Man Booker 2018 Recap & Winner Prediction

We made it!  The Man Booker 2018 winner announcement is coming up tomorrow and I have officially read all 13 longlisted titles and I had such fun doing so.  This is actually my first time ever completing a longlist, and I while I had a lot of ups and downs with it, I thought this was a rather solid list, with the majority of the books earning a 4 star rating from me.

But it wasn’t quite everything I had hoped it would be and more.  From an interesting and innovative longlist, I found the shortlist selection rather lacking, and there’s only one winner possibility that would really excite me.  But before we get to that, let’s take a look at the entire longlist, ranked from worst to best in my opinion:

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13. Snap by Belinda Bauer
Quick summary: Jack’s mother disappears and a week later is found dead, and years later Jack is looking after his younger siblings while attempting to get to the bottom of her murder.
Quick review: Val McDermid, we’re not mad because a thriller was on the longlist; we’re mad because it was a shit thriller.
Full review HERE ★★☆☆☆

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12. Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
Quick summary: Blah blah post-war London blah blah family secrets.
Quick review: Beautifully written but narratively and thematically vapid.
Full review HERE ★★☆☆☆

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11. Washington Black by Esi Edugyan** shortlisted
Quick summary: 11-year-old Washington Black was born into slavery on a plantation in Barbados, but when his master’s eccentric brother begins to use him as an assistant, Wash’s life is turned upside down and he embarks on a thrilling journey.
Quick review: Not quite sharp and insightful enough to have real literary merit and not entertaining enough to be a fun mindless read, Washington Black exists in my mind in total literary limbo.
Full review HERE ★★☆☆☆

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10. Sabrina by Nick Drnaso
Quick summary: A woman named Sabrina goes missing, and the people left behind struggle to make sense of her disappearance in the first ever graphic novel to be longlisted for the Booker.
Quick review: While it excels at creating an atmosphere thick with paranoia and tension, it doesn’t use its momentum to really go anywhere.
Full review HERE ★★★★☆
(*I am aware that my star rating for Sabrina is higher than my star ratings for these next two, but I wouldn’t hand Sabrina the Booker over either of these so I felt like I had to put them in this order.)

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9. The Overstory by Richard Powers** shortlisted
Quick summary: Nine disparate narratives are eventually connected into a thematic treatise on environmentalism.
Quick review: While Powers’ prose is gorgeous and his ideas are rich and stimulating, The Overstory meanders along and never quite justifies its length, or its choice to be written as a novel rather than a nonfiction essay on the same subject.
Full review HERE ★★★☆☆

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8. The Long Take by Robin Robertson** shortlisted
Quick summary: A Canadian war veteran travels across the U.S. and lands in an increasingly modernized Los Angeles while suffering from PTSD.
Quick review: Gorgeously written and ambitious, but deceptively basic in its execution in spite of its innovative format.
Full review HERE ★★★☆☆

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7. The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner** shortlisted
Quick summary: A young mother Romy receives two life sentences for murdering her stalker, and we follow her and other inmates in a woman’s prison as they grapple with the difficult realities of their new life.
Quick review: Both nuanced and thorough, The Mars Room went above and beyond what I was expecting from its premise, but unfortunately a handful of POV characters end up being extraneous and Kushner is never able to justify their inclusion or integrate their voices into the narrative in a cohesive way.
Full review HERE ★★★★☆

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6. The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh
Quick summary: Three sisters are raised on the outskirts of society by an eccentric father who has raised them to fear all other men.
Quick review: Quietly powerful and thematically subtle, this not-quite-dystopia is let down by its comparisons to The Handmaid’s Tale, but it’s a strong and unique work that stands on its own just fine.
Full review HERE ★★★★☆

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5. Everything Under by Daisy Johnson** shortlisted
Quick summary: A lexicographer reflects on her fractured relationship with her mother, thinking back to a period in their life when they lived together on a river boat and were visited by a stranger for a month one winter.
Quick review: Johnson’s prose is accomplished and lyrical, and the depth to this novel is rewarding and unexpected, though unfortunately the awkward integration of a magical realism element did not work for me at all.
Full review HERE ★★★★☆

