Is it possible not to have a good year for books? Thankfully, I don’t think this has happened to me yet, so here is a list of the books I enjoyed the most in 2018.
I have read more non-fiction than ever this year, partly due to shadowing the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist in March and April which I hope to do again in 2019. To Be a Machine by Mark O’Connell won the official prize and was also our shadow panel winner – it’s a fun, informative and pretty terrifying book about transhumanism. , Yet while transhumanists are trying to avoid death at all costs, With the End in Mind by Kathryn Mannix explores the practical side of dying and what a “good” death can look like from her work as a palliative care consultant and this was a stand-out title for me this year. Another book I would happily press into the hands of everyone I meet is The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It’s Broken which is an eye-opening account of the inner workings of the criminal justice system in the United Kingdom. And Strangers Drowning by Larissa MacFarquhar is a book I am still thinking about regularly months after I finished it mostly because the stories of extreme do-gooders are actually more unsettling than uplifting in many cases. Continue reading
The winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize was announced last month. While ‘The Overstory’ by Richard Powers and ‘Washington Black’ by Esi Edugyan appeared to be the favourites to win among bloggers I follow, ‘Milkman’ by Anna Burns triumphed in the end. I’m undecided about whether or not to read it. There has been a lot of focus on the experimental prose style and the question of its “readability” with its unnamed characters and paragraphs without breaks. However, when chair of the judges Kwame Anthony Appiah said “I spend my time reading articles in the Journal of Philosophy so by my standards this is not too hard”, I wasn’t sure he really succeeded in selling it to a wider audience. On the other hand, it should be noted that the actual sales figures since Burns’ win tell a different story and it will be interesting to see how it is critically received in the long term. Do let me know what you think of ‘Milkman’ if you have read it. Continue reading
‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney tells the story of teenagers Marianne Sheridan and Connell Waldron who go to school together in the small rural town of Carricklea in the west of Ireland and later move to Dublin to study at Trinity College in the early 2010s. Marianne is a loner from a well-off family while Connell is popular at school and their romance is kept secret from their classmates. However, Marianne finds friends easily among their privileged contemporaries at university whereas Connell feels alienated, and this sudden reversal in their social status complicates their relationship. Continue reading
The opening chapter of ‘Snap’ by Belinda Bauer presents a chilling premise based on the unsolved murder of Marie Wilks. On a hot day in the summer of 1998, eleven-year-old Jack Bright is left in a broken-down car by the side of a motorway with his two younger sisters, Joy and Merry, while their pregnant mother, Eileen, goes in search of a telephone for help. However, she never returns and her body is eventually found stabbed to death.
Three years later and abandoned by their father who was unable to cope, Jack turns to burgling houses to provide for his sisters and escape being noticed by social services. On the other side of town, a young pregnant woman, Catherine While, discovers a knife next to her bed with a note that reads “I could have killed you” but she decides not to tell her husband about the break-in or report it to the police. Elsewhere, DS Reynolds who does everything by the book and DCI Marvel who takes a slightly more unorthodox approach towards detective work are investigating multiple burglaries and the identity of Eileen’s killer who still hasn’t been caught and are in a race against time to solve both mysteries. Continue reading
The Man Booker Prize longlist for 2018 has been announced today (officially this time – it seems it was accidentally leaked by the Guardian yesterday afternoon). The 13 books are:
Snap by Belinda Bauer
Milkman by Anna Burns
Sabrina by Nick Drnaso
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne
Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
The Overstory by Richard Powers
The Long Take by Robin Robertson
Normal People by Sally Rooney
From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan Continue reading
The Man Booker Prize longlist will be announced on Tuesday 24th July and the annual guessing game of “posh bingo” commences once again. When considering which books could make the cut, I have been thinking about predictions in terms of likely possibilities and my personal preferences – some I have already read, and some I haven’t. I doubt I will better my predictions last year in which I correctly guessed six out of the 13 “Man Booker dozen” longlisted titles including the eventual winner Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. As ever, I have no knowledge of which books have actually been submitted for consideration so my predictions could just as easily be entirely wrong this time.
I would be surprised if the longlist was as dominated by established authors as it was last year. However, Winter by Ali Smith remains a stand-out preference for me, even if the judges decide to plump for something different following Autumn being shortlisted just last year. Another possibility is The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst about a sex scandal involving students at Oxford University during the Blitz and the consequences this has for their families years down the line. Continue reading
The Man Booker Prize is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with a “best of the best” Golden Man Booker Prize due to be awarded next month. However, while the winning novels have often been met by a mixed response, many of the shortlisted and longlisted titles have been well received and in some cases go on to be better known than those taking the prize that year. So if the past winners don’t inspire you, then here is a selection of “the best of the rest” to consider.
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet – shortlisted in 2016, this is a brilliantly original historical crime novel which blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction with outstanding results. Published by Saraband, a small Scottish independent press, I doubt I would have discovered this if it hadn’t been for the publicity generated by the Man Booker Prize. Continue reading