I’ve never been so enticed by a booker selection as I was with the 2018 shortlist, and so, I read them all (with the exception of Mars Room) and therefore, I now dare to talk about my favourites among them and who I think deserved to win.
Honestly, any of these books would make a worthy winner, given their ‘stylistic invention’ as one of the judges put it. And I agree, among the shortlisted is a book that has no paragraphs and does away with all names of characters and places. Another has trees as its protagonist. One is a novel written like poetry, another has done away with dialogues in quotation marks for free fluidity. And then there’s another where a slave soars high above his circumstances and lives a life of his choosing. All equally outlandish, equally unconventional!
What singles them out for me is that they all deal with darker themes, and yet hope shines through. They are annoyingly and endearingly human, they are personal, sometimes political, historical and one even environmental.
So, here in ascending order (because it’s fun) are my personal favourites among the five shortlisted booker selections of 2018 –
6. The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
I’ll read this one day, and maybe I’ll even like it, but for now I was not interested in the premise enough to pick it up so soon.
5. Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
Another re-telling a Greek myth from a woman’s point of view, this is a twist and turn of several storylines while being an exploration of a complicated mother-daughter relationship at its core.
The novel’s theme of inability to escape your fate is set right at its first sentence, which limits the scope of the novel. And I can’t tell whether that’s a good thing or not.
In the end, it was too messy for me to consider it the perfect read.
4. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
A work of historical fiction where history merely acts as the backdrop and fiction takes flight. Ultimately though it flies too high and doesn’t find a strong and steady grounding.
3. The Long Take by Robin Robertson
A novel written like a poem, this is truly a genre-defying, groundbreaking work reminding us that poetry is alive, well and most importantly, coherent.
The book indulges several themes, and that’s just fine but there’s way too many film and jazz references that made it difficult to keep a grasp on the narrative.
2. The Overstory by Richard Powers
What a perspective-shifting book!
A book about the science of trees in fun, eye-opening, mind-blowing facts. There’s so much knowledge of the natural world to soak up here that I’ll never look at trees the same way again.
This could just as easily have been my number one, but it’s too repetitive, and consequently too long for its own good.
1. Milkman by Anna Burns
I truly think this was the deserving winner of last year’s Booker Prize, let me tell you why!
Although this book’s no-paragraph style made it an excruciatingly slow read, but maybe that’s the whole point of reading. It was a great reminder to take things slow, savour every sentence, pay attention to detail, and immerse more deeply in the world of the book.
Come to think of it, we have become so habituated at being bombarded with a wide range of factual tidbits that we are, sadly, gradually forgetting how to sit back, contemplate, and make sense of these facts in cohesion to world events.
Anyway, Milkman, set in the time of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, details about a conflict I was previously unaware of.
The narrative crackles with a vivacious prose and amusing verbosity. It’s so dire and funny at the same time, that you have to stop and commend its mastery.
Then there’s that ending – unexpected, satisfying, a bit intriguing and completely off the beaten path.
Huh! That took a while!
Here’s hoping that the 2019 shortlist is just as incredible as 2018’s was!