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8 September 2017

The New Statesman’s reviews of the 2017 Man Booker longlist

Read what our critics thought of the contenders.

By Sanjana Varghese

The 2017 Man Booker Prize shortlist will be announced on Wednesday 13 September. Ahead of its release, here are the New Statesman critics on the longlisted books:

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

“And so Auster, in his first novel in seven years, presents the reader with an Everyman, Ferguson-who-is-not-Ferguson, not the man who stepped off the Empress of China but his grandson, Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the cranky protagonist and hero of this tale. At its best, 4 3 2 1 is a full immersion in Ferguson’s consciousness, which, perhaps, is a consciousness not too far removed from Auster’s. His protagonist’s youth is wonderfully, vividly conveyed. Even if you don’t care about baseball, you’ll come to care about it because Ferguson does… Auster builds a world of heartfelt, lived-in detail.” Erica Wagner

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry

“As a historical narrative told by a semi- literate protagonist raking over his past, Days Without End, recently shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award, seems at first glance to stick to a template that Barry used previously in The Secret Scripture (2008) and On Canaan’s Side (2011). This time, however, he checks his instinctive facility for figurative language; we hear the voice of the narrator, McNulty, more than the voice of the author, who further indulges a new-found ascetic streak by not shaping the torrid events of the novel into much of a plot.” Anthony Cummins

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History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

“The coming-of-age tale is set in rural Minnesota and narrated in retrospect, focusing largely on the narrator’s teenage self… The result is a chilling meditation on the challenges of bearing witness, and a novel full of arresting detail: from the yellow canines of Linda’s predatory teacher to a vision of rural poverty as ‘a pile of army-issue sleeping bags that smelled of mildew and smoke’… In revisiting the themes of Lopez’s text, Fridlund has thus created one of the most intelligent and poetic novels of the year.” India Bourke

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

“Along with globalisation’s brutal consequences and the corresponding hyperbolic nationalism, this is prime territory for the celebrated transnational author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Giving neither year nor country, Exit West opens on the cusp of two changes: the pair’s burgeoning relationship and the onset of a bloody, internecine war. The timorous Saeed, with a good education and a job at an advertising agency, lives amicably with his parents; Nadia’s family severed all ties when she took independent lodgings and employment at an insurance company. But their happiness – aided by joints and psychedelic mushrooms – is short-lived.” Rebecca Swirsky

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

“Written in a single, sparsely-punctuated stream of consciousness flow broken only by line breaks – and those unexpectedly placed – McCormack’s writing is the latest in a growing canon of literature which draws self-consciously on an Irish modernist heritage to tackle contemporary concerns… This careful interplay of political theory and personal feeling is just one of Solar Bones’ balancing acts.” Stephanie Boland

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

“In If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things McGregor keeps his camera close on his subject; in Reservoir 13, his first novel in seven years, he pulls out for a broader perspective. The novel is set in a nameless village in Derbyshire, and from its opening the reader could be forgiven for thinking that a crime story, of the Happy Valley variety, might follow… This is a book of the turning seasons, each chapter stretching across 12 months, January through July and into winter, the rhythms of the land rubbing up against the 21st century, against the hollow, frightening space left by the missing Rebecca.” Erica Wagner

Elmet by Fiona Mozley 

“At once spare and ornate, Mozley’s writing digs deep into what could be termed the psycho-geology of Yorkshire, much as Alan Garner’s work does with Cheshire: the intermittent glimpses of vanished lives from centuries earlier alongside those of the present day, the trauma of past upheaval and resettlement echoing along the dark valleys… Elmet, for all its formality and ritual style, has a modern setting but appears to inhabit a space that is outside time.” Catherine Taylor

The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

“For all its tonal indignities, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness achieves a sort of old-fashioned stateliness. Told like Bleak House in a mixture of first and third person, it uses the discovery of fate-laden, class-bridging foundlings as a vehicle for analytic portraiture and impassioned exposé. A number of details, not least Anjum’s gender fluidity – flagged as a symbol of the India-Pakistan rift – bear the imprint of magical realism.” Leo Robson

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

“As befits its sombre subject, this is a moving and deeply felt book. Its speaking spectres are haunted not only by their severance from their former lives but by what they suffered in those lives. Like Marley’s ghost, they wear the chains they forged in life… Lincoln in the Bardo is set in the past, but its portrait of a violently divided nation, in which even the dead are discriminated against because of their race or social status, offers little reassurance.” Erica Wagner

Homefire by Kamila Shamsie

“Shamsie expertly distils a vast socio-political landscape into human bodies – the receptacles for our mixed identities. In dissecting these, she offers tidbits of street reality to the literary establishment…The book argues that we are all responsible – regardless of geography, race and class (explored in unlikely extracts from imagined tabloid newspapers that reduce “Aneeka” to “knickers”) – for the morality and security decisions of the state.” Preti Taneja

Autumn by Ali Smith

“Ali Smith pits the art-loving, song-singing, word-toying, world-hugging antics of Elisabeth and Gluck not only against the Ukip mindset, but against anyone who doesn’t match their standards… Smith’s desire to amuse and impress is coupled with a desire for instruction that is undermined by impatience, immaturity, a love of the quick return and a reliance on satirical fruit not so much low-hanging as fallen and rotting.” Leo Robson

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

“True to form, Zadie Smith evokes the significance of these relatively small social differences wonderfully well…Smith is skilled at developing characters and relationships across a range of cultures, and the Africa sections here are no exception. It’s understandable that after writing three novels set in north London, she might feel sick of the place and want to get out. On another level, she has set out to juxtapose the narrator’s guilt-riddled relationship with Tracey, whom she has left behind, with larger structural questions about the relationship between the world’s poorest and the super-rich.” Alice O’Keeffe

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

“Ridgeway, Cora and their respective others meet throughout the novel, their positions of advantage and opportunity revolving in ways that make for flat-out suspenseful reading. Many others are grievously harmed in the meantime, as they move through a small-town, 19th-century American world of crafty and hypocritical politesse and ritualised violence. The violence is never rendered more awfully than in the festive, Friday-night lynching sessions that take place at a picturesque park which Cora watches from an attic refuge.” Randy Boyagoda




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