The 2015 Man Booker Longlist

The highly anticipated Man Booker magic is upon us!  Last week the 2015 Longlist was released and there are so many wonderful entries.  This year’s selection has many books of interest to me personally and anyone who reads the longlist before the prize is awarded is in for some spectacular reading.   Here is the 2015 longlist accompanied by blurbs from GoodReads:

Bill Clegg (US) – Did You Ever Have a Family (Jonathan Cape)

did you ever have a family by bill cleggThis book of dark secrets opens with a blaze. On the morning of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s house goes up in flames, destroying her entire family – her present, her past and her future. Fleeing from the carnage, stricken and alone, June finds herself in a motel room by the ocean, hundreds of miles from her Connecticut home, held captive by memories and the mistakes she has made with her only child, Lolly, and her partner, Luke.  In the turbulence of grief and gossip left in June’s wake we slowly make sense of the unimaginable. The novel is a gathering of voices, and each testimony has a new revelation about what led to the catastrophe – Luke’s alienated mother Lydia, the watchful motel owners, their cleaner Cissy, the teenage pothead who lives nearby – everyone touched by the tragedy finds themselves caught in the undertow, as their secret histories finally come to light.  Lit by the clarity of understanding that true sadness brings, Did You Ever Have a Family is an elegant, unforgettable story that reveals humanity at its worst and best, through loss and love, fracture and forgiveness. At the book’s heart is the idea of family – the ones we are born with and the ones we create – and the desire, in the face of everything, to go on living. (GoodReads)

Anne Enright (Ireland) – The Green Road (Jonathan Cape)

the green road by anne enrightSpanning thirty years and three continents, The Green Road tells the story of Rosaleen, matriarch of the Madigan family, and her four children.  Ardeevin, County Clare, Ireland. 1980. When her oldest brother Dan announces he will enter the priesthood, young Hanna watches her mother howl in agony and retreat to her room. In the years that follow, the Madigan children leave one by one: Dan for the frenzy of New York under the shadow of AIDS; Constance for a hospital in Limerick, where petty antics follow simple tragedy; Emmet for the backlands of Mali, where he learns the fragility of love and order; and Hanna for modern-day Dublin and the trials of her own motherhood. When Christmas Day reunites the children under one roof, each confronts the terrible weight of family ties and the journey that brought them home. The Green Road is a major work of fiction about the battles we wage for family, faith, and love. (GoodReads)

Marlon James (Jamaica) – A Brief History of Seven Killings (Oneworld Publications)

a brief history of seven killings by marlon jamesOn 3 December 1976, just weeks before the general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert to ease political tensions, seven gunmen from West Kingston stormed his house with machine guns blazing. Marley survived and went on to perform at the free concert, but the next day he left the country, and didn’t return for two years. Not a lot was recorded about the fate of the seven gunmen, but much has been said, whispered and sung about in the streets of West Kingston, with information surfacing at odd times, only to sink into rumour and misinformation.  Inspired by this near-mythic event, A Brief History of Seven Killings takes the form of an imagined oral biography, told by ghosts, witnesses, killers, members of parliament, drug dealers, conmen, beauty queens, FBI and CIA agents, reporters, journalists, and even Keith Richards’ drug dealer. Marlon James’s bold undertaking traverses strange landscapes and shady characters, as motivations are examined – and questions asked – in this compelling novel of monumental scope and ambition. (GoodReads)

Laila Lalami (US) – The Moor’s Account (Periscope, Garnet Publishing)

