The Man Booker Prize may be one of the English-speaking world’s best-known annual awards for fiction but are the books that make the final shortlist for the prize really the best novels of the year? As well as discussing the merits of the six books shortlisted for the prize in 2018, Sixth Formers and teachers who gathered in the Senior Library on 15th October for Harrodian’s own annual award discussion also found themselves debating the qualities that define a typical Man Booker winner.
As Senior Teacher of English, Mr McDowall pointed out in his introduction to the discussion, since the award began in 1969, Man Booker shortlists have been criticized in some years for containing too many books that were ‘too readable and popular’ in character and in other years for favouring novels that were ‘too serious and difficult’.
Man Booker shortlists have been criticized in some years for containing too many books that were ‘too readable and popular’ in character and in other years for favouring novels that were ‘too serious and difficult’.
Our Sixth Formers generally seemed to incline to the latter point of view. Asked to read The Overstory by Richard Powers, a book about ‘nine Americans whose unique life experiences with trees bring them together to address the destruction of forests’, Tom admitted he had struggled with the book’s ‘inaccessibility’. Beata was impressed with the vivid character of The Long Take, a story of a D Day veteran making his way in post-war America. But she found the book’s narrative, combining prose and poetry ‘fractured’ and difficult. Neha, who read The Milkman, a novel set amidst ‘the troubles’ in 1990s Belfast in which none of the characters is named and Cecilia, who reviewed The Mars Room, ‘a stream of consciousness’ novel about a woman imprisoned in an American gaol, both also had issues with the accessibility of their books.
The two teacher reviewers, Mr McDowall, who read Washington Black by Esi Edugyan and Head of English Miss Thomas who reviewed Everything Under by Daisy Johnson, were more impressed. Mr McDowall described Washington Black, the eponymous tale of a freed black slave who becomes an artist and scientist, as ‘a bit of a caper, and an odd read but one that’s full of good moments’. Miss Thomas meanwhile was bowled over by Daisy Johnson’s gripping reworking of the Oedipus myth Everything Under.
When asked if they thought they had read the winner, our reviewers were a little doubtful. Miss Thomas suspects that Everything Under is too much of a ‘really good read’ to impress the judges, but says she would be ‘delighted’ if it won. When the betting closed, the bookies' favourite was The Overstory at 5-2, with Washington Black at 3-1 and Everything Under, closing fast at 5-1. The winner is announced today (16th October).
All books on the Man Booker Prize 2018 shortlist are available to borrow from the Senior Library.