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4. From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan
Quick summary: Three disparate short stories eventually dovetail into a narrative which connects the lives of a Syrian refugee, a young Irish boy, and an older Irish man.
Quick review: Achingly sad and flawlessly written, Ryan once again shows off his prowess at lyrical prose and complex characters.
Full review HERE ★★★★☆

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3. Normal People by Sally Rooney
Quick summary: A subversive take on the will they/won’t they premise which follows two young lovers in contemporary Ireland.
Quick review: Perceptive and surprisingly intelligent, Normal People transcends its simple premise a hundred times over.
Full review HERE ★★★★★

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2. Milkman by Anna Burns** shortlisted
Quick summary: Set in an unnamed city that’s probably Belfast against the backdrop of the Troubles, Milkman follows an unnamed protagonist who’s presumed to be having an affair with the milkman, who isn’t actually a milkman.
Quick review: Unnervingly placid on the surface, Milkman‘s power comes from its comprehensive examination of how to navigate daily life in a community torn apart by civil unrest.
Full review HERE ★★★★★ (I changed my rating from 4 to 5 stars – this one just keeps rising in my estimation)

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1. In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne
Quick summary: Three boys growing up in a housing estate in London want to make something of their lives, but struggle to break free of the violence and radicalization that are threatening their community.
Quick review: Frenetic, emotionally charged, and utterly unforgettable, In Our Mad and Furious City is the most deserving winner by a mile in my book, and the fact that it wasn’t shortlisted is rather criminal.
Full review HERE ★★★★★

As for my winner prediction… to recap, we’re looking at the following: The Mars Room, The Overstory, Everything Under, Milkman, Washington Black, and The Long Take.  I could make a case for any of these.  From an optics standpoint, obviously Washington Black would look the best (black female non-American author) and The Overstory would look the worst (white male American author – and he would commit the sin of being the third American winner in a row).  I don’t think Washington Black is going to win; I just don’t think it has the literary caliber of the rest of the list.  And while my gut tells me that The Overstory is the most Man Booker-y book on this list, I don’t think it’s going to win either.  The judges aren’t living under a rock; they know as well as anyone that ‘American man wins Man Booker third year in a row’ isn’t a headline anyone wants to see.  So, what are we left with?

40106338Winner prediction: Milkman by Anna Burns.  Is this wishful thinking?  Yes.  Am I officially jinxing it with my complete inability to accurately predict literary prize winners?  Also yes.  Sorry, Milkman.  But I think it ticks all the right boxes.  Topical (feminist undercurrents; thorough depiction of social unrest; plus it’s officially been 50 years since the conflict that started The Troubles broke out so the topic itself is arguably more resonant this year than it would be any other year), structurally innovative, challenging, and poetic… I think it’s got what it takes.  And I certainly hope it wins.  I think I’ll feel a strong sense of anticlimax if any of the others take the prize.

Which book does everyone else think is going to win tomorrow, and which would you like to see win?  Let’s discuss!

32 thoughts on “Man Booker 2018 Recap & Winner Prediction

    • I really wasn’t planning on doing the whole longlist this year, but I thought the list sounded so intriguing and I couldn’t resist! It was a bit of a pain though, I had to order a lot of the books from Book Depository since their US release dates aren’t until 2019. But still, it was a fun exercise. Milkman is a bit dense and difficult so naturally it’s proving to be a bit divisive, but I thought it was so brilliant! I’m very excited for the announcement too!!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Wonderful post! I picked up Milkman after reading your review, and I also have The Mars Room on my TBR. I’m really excited to get to both, but especially Milkman. I think Irish women writing stream of consciousness is becoming one of my very specific favorite genres.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I really hope you enjoy Milkman. It’s undeniably a bit of a difficult read, but I just found it so rewarding and brilliant. But if you like Irish women writing stream of consciousness you’re bound to love it!! Contemporary Irish lit by women writers is just about my favorite thing ever.