the moor's account by laila lalamiIn 1527 the Spanish conquistador Pánfilo de Narváez arrived on the coast of modern-day Florida with hundreds of settlers, and claimed the region for Spain. Almost immediately, the expedition was decimated by a combination of navigational errors, disease, starvation and fierce resistance from indigenous tribes. Within a year, only four survivors remained: three noblemen and a Moroccan slave called “Estebanico”.  The official record, set down after a reunion with Spanish forces in 1536, contains only the three freemen’s accounts. The fourth, to which the title of Laila Lalami’s masterful novel alludes, is Estebanico’s own.  Lalami gives us Estebanico as history never did: as Mustafa, the vibrant merchant from Azemmur forced into slavery and a new name, and reborn as the first black explorer of the Americas, discovering and being discovered by various tribes both hostile and compassionate.  In Estebanico’s telling, the survivors’ journey across great swathes of the New World transforms would-be conquerors into humble servants and fearful outcasts into faith healers. He remains ever-observant, resourceful and hopeful that he might one day find his way back to his family, even as he experiences an unexpected (if ambiguous) camaraderie with his masters.  The Moor’s Account illuminates the ways in which stories can transmigrate into history, and how storytelling can offer a chance for redemption, reinvention and survival. (GoodReads)

Tom McCarthy (UK) – Satin Island (Jonathan Cape)

satin island by tom mccarthyMeet U. – Corporate Anthropologist secreted in the basement of a large consultancy. U. spends his time toiling away at a great, epoch-defining public project which no one, least of all its own creators, understands. Besieged by data, confronted at every turn by the fact of his own redundancy, U. grows obsessed with the images – oil-spills, roller-bladers heading nowhere over streets that revolutionaries once tore up, zombies on parade – which the world and all its veil-like screens bombard him with on a daily basis.  Is there a plot at work behind the veil? Is it buffering a portal to the technological divine? Who killed the parachutist in the news? And what’s this got to do with South Pacific Cargo Cults? U.’s disconnected notes from underground in fact amount to an impassioned, integrated vision – of disintegration. Satin Island is a book that captures our out-of-joint times like no other. (GoodReads)

Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria) – The Fishermen (ONE, Pushkin Press)

the fishermen by chigozie obiomaIn a Nigerian town in the mid 1990’s, four brothers encounter a madman whose mystic prophecy of violence threatens the core of their close-knit family. Told from the point of view of nine year old Benjamin, the youngest of four brothers, THE FISHERMEN is the story of an unforgettable childhood in 1990’s Nigeria, in the small town of Akure. When their strict father has to travel to a distant city for work, the brothers take advantage of his extended absence to skip school and go fishing. At the ominous, forbidden nearby river, they meet a dangerous local madman who persuades the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings. What happens next is an almost mythic event whose impact-both tragic and redemptive-will transcend the lives and imaginations of its characters and its readers. Dazzling and viscerally powerful, The Fishermen never leaves Akure but the story it tells has enormous universal appeal. Seen through the prism of one family’s destiny, this is an essential novel about Africa with all of its contradictions-economic, political, and religious-and the epic beauty of its own culture. With this bold debut, Chigozie Obioma emerges as one of the most original new voices of modern African literature, echoing its older generation’s masterful storytelling with a contemporary fearlessness and purpose. (GoodReads)

Andrew O’Hagan (UK) – The Illuminations (Faber & Faber)

the illuminations by andrew o'haganHow much do we keep from the people we love? Why is the truth so often buried in secrets? Can we learn from the past or must we forget it? The Illuminations, Andrew O’Hagan’s fifth novel, is a beautiful, deeply charged story about love and memory, about modern war and the complications of fact.  Standing one evening at the window of her house by the sea, Anne Quirk sees a rabbit disappearing in the snow. Nobody remembers her now, but this elderly woman was in her youth a pioneer of British documentary photography. Her beloved grandson, Luke, now a captain with the Royal Western Fusiliers, is on a tour of duty in Afghanistan, part of a convoy taking equipment to the electricity plant at Kajaki. Only when Luke returns home to Scotland does Anne’s secret story begin to emerge, along with his, and they set out for an old guest house in Blackpool where she once kept a room. (GoodReads)

