Man Booker 2018 Shortlist Reaction

Well, here we are!  I’ve read 10/13 so far and the shortlist was announced this morning.

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Photo from the Man Booker website.

Anna Burns (UK)  Milkman (Faber & Faber)

Esi Edugyan (Canada)   Washington Black (Serpent’s Tail)

Daisy Johnson (UK)   Everything Under (Jonathan Cape)

Rachel Kushner (USA)   The Mars Room (Jonathan Cape)

Richard Powers (USA)   The Overstory (William Heinemann)

Robin Robertson (UK)   The Long Take (Picador)

I posted my predictions on Twitter yesterday: In Our Mad and Furious City, From a Low and Quiet Sea, The Overstory, Everything Under, Normal People, Milkman, so, I only got 3/6.  And I find it crazy that having read 10/13, all 3 that I haven’t read yet made the shortlist (Washington Black, The Long Take, and The Overstory which I started last night).  4/6 of the shortlisters are women; are we going to finally see another woman win??  Hopefully.

The one I’m most excited to see on this list is Milkman, which I thought was simply brilliant, if a bit niche, so I didn’t think it was likely that it was going to make the shortlist over some more conventional choices, but I ultimately did add it to my predictions list at the last second as I thought it was so deserving.  And, unless I end up really loving one of the three I haven’t read yet, it’s the one I’m rooting for to win.

The other two I’ve read, Everything Under and The Mars Room, I also really enjoyed – I gave 4 stars to both – but they’re not the ones I had been most hoping to see on the list.  Which brings me to what I consider the three major snubs:

In Our Mad and Furious City is literally the only one I’ve read so far where I’ve thought ‘yes, this is a winner.’  It’s a flawlessly written, unapologetic account of working class London told through the eyes of five different characters, and it’s fierce and frenetic and utterly unforgettable.  Its exclusion from the shortlist baffles me.

From a Low and Quiet Sea has the best sentence-by-sentence writing of any of the longlisters I’ve read, by a landslide, and while that alone shouldn’t guarantee a book a spot on the shortlist, it’s also a highly moving and intelligent work.  Ryan has been longlisted before but never shortlisted, and I really thought this was going to be his time.  This is actually the one I would have bet on to win, if I’d had to put money on one of them.  So, I’m glad I’m not the betting type.

Normal People was largely considered the favorite to win, if you’re interested in odds and all that, so its exclusion was probably the most surprising.  The hype is a bit extreme with this one, but even so, I ended up loving it, and thought it was one of the more emotionally complex things I’ve read in ages.  I’d been really warming up to the idea of this winning, so to not see it on the shortlist is rather odd.

Very relieved to see that Snap and Warlight were passed over.  And probably Sabrina as well… I finished it last night and I’m still working out how I felt about it; I did really enjoy it but ultimately don’t think it was shortlist material.  Also, while I enjoyed The Water Cure, I don’t particularly think that was shortlist material either, so I’m fine with the exclusion of that one.

But anyway, all things considered, I’m a little underwhelmed, but it’s also a little tricky to have a decisive opinion on the shortlist when I’ve only read half of it.  Which I still can’t believe.  10/13 of the longlist and I’ve only read half the shortlist.  Just my luck.  I’m going to keep at it though, I’ve got The Overstory out from the library right now, a hold on Washington Black, and I ordered The Long Take online.  Hoping one of them ends up being 5 stars for me.

What are everyone’s thoughts on the shortlist?  Comment and let me know!

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33 thoughts on “Man Booker 2018 Shortlist Reaction

  1. I’ve only read 4 of the longlisted books, and of those, only 1 has made the shortlist. In fairness, that one is Everything Under, which I loved, so I’m very happy to see it there. I’m also surprised Donal Ryan isn’t there, and though I enjoyed The Water Cure, I wouldn’t have been too shocked either way with it. The other I’ve read is Snap, and let’s just say thank fuck it’s not there and leave it at that 😂

    Given how interesting and exciting the longlist felt, there is something that feels oddly underwhelming about the shortlist. It’s not really fair for me to comment too much, given how few I’ve read, but naturally, I’m rooting for Everything Under at this point 🤷🏼‍♂️ I did think it was intricate and beautifully constructed, so I certainly wouldn’t be mad if it went all the way!

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    • Honestly it may have been worth Snap making the shortlist just for the uproar… can you imagine?!

