama and emotion you’d expect from that situation, with Enright’s deep sympathy for and understanding of all the characters.
A very different book is A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James. Widely listed among the best books of 2014, this book takes the reader to Jamaica in 1976, when a group of gunmen broke into the home of famous Reggae artist, Bob Marley, attacking and nearly killing him. The book spans decades and follows drug dealers, journalists, killers and ghosts and raises issues of justice and retribution, good and evil, politics and fate.
If your literary tastes run more to fiction set in a more remote past, try The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami, also on the Long List. Focusing on the life and adventures of a Moroccan slave who became the first African explorer of America in the early 16th century, The Moor’s Account gives us the voice of a man whose story has been elided from the official history, but who has a different perspective on American history and colonialism.
Demonstrating that excellent literary fiction can come in many different forms, Satin Island, by Tom McCarthy, is also being considered for the Booker Prize. Unlike the others in this list, Satin Island doesn’t pretend to be realistic fiction, but a surrealistic, possibly speculative fictional and very odd look at a world similar to our present one. The book is written as a collection of musings, anecdotes and attempts by the main character (known as U) to write The Great Report, amid overwhelming layers of data and information pouring into him from the world around him.
Chigozie Obioma’s book, The Fishermen, is set in Nigeria in the 1990’s, beginning as a group of four brothers in a small town encounters a local madman who persuades them that the oldest of the brothers will be killed by one of his siblings. The prophecy takes on a sinister significance in the family and the narrator, the youngest brother, brings the family as well as the culture and the politics of Nigeria to vivid life.
Lila, by Marilynne Robinson, is a sort of sequel to her Pulitzer Prize winning (and much loved) Gilead. The main character, Lila, has spent her early years wandering the world, all but feral, and when she finds her way to the Iowa town of Gilead and meets the much older minister, John Ames, she slowly begins to create a new life for herself, struggling with the vast distances between the suspicion and wariness her early life taught her and the Christian faith of her new husband. Robinson takes on issues of faith and morality without heavy-handedness or dogmatism, here as in her previous novels set in Gilead.
And finally, we have Anne Tyler’s latest, A Spool of Blue Thread, also on the long list for the prize. Anyone familiar with Anne Tyler’s work will anticipate some of the common themes here: the setting of Baltimore, the focus on the ins and outs of family life, the attention to detail, the subtle humor, the beauty of her language. This story spans generations in the lives of the Whitshank family, their lives in the same house in Baltimore, the secrets they keep and have kept from each other and from themselves, and the ties that hold them together.
If you’re looking for high quality literary fiction, or if you want to handicap the Booker Prize short list (you’re going to have a little trouble there since there are other books that have yet to be published in the US on the long list), take a look at the selections here at the Field, and enjoy!