There can be little doubt that the Man Booker judges picked a real winner in awarding this year’s prize to Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders [London: Bloomsbury, 2017]. This is a highly original and beautifully written book.
There are two debut novels in the Man Booker shortlist this year and History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund [London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2017] is both powerful and beautifully written. The story is narrated by Madeline, looking back from her mid-thirties on a fascinating and out-of-the-ordinary Minnesota childhood. Her parents made their first home in a hippy commune and she was something of a loner in the school she went to, involving a hike through the woods to the road and the nearest township. It seems to be based on Spirit Lake, one of a chain of fishing lakes on the Ripple River in north Minnesota where summers are hot and humid, though short while winters are long and cold. Fridlund coveys a wonderful sense of place.
No one, neither Robinson Crusoe on his desert island nor Captain Bligh on his 4,000 mile voyage to safety in an open boat, has had such a life threatening adventure as Mark Watney in Andrew Weir’s accomplished novel, The Martian [London: Del Rey, 2014]. Mostly told in the first person log of the man who was left for dead by his five astronaut fellow crew men when their mission to the red planet had to be swiftly aborted in a dust storm. They saw him go down, pierced by the spike of a radio antenna and knew he couldn’t survive. Amazingly, they made it off the planet and set off on their long return voyage to Earth.
Paul Beatty’s hilariously funny, satirical novel The Sellout [London: Oneworld, 2016] has just won this year’s Man Booker Prize. The point of good satire is that it not only pokes absurd fun at its subject but by illuminating it from a completely different angle makes us review and revise our own ideas. Imagine a present-day black farmer in a district of Los Angeles who, unintended, becomes a slave owner but whose slave does little or no work. The farmer then sees the merits of reintroducing racial segregation. He creates a hoarding advertising a non-existent high quality private school on land opposite the low-achieving essentially non-white public school with the effect that that school rises to the looming challenge and becomes so good that white kids try to gain admission and are turned away! Paul Beatty has written a work of contemporary fiction that reveals greater truths and which stands comparison with Tristram Shandy and Animal Farm.