Good Lord, look at the time – it’s Booktober!!! October spawns two literary extravaganza monsters. The winner of the 2015 Man Booker Award is announced on October 14, and the shortlist of the US National Book Awards is revealed on October 16.
The Spinoff Review of Books will present rolling coverage of the world’s two most important book awards. A panel of experts are on standby, set to review, assess, discuss and illuminate the authors and books you need to know about.
The six novels shortlisted for the Man Booker are:
*A Brief History of Seven Killings, by Marlon James, an imagined oral biography set in Jamaica, in 1976, when Bob Marley was shot and nearly killed two days before the general election
* A Spool of Blue Thread, by the wondrous Anne Tyler, an author so heartfelt and prolific that she often brings out the snob in literary critics
* The Fishermen, by Chigozie Obioma, which Eleanor Catton called “awesome in the true sense of the word”; set in a small town in Nigeria, a family falls apart after a mad dude makes an evil prophecy
* Satin Island, by Tom McCarthy, drew critical praise the other day on Twitter from one of New Zealand’s best critics, Christchurch Press reporter Philip Matthews (“I liked it”); although the book sounds like some hideous intellectual parlour game, at least it’s short
*The Year of the Runaways, Sunjeev Sahota, traces an Indian family’s life in England, and was cursed with a rave notice (“All you can do is surrender, happily, to its power”) by one of the world’s worst critics, Salman Rushdie
* And the hot favourite, the literary sensation of the year, A Little Life by American author Hanya Yanagihara. Her 700-page epic will be reviewed shortly in the Spinoff Review of Books by Kiran Dass, once she recovers from its emotionally draining impact.
Yanagahira’s novel also features in the US National Book Award longlist. The 10 titles also include Did You Ever Have a Family, by Bill Clegg – the immediately fetching plot summary reads, “On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is completely devastated when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke – her entire family, all gone in a moment.”
The two most common themes in the longlist are natural disasters, and race. Welcome to Braggsville by T Geronimo Johnson (what a name!) is about a mock lynching of a black man. It’s probably not that fucking funny.
The American awards also recognise non-fiction. The subjects examined in the longlist include rain, Hawaii, Abraham Lincoln, natural disasters, and race; the strangest book appears to be The Soul of the Octopus, by Sy Montgomery, which apparently “explores the emotional and physical world of the octopus – a surprisingly complex, intelligent, and spirited creature – and the remarkable connections it makes with humans”.
Well, yes. Remember good old Paul the octopus, who accurately predicted quite a few results in the 2010 World Cup? Genuine efforts are being made to get him onboard our panel of experts in the countdown to the Booker.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.