      Like

  2. CONGRATS ON FINISHING THE LIST! To do so in such perfect timing for the winner announcement must be very satisfying too.

    I haven’t read enough of the shortlist to justify a prediction, but from your assessment, Milkman sounds like it would be a worthy winner.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was speed reading the last 20 pages of The Long Take on my lunch break so I could hurry up with that review and move onto this post, lol! Ngl I am pretty impressed that I managed all 13 of these before the winner announcement even if I am cutting it very close.

      I’m so excited for the winner announcement, but I’m also a bit scared since so many of the options would be super anticlimactic for me. This suspense!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It is very impressive! I’d love to read a whole longlist one year, but I’m such a mood reader that as soon as I tell myself I have to read something (even if it’s something I generally want to read anyway), my brain just says NO.

        Fingers crossed you get the result you’re hoping for 🤞🏻

        Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t think I could ever plan ahead to read a longlist, I need to see the list before I can commit to that. I wanted to do the Women’s Prize longlist this year but as soon as I saw The Ministry of Utmost Happiness that was a big no, lol. But I’d really like to read the longlist next spring so fingers crossed there’s nothing too intimidating!

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      • Yes, same! I couldn’t commit until I knew what I was getting myself into. I think of all the major prizes, The Women’s Prize is the one I see myself being most drawn to, so fingers crossed there’s a longlist (or even a shortlist) that interests and excites me enough to take the plunge!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. What a project!! Congratulations on accomplishing that feat! This made me lol: “Val McDermid, we’re not mad because a thriller was on the longlist; we’re mad because it was a shit thriller.” Was she complaining about that??

    Liked by 1 person

    • There was a whole controversy about this because Val McDermid and Belinda Bauer have the same agent and McDermid blurbed Snap, so when it ended up on the longlist with McDermid on the panel everyone could see right through that. And a lot of people are spinning the reaction against Snap as anti-genre fiction snobbery, which, personally speaking anyway, is quite ridiculous. I love genre fiction and I’m a huge advocate of really exceptional genre fiction being longlisted for literary prizes, but Snap was just total garbage. There were plot holes the size of the Grand Canyon and exclamation marks on *literally* every single page.

      But anyway, thank you! Snap drama aside, it was a lot of fun!

      Liked by 1 person

      • That is indeed quite ridiculous, if it’s an exceptional work why shouldn’t it be included, why should that even matter that it’s genre fiction? I’m also driven insane by exclamation mark abuse in books, not only is it distracting, it’s so lazy. But that whole snafu is very interesting, I like hearing book award drama!

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      • Oh same, it’s all so entertaining! I really wish I had thought to count the number of exclamation points in Snap – that would be an interesting and depressing statistic. But I agree completely, a good book is a good book, period, it really shouldn’t matter if it’s genre fiction or literary fiction, especially when ‘literary fiction’ is so hard to define.

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  4. You made it! Incredible! I really enjoyed following your journey through the longlist. I cannot wait for the winner to be announced. I don’t have a prediction but would not be mad if one of the books I read won. Although Milkman sounds like a worthy winner as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I MADE IT! I was speed reading The Long Take during my lunch break so I could hurry up with these last posts, so I was cutting it close but I did finish in time, miraculously. I’m SO excited for the announcement but I’m also scared. I wouldn’t be mad about Everything Under or The Long Take, but I’d be pretty surprised. There’s something about The Mars Room that I can’t put my finger on where I feel like I’d be disappointed if it won… which is weird because I did really like it. I’ll have to reflect on that some more. But please not The Overstory or Washington Black.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. CONGRATULATIONS, what an accomplishment!!!

    I’m realizing I haven’t read a single one of these but this post is making me very much look forward to the winner’s announcement tomorrow!

    Liked by 1 person

    • THANK YOU I’m so excited to have finished!!!!

      Omg tbh I wouldn’t recommend very many to you, but I do think there’s a good chance you’d like Everything Under! I love that you’re excited by proxy though lol!!

      Liked by 1 person

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