The Man Booker Prize 2015 shortlist reviewed

New Statesman critics’ verdicts on the six novels up for the Booker.

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Randy Boyagoda on A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

“The Jamaica that emerges from James’s impressive third novel is an often vile and perpetually violent place, populated by kill-or-be-killed shanty-town gangsters whose moneymaking ventures and vendettas are fully fused with prominent figures and important events in the country’s history.”

Leo Robson on Satin Island by Tom McCarthy

“McCarthy’s revolution is wholly one of content, with form a mere enabler. He likes the image of the Trojan horse; he has said that the historical-realist surface of C allowed him to smuggle in ‘modernist and avant-garde preoccupations’. Satin Island is another Trojan horse, this one not so armoured.”

Hedley Twidle on The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma

“The peculiar, at times frustrating pleasure of the book is in tracing how this mythic kernel is spun out and worried over for more than 300 pages: approached from different perspectives, now through the adult “I”, now the child “I”; returned to, led up to many times, as if the narrative voice does not quite understand the story it is telling, picking its odd and wilful way through “the vast territory of the past”.

Alice O’Keeffe on The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota

“A wise and compassionate observer of humanity, [Sahota] has gone to some dark places – places we would all rather not think about – to bring us this book. Whether we are prepared to extend a measure of his wisdom and compassion to real immigrants, in the real world, is another question.”

Leo Robson on A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler 

“Tyler’s greatest asset is her gloriously free and offhand approach to exposition. The novel’s opening chapter . . . is a tumble of incident and detail, astonishingly adept ithout being boastful . . . Tyler has an infinite supply of fiddly insights about her characters’ habits and vices, but she exposes them in slow-burn effects as well.”

Alex Clark on A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara

“The problem is not what the novel makes you feel but what it makes you think. In my case, I felt engaged, compelled to read further, caught up in something; I also felt dismay, disbelief, pity, horror. But at the end of 736 pages, many of which I suspect could have been edited out without compromising the novel’s directness or its power, my thoughts revolved around the creation and prosecution of the novel, why Yanagihara had written it in the way that she had. . . . Although it is not the job of fiction to educate, it is odd to foreground such extreme subject matter without wanting to say something new about it. And it is odd to read such an in-depth treatment of it and come away thinking: well, yeah, obviously.”