      I agree completely that there’s something underwhelming about it, which is especially odd given that the most boring and safe title from the longlist (Warlight) was excluded. Maybe I’m just bitter because all three of my favorites didn’t make it? Also, I really want a woman to win this year so it’s a little weird approaching The Overstory and The Long Take hoping that I’ll like them but not hoping I’ll like them TOO much. And I don’t have high hopes for Washington Black solely because it’s the one that jumped out at me from the longlist as not being a ‘me’ kind of book, but you never know. I certainly wouldn’t be mad about Everything Under winning either! Right now my ranking is Milkman, Everything Under, The Mars Room. I’ll be curious to see how the rest go!

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      • Bookish Twitter’s furor against Snap is so hilarious. I mean, it was an absolutely dreadful book, but I’m glad I don’t take literary prizes seriously enough to be on the verge of swearing off them forever if Snap was shortlisted. And yes, I think you’re right, which is a little crazy, I think she’s 27 which is young but it’s not even THAT young, it’s crazy that there’s never been anyone in this age range shortlisted before!

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      • Exactly; especially considering that the judging panel will be different each year anyway, meaning a whole new set of tastes and perspectives coming to the table.

        Very true, it’s all very subjective. The fact there’s been such a fuss over the number of women on the list, and how young some of them are, just goes to show how long major prizes have been unfairly dominated by old white men. If nothing else, this year’s longlist proved that things needed shaking up.

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      • Definitely – I don’t mind the inclusion of Snap for the amusement factor alone.

        YES absolutely. I’m very sad that Rooney and Johnson couldn’t have been shortlisted together, that would have been even better, two millennial women on the shortlist. But I love that the shortlist is dominated by women (has that ever happened before?! I’ll have to research), though the racial diversity obviously is not ideal. Still, it’s some kind of progress.

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  2. This was a surprise! It is interesting that your last three to read are all shortlisters, but that should keep things interesting, at least? I was not expecting The Mars Room to advance, or Washington Black, though not having read Washington Black yet that was probably an unfair assumption. I would say I’m more intrigued to read that one now. Maybe the judges made more sense of why some of the sections in The Mars Room were included than the rest of us did? I think that one’s the biggest surprise for me even though I loved the main narrative and its messages.
    It is sad that From a Low and Quiet Sea didn’t make the shortlist, that was one of my favorites too from the titles I’ve read so far. I’m also sad for In Our Mad and Furious City on your behalf, and still really looking forward to reading it based on your review.

    And of course, I’ll be keeping an eye out for the rest of your reviews! I’ve got library holds on The Overstory and Washington Black that should come in any day and I just ordered The Long Take, so I should be able to keep up with the shortlist even if I don’t make it through the longlist before the winner is announced.

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    • The Mars Room is one that’s particularly perplexing to me as well – much as I loved certain elements, the whole thing never quite came together for me in a way that I’d consider accomplished enough to make the shortlist. But, the good news is that more people will be reading and talking about this book and maybe SOMEONE will be able to make sense of Kaczynski’s chapters and explain those to us.

      I’m glad you’re still planning on reading Furious City! That one is really special imo. But I’m also very sad for Donal Ryan. He’s an incredible writer and the fact that he’s never been shortlisted is a tragedy. Are you planning on reading Milkman as well?

      I was just saying in another comment that I really want to see a woman win, so I think that partially explains why I feel underwhelmed by this list when I still haven’t read half of it: I want to like The Long Take and The Overstory but I don’t want to like them too much that they’ll displace Milkman as my favorite. I mean, I’ll still be fair and honest with my assessments, but it’s weird starting a book and being like ‘I only want to like you a reasonable amount.’ And I don’t have high hopes for Washington Black simply because it does not seem like a ‘me’ kind of book, though I’ve heard really great things, so who knows. This is going to be interesting!

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      • Yes, I hope someone can explain the Kaczynski chapters!

        I’m still planning to read the entire longlist, I just know I won’t be able to read all of it before the winner is announced. But I’ve got a hold on Sabrina at the library and I’ve ordered The Water Cure, Milkman, and Normal People already- I’m expecting The Water Cure and Milkman any day- I forgot to mention Milkman because it feels like my copy is in limbo, lol. Also I’ll probably order Furious City but I want to save a good one for last to stay motivated and since it didn’t make the shortlist I might let it be that one. And I am also looking forward to reading more from Donal Ryan, I did really love Quiet Sea and was sure it would advance…

        It would be great to see a woman win! I really don’t think it will be The Mars Room, and even though I LOVED Everything Under and am so impressed by a 27 year-old shortlisted author, I don’t really see that one winning either. Which makes me more excited to try Milkman! But yeah, I should probably read them all before forming a solid opinion. I understand your point about the weirdness of wanting to like them a certain amount. 🙂 It will definitely be interesting reading!

