Earlier this week, the shortlist of finalists selected to win the 2014 Man Booker Prize was released, and already it has managed to cause a stir in the literary world. This is the first time since the Prize was first awarded in 1969 that the competition has been open to all English-writing authors regardless of their nationality, as long as their work is published in England; up until September 2013 the prize was only available to writers in the Commonwealth of Nations, the Republic of Ireland or Zimbabwe. With a prize of £50,000 and guaranteed recognition both from the public as well as in formal literary circles, the Man Booker Prize is one of the world’s most exciting and richest literary prizes. The six books on the shortlist have been described as “strong” and “thought-provoking” by the Chair of Judges, AC Grayling, and from looking at the choices, making the final decision of who gets to win is sure to be problematic:
- To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, Joshua Ferris Who wrote it: Born in Illinois in 1974, Joshua Ferris is the author of two other successful novels, and was selected as one of The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 best contemporary authors in 2010.
What it’s about: An average but successful New York dentist, Paul O’Rourke, wants more out of his life and is puzzled when he finds that someone has randomly set up a Facebook and Twitter account in his name.
Why you should read it: Definitely one that seems to have made the judges and reviewers laugh, this is one to read for those who enjoy satirical narratives, particularly surrounding modern society and our overall dependence on social media.
- The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan
Who wrote it: Flanagan was born in Tasmania in 1961 and, recognised for his eagerness to tackle sensitive and unusual topics, is considered by many to be one of the finest Australian novelists of his generation. His father, a survivor of the Burma Death Railway, died the day Flanagan finished this novel.
What it’s about: The book is set against the construction of the Thailand-Burma Death Railway during the Second World War. We find surgeon, Dorrigo Evans, in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp, haunted by his love affair with his uncle’s young wife two years ago.
Why you should read it: One of the reviewers’ favourites to win, this book is challenging, complex and emotional. It examines an aspect of World War Two that is not widely covered in western literature, and with a love story at its heart, offers a unique and special reading experience.
- We are all Completely Beside Ourselves, Karen Joy Fowler
Who wrote it: Author of The Jane Austen Book Club, Fowler is a renowned and successful novelist. Born in Indiana in 1950, she has won the World Fantasy Award twice with two of her short story collections; Black Glass (1999) and What I Didn’t See (2011).
What it’s about: Rosemary, a college student, tells the story of her family with particular focus on her sister, Fern, who is no longer in her life.
Why you should read it: Don’t be fooled by how simple this novel seems; it is a piece of excellent story-telling with an underlying complexity and integral twist that its summary does not even hint at. Although it is a family-centric story, Fowler delves into serious themes and explores evocative questions, making this a book with many different layers.
- J, Howard Jacobson
Who wrote it: Born in Manchester in 1942, Howard Jacobson has already won the Booker Prize back in 2010 with his novel, The Finkler Question, making him the first man ever to have the possibility of winning it twice.
What it’s about: A satirical story set in Britain in the future after a catastrophe referred to as ‘What Happened, if it Happened’ has taken place.
Why you should read it: Reviewers have likened this to books such as Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, and 1984, by George Orwell, in terms of its style and subject matter. Definitely for those interested in dystopia or science fiction, with a flair for intelligently written and constructive narratives. Although slightly slow-paced and confusing in places, the further in you get the more rewarding the story becomes.
- The Lives of Others, Neel Mukherjee
Who wrote it: Born in 1970, Neel Mukherjee is an accomplished author from Calcutta. He won the Writer’s Guild of Great Britain award in 2010 for Best Fiction for his novel, A Life Apart, and was also shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.
What it’s about: A sweeping account of life in 1960’s Calcutta, focusing specifically on the secrets and rivalries within the Ghosh family.
Why you should read it: Another one for those who enjoy intelligent story-telling and novels with many layers. Although centred around the Ghosh family, Mukherjee integrates the political upheaval in Calcutta at the time seamlessly, making it an informative account of what life was likely to have been like for people at that time.
- How to be Both, Ali Smith
Who wrote it:Ali Smith was born in Inverness in 1962, and she has already been shortlisted for the Booker Prize twice before; Hotel World (2001), and The Accidental (2005).
What it’s about: This book comes in two versions with the same cover, but the main part is switched, literally splitting it into two halves. The novel focusses on two lives: a teenage girl in the present day dealing with uncontrollable grief, and a renaissance artist in the 1460’s.
Why you should read it: Unusual in its format and style, this is one for people who love reading for the experience as well as enjoyment. Smith is skilful as she weaves the lives of two very different characters together through words, art, themes and explorations of human nature. Another favourite to win from reviewers.
The winner of the Man Booker Prize 2014 will be announced on Tuesday 14th October. The Evans Review will review the winning book in full. Image Header Rights; Man Booker Prize 2014