Yesterday, I posted my review of the last of the 2011 shortlisted books for the Man Booker Prize, so it’s time for my feature where I decide whether the judges got it right. The 2011 shortlist offers a lot to like, although I found a bit to dislike in it, too.
It’s easy for me to dismiss one of the books. I did not like Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, an ironic, superviolent Western, at all.
I was a little more interested in Half-Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan’s dual time-frame story about how jealousy affects an American blues band hiding in Nazi-occupied Germany and Paris. However, I didn’t really like most of the characters and I wasn’t in love with the vernacular used to narrate the novel, which I believed was probably not historically accurate.
Snowdrops by A. D. Miller paints a chilling picture of life in post-Cold War Russia. I felt this was an engaging thriller and character study with a narrator made unreliable by his willful ignorance.
I was enchanted by the narrator of Stephen Kelman’s Pigeon English, a naive 11-year-old boy from Ghana, and the novel invoked in me a growing dread. However, I felt that the role of the pigeon didn’t really work.
Jamrach’s Menagerie just plain tells a fascinating story, about a 19th century boy who is rescued from poverty by a menagerie owner and who sails off on a mission to find a dragon. This novel features wonderful storytelling.
The winning novel was Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending. Barnes is a master of the unreliable narrator, and this novel is no exception. Through reading the diary of a friend who committed suicide, the narrator learns that everything he remembers about the key relationships in his life is wrong.
Although this time it was a tough decision, I have to agree with the judges. Barnes’s book is short but psychologically fascinating and complex. I would also pose that it is the novel that is the most literary of the shortlisted books. I strongly recommend some of the other books, however, particularly Jamrach’s Menagerie.