The longlist so far…

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This week the Man Booker Prize longlist was published, ahead of the shortlist announcement in September and the actual winner being revealed in October. The prize, awarded to literary fiction written in English, tends to make a big name of its winner, at least for a while, and this year’s longlist is full of books you might have seen on a bookshop table, looking shiny and new (or brown and new in the case of Ali Smith’s Autumn).

Whilst you can read the longlist here, I’m going to write some mini reviews of the five books from the list I’ve already read, with links to longer reviews where they exist. Expect a few reviews of others in the coming weeks (any help sourcing copies is appreciated!).

  • Days Without End by Sebastian Barry – A moving story of love, family, and living outside of society during the American Civil War, which can be horrific at times, but also shows how two men loved one another despite these conditions. Searing descriptive writing and worth trying even if the setting doesn’t sound appealing (as it didn’t to me).
  • Solar Bones by Mike McCormack – The single sentence novel that is actually split up using line breaks and feels poetic in its execution, as well as being a kind of microcosm of life held within this sentence. Far more readable that that description may sound. (full review)
  • The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy – Roy’s highly anticipated book weaves together the stories of different characters across the Indian subcontinent, such as the life of a transgender woman who finds community in different ways and how fighting and spying can come together through one woman who is loved by many. (full review)
  • Autumn by Ali Smith – I hate to call this her ‘Brexit’ novel, but in some ways it is, a book about divisions and modern British society in the mundane, which is also about finding your place and trying to follow other people’s stories, written in her characteristically witty style. And yes, she is meant to be writing more for the other seasons.
  • Swing Time by Zadie Smith – The lives of two girls who dream of dancing, though only one of them can dance. The characters form the core of the novel, which feels distinctly Zadie Smith (though I still prefer N-W). (full review)

Solar Bones by Mike  McCormack

Life in a sentence: Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

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Solar Bones is a distinctive novel that tells the highs and lows of a man’s life through his immediate thoughts and memories. Marcus Conway is an engineer with a wife and two grown up children, with his thoughts clouded with current work projects and interfering projects, his wife’s sudden illness from a tainted water supply, and the lives of his children, one a local artist trying out a new medium and the other across the globe in Australia. The novel follows him musing over all of these and more, considering the structures of civil features, marriage, and stable life in one single sentence.

McCormack’s stylistic touches—a single sentence novel, broken up by commas and line breaks—makes the book feel strangely natural, giving Marcus’ thoughts a flowing quality that might be expected from stream of consciousness writing, but also some of the feel of poetry. The detail, especially depictions of specific moments like when his wife is very ill, is vivid and real, with the ability to make the reader feel a little queasy, for example. The nature of the novel means it is focused upon the character, his thoughts, and his life rather than a particular main narrative, though the book does have a decisive ending.

Solar Bones is far more readable than the ‘single sentence novel’ selling point makes it sound, but also it is this selling point that gives it a distinctive style, a return to the modernist stream of consciousness and a way of making prose and poetry less separate. It makes for a tender look at a life, unmissable for literary fiction fans.