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      • I still feel like Milkman is such a long shot to win, but who knows! I wouldn’t be mad about Everything Under winning at all, especially since she’s the youngest ever author to be shortlisted, which is both amazing and a little crazy (27 isn’t THAT young, why has a 25 year old never been shortlisted?!) I honestly think the most anticlimactic winner would be The Overstory, based solely on the fact that this year’s longlist was so much more diverse and unexpected than usual, so for the Accomplished White Male Author to take the prize would be a letdown. It can be difficult to divorce the novels themselves from their social contexts in that way, at least for me… but we’ll see! I really don’t see The Mars Room winning either, or Washington Black – I think those two would be the biggest surprises.

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      • No, I wouldn’t be at all upset about Everything Under winning. And yeah, objectively 27 isn’t THAT young, I think it just impressed me so much because I’m 24 and trying to write my own book and I can’t imagine what it would be like to be on the Man Booker shortlist (or even longlist!) in 3 years. I mean, that’s never going to happen, I just feel like I’m at a place in my life where I can really understand how great it is for young writers to have such accomplishments. I would love to see a young woman win!

        And I agree about The Overstory. Even without having read it I expected to see it advance, and it would just be too predictable and traditional for it to win. I want to like it when I read it, but like you said, I only want to like it a reasonable amount, even though that’s weird.

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      • Oh yeah, I COMPLETELY agree that 27 is objectively very young. I’m 26 and I can’t even imagine accomplishing anything like that within the next year of my life. Just a bit crazy that in 50 years of the Booker, no one under 27 has ever been shortlisted!! I really wish Rooney and Johnson could have been shortlisted together 😦

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      • That would have been incredible. And yes, it definitely seems like time for some new trends with the Booker winners. I hope the amount of variety on this year’s longlist is an indicator of more to come!

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  3. Well, you know my thoughts, lol. I’ll probably buy Washington Black today, I get the two birds with one stone thing because she’s on the Giller longlist too.

    In Our Mad… was not perfect for me, but, certain things about it were so compelling, disturbing, relateable … I just hope it gets continued attention.

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    • I haven’t read any of the Giller longlisters, I’ll be curious to follow your coverage of that and see if there’s anything worth reading aside from Washington Black.

      I agree, I would not describe Furious City as perfect by a long shot, but it really had that ‘it factor’ that the rest of these have been lacking for me. I hope so too!

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  4. The shortlist is definitely different from what everyone expected it seems. You know how glad I am for Everything Under to be on the list.
    The one I am maybe most surprised about is The Long Take because that seems to be one that not many people have read yet.
    I am for sure not attempting the shortlist – I don’t feel like reading The Overstory or Milkman and Washington Black also does not shout my name.

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    • I really hope The Overstory turns out to be something brilliant, because 500 pages of trees may just kill me. I want to rip this one off like a bandaid though and not save it for the very last. I think I’ll do The Long Take last as there’s the best chance I’ll enjoy that one. It’s definitely a very odd shortlist. This is not at all what I was expecting.

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  5. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on The Overstory! I think The Water Cure was probably the most talked about of the longlist, but it didn’t seem groundbreaking enough to get to the shortlist.

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    • The Overstory will be my next review! But that’s definitely not happening overnight, lol, I’m like 25 pages into this 500 page beast. I did like The Water Cure a lot but having read it a couple of months ago, it’s not staying with me the same way some of these other ones have.

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    • I really hope I do too! I will admit, a 500 page book about trees doesn’t exactly seem like my cup of tea. But I’m only about 25 pages in and already impressed with the writing style and how much detail he packs into every page. We’ll see!

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      • I truly wasn’t sure if a book on trees was gonna be my jam either, but I really do think it’s the sort of thing that can change your life; I’ve certainly found myself looking at things differently because of it. Happy reading!

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  6. I’m so glad you wrote up your thoughts on the shortlist because you know I trust you the most when it comes to literary fiction! I still can’t get over the fact that the three you hadn’t read yet all ended up on the shortlist – what are the odds?! Looking forward to the rest of your reviews!

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    • RIGHT???? 10 out of 13 done and I’ve still only read HALF of the shortlist. I cannot believe I am being personally victimized by the Man Booker like this. I really hope my last three are excellent and shortlist-worthy!

      Like

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