Marilynne Robinson (US) – Lila (Virago)

lila by marilynne robinsonLila, homeless and alone after years of roaming the countryside, steps inside a small-town Iowa church—the only available shelter from the rain—and ignites a romance and a debate that will reshape her life. She becomes the wife of a minister, John Ames, and begins a new existence while trying to make sense of the days of suffering that preceded her newfound security.  Neglected as a toddler, Lila was rescued by Doll, a canny young drifter, and brought up by her in a hardscrabble childhood. Together they crafted a life on the run, living hand-to-mouth with nothing but their sisterly bond and a ragged blade to protect them. But despite bouts of petty violence and moments of desperation, their shared life is laced with moments of joy and love. When Lila arrives in Gilead, she struggles to harmonize the life of her makeshift family and their days of hardship with the gentle Christian worldview of her husband that paradoxically judges those she loves. (GoodReads)

Anuradha Roy (India) – Sleeping on Jupiter (MacLehose Press, Quercus)

sleeping on jupiter by anuradha royA train stops at a railway station. A young woman jumps off. She has wild hair, sloppy clothes, a distracted air. She looks Indian, yet she is somehow not. The sudden violence of what happens next leaves the other passengers gasping.  The train terminates at Jarmuli, a temple town by the sea. Here, among pilgrims, priests and ashrams, three old women disembark only to encounter the girl once again. What is someone like her doing in this remote corner, which attracts only worshippers?  Over the next five days, the old women live out their long-planned dream of a holiday together; their temple guide finds ecstasy in forbidden love; and the girl is joined by a photographer battling his own demons.  The full force of the evil and violence beneath the serene surface of the town becomes evident when their lives overlap and collide. Unexpected connections are revealed between devotion and violence, friendship and fear, as Jarmuli is revealed as a place with a long, dark past that transforms all who encounter it.  This is a stark and unflinching novel by a spellbinding storyteller, about religion, love, and violence in the modern world. (GoodReads)

Sunjeev Sahota (UK) – The Year of the Runaways (Picador)

the year of the runaways by sunjeev sahotaThe Year of the Runaways tells of the bold dreams and daily struggles of an unlikely family thrown together by circumstance. Thirteen young men live in a house in Sheffield, each in flight from India and in desperate search of a new life. Tarlochan, a former rickshaw driver, will say nothing about his past in Bihar; and Avtar has a secret that binds him to protect the choatic Randeep. Randeep, in turn, has a visa-wife in a flat on the other side of town: a clever, devout woman whose cupboards are full of her husband’s clothes, in case the immigration men surprise her with a call.  Sweeping between India and England, and between childhood and the present day, Sunjeev Sahota’s generous, unforgettable novel is – as with Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance – a story of dignity in the face of adversity and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit. (GoodReads)

Anna Smaill (New Zealand) – The Chimes (Sceptre)

the chimes by anna smaillThe Chimes is set in a reimagined London, in a world where people cannot form new memories, and the written word has been forbidden and destroyed.  In the absence of both memory and writing is music.  In a world where the past is a mystery, each new day feels the same as the last, and before is blasphony, all appears lost. But Simon Wythern, a young man who arrives in London seeking the truth about what really happened to his parents, discovers he has a gift that could change all of this forever.  A stunning literary debut by poet and violinist Anna Smaill, The Chimes is a startlingly original work that combines beautiful, inventive prose with incredible imagination. (GoodReads)

Anne Tyler (US) – A Spool of Blue Thread (Chatto & Windus)

a spool of blue thread by anne tyler“It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon.” This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she fell in love with Red that day in July 1959. The whole family–their two daughters and two sons, their grandchildren, even their faithful old dog–is on the porch, listening contentedly as Abby tells the tale they have heard so many times before. And yet this gathering is different too: Abby and Red are growing older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them, and the fate of the house so lovingly built by Red’s father. Brimming with the luminous insight, humor, and compassion that are Anne Tyler’s hallmarks, this capacious novel takes us across three generations of the Whitshanks, their shared stories and long-held secrets, all the unguarded and richly lived moments that combine to define who and what they are as a family. (GoodReads)

Hanya Yanagihara (US) – A Little Life (Picador)

a little life by hanya yanagiharaWhen four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.  In rich and resplendent prose, Yanagihara has fashioned a tragic and transcendent hymn to brotherly love, a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark examination of the tyranny of memory and the limits of human endurance. (GoodReads)

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