The Man Booker Prize for Fiction shortlist was announced today; the two American books I have already reviewed on this blog. Here are brief descriptions (from www.amazon.ca) of all six finalists:
A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (Jamaica)
On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert to ease political tensions in Kingston, seven gunmen stormed the singer’s house, machine guns blazing. The attack wounded Marley, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Little was officially released about the gunmen, but much has been whispered, gossiped and sung about in the streets of West Kingston. Rumors abound regarding the assassins’ fates, and there are suspicions that the attack was politically motivated.
A Brief History of Seven Killings delves into that dangerous and unstable time in Jamaica’s history and beyond. James chronicles the lives of a host of characters – gunmen, drug dealers, one-night stands, CIA agents, even ghosts – over the course of thirty years as they roam the streets of 1970s Kingston, dominate the crack houses of 1980s New York, and ultimately reemerge into the radically altered Jamaica of the 1990s.
Satin Island by Tom McCarthy (Great Britain)
U. is a talented and uneasy figure currently pimping his skills to an elite consultancy in contemporary London. His employers advise everyone from big businesses to governments, and, to this end, expect their 'corporate anthropologist' to help decode and manipulate the world around them - all the more so now that a giant, epoch-defining project is in the offing.
Instead, U. spends his days procrastinating, meandering through endless buffer-zones of information and becoming obsessed by the images with which the world bombards him on a daily basis: oil spills, African traffic jams, roller-blade processions, zombie parades. Is there, U. wonders, a secret logic holding all these images together -- a codex that, once cracked, will unlock the master-meaning of our age? Might it have something to do with South Pacific Cargo Cults, or the dead parachutists in the news? Perhaps; perhaps not.
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria)
In 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 Cain and Abel-esque 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.
The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota (Great Britain)
This is a contemporary epic about a year in the life of a group of young illegal immigrants living and working together in the north of England. Three young men from very different backgrounds come together in a journey from India to England, where they hope to begin something new: to support their families; where they can, to build their future; to show their worth; to escape the past. They have almost no idea of what awaits them.
In a dilapidated shared house in Sheffield, Tarlochan, a former rickshaw driver, will say nothing about his life in Bihar. Avtar has a secret that binds him to the unpredictable Randeep. Randeep, in turn, has a visa-wife in a flat on the other side of town, whose cupboards are full of her husband's clothes in case the immigration men surprise her with a visit. She is Narinder, and her story is the most surprising of all.
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler (U.S.)
“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. The 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.
Note: I reviewed this book on August 2.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara (U.S.)
When 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.
Note: I reviewed this book on August 10.
The winner of the £50,000 prize will be announced on October 13.