If I Gave the Award

Having reviewed 4321, the last of the Man Booker Prize shortlist for 2017, I find it is now time for my feature where I explore whether I think the judges got it right.

Sometimes, I will choose the most experimental book as my favorite, which in this case is a toss-up between Paul Auster’s 4321 and George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo. Well, really, of those two, Lincoln in the Bardo, the winning book for 2017, is most experimental, so let’s look at it first. With the conceit of the dead being a sort of combination chorus and driver of the plot, and moreover that the preoccupations of the dead manifest themselves physically, I found myself first amused and then annoyed. Ultimately, I found it a little tiresome, so this is not the book I would have picked.

I found 4321 interesting in concept and the story more or less absorbing, but I also thought it was at least 100 pages too long. Everything about it was verbose, and really, what is that interesting about adolescent boys that you would have to explore in detail their every thought and obsession?

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid is certainly timely, with its story of immigrants, but I felt it was too concept driven. It is not so much interested in the experience of immigrating itself than in the isolation after immigration. It also did not do much with its characters.

Ali Smith’s latest entry, Autumn, has Brexit as one of its central themes. It is also much harder to define. I found it interesting and intellectually challenging, but it did not stick with me like some of the other books.

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund, about a teenager who witnesses something she doesn’t understand, did stick with me more. I thought the novel was thought-provoking but also confusing and included a lot of things that didn’t pan out.

In case you didn’t figure it out, this time I’ve been going from my least favorite to my most favorite of the novels (well, not exactly, because I liked 4321 a little better than Exit West), so I end with what would have been my winner, Elmet by Fiona Mozley. It is deeply atmospheric and tells a compelling story. It may be the least experimental of the choices for 2017 (although History of Wolves isn’t really experimental either), but it resonated with me and has a distinctive narrative voice.


Eighth Anniversary! Top Ten Books of the Year!

It’s that time of year again, my blog anniversary and the post in which I pick the ten best books I’ve reviewed this year. As always, it’s a difficult choice. Basically, it usually comes down to the ten books that are most memorable to me.

This year, most of the books were historical novels. There are lots of good ones around lately, but also I think maybe I’ve been reading more of them. No nonfiction, I’m afraid, although I have read some good ones.

So, with no further ado, here they are, in order of my reviews:

  1. Crow Lake by Mary Lawson
  2. Golden Hill by Francis Spufford
  3. Minds of Winter by Ed O’Loughlin
  4. Transcription by Kate Atkinson
  5. The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley
  6. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
  7. Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
  8. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
  9. The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanigihara
  10. Milkman by Anna Burns