Next week sees the announcement of the winner of this years Man Booker Prize, an annual award that is presented to authors who have produced an outstanding and original piece of fiction. Contenders have already been narrowed down to a shortlist of six authors, who are each hoping to walk away with the prestigious prize and pave the way for international success.
Never before has there been such a diverse range of authors and works of fiction competing against each other. When the competition first started, in 1969, entries were restricted to authors from the UK & Commonwealth, Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe. Nowadays it has been opened up to include works that have been written by any nationality, so long as they are still written in English and published in the UK and this is reflected more so than ever in this years shortlist. Amongst the six there is the Booker’s first Jamaican shortlistee, two British writers (one of whom has Indian ancestry), two American writers (one of whom has Hawaiian ancestry) and one Nigerian writer. The outcome is that not only is there a vast range of ethnicity, but the style of writing and voices we hear in the text is incredibly varied and all the more difficult to judge.
Here is our look at the six shortlisted authors and their works, to help you make your mind up about who you think should win this year’s Man Booker Prize:
This is Jamaican writer Marlon James’s third novel and it uses the backdrop of the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in 1976 to tell the story of Jamaica over the course of three decades. The New York Times described this novel “Like a Tarantino remake of The Harder They Come but with a soundtrack by Bob Marley and a script by Oliver Stone and William Faulkner”, which we think is an absolutely perfect synopsis. The story is told through the eyes of the characters who are involved and affected by the saga; the seven teenage gunmen, the CIA, reggae groupies and the big ghetto bosses in charge of the assassination plot, and as such there is a fantastic spectrum of voices, which combine to create gripping storytelling at it’s best.
‘A Spool of Blue Thread’ by Anne Tyler (Chatto & Windus)
Anne Tyler has a history of writing about family, in fact she has written 20 novels on the theme, and ‘A Spool of Blue Thread’ shows Tyler off for what she does best. Telling the story of the Whitshanks family over the course of four generations, Tyler creates a jovial novel that is both heartwarming and nostalgic. Like a spool of thread, the story unwinds more and more as we are told about certain events, key moments and hidden secrets. Occasionally becoming knotted and tangled but ultimately entwined in a closeness that can only come from family, the leading character of Abby Whitshank tells the story of how she and Red first fell in love. Each story is told from the porch of the house; a place of comfort and familiarity, which offers the readers and characters a chance to reflect about the passing of time and indeed life itself.
‘The Fishermen’ by Chigozie Obioma (One, Pushkin Press)
This is Nigerian author, Chigozie Obioma’s first novel and is almost certainly guaranteed to set him up as one of the best new talents to emerge from modern African literature. He manages to combine both an older, traditional storytelling style, with its similarities to the story of Cain and Abel, with a more contemporary moral and purpose that readers of today can relate to. The story is told from the viewpoint of nine-year-old Benjamin, who is the youngest of the four Agwu brothers. Set in 1990s Nigeria, we follow the brothers as they take advantage of the extra freedom they have now that their strict father is working further from home. Deciding to skip school one day, the brothers instead choose to go fishing, where they meet a madman who predicts that the older bother will be killed by one of the others. Will they live up to the prophecy or try to change the course of fate?
‘Satin Island’ by Tom McCarthy (Jonathan Cape)
The Daily Telegraph describes McCarthy as “A Kafka for the Google Age” and where we saw glimpses of it in McCarthy’s last novel, ‘C’, here we see it with much greater ambition. The novel’s main protagonist is a man called U, a corporate anthropologist who runs his own high class consultancy and for whom his staff have come to rely on to translate and control the world around them. He is an unlikely authority figure, who wastes his time looking at the finer details and events in an endless bid to discover the true meaning of life and to share his findings in the greatest book known to man.
Sanjeev Sahota’s second novel explores the lives of Indian migrants working in Sheffield. Focusing specifically on three men; Tarlochan, a former rickshaw driver, the secretive Avtar and the unpredictable Randeep, we discover their rich histories and the very different paths that led them to England. The narrative switches between India and England and takes us back through time to childhood, then back again to present day in a completely effortless manner that helps create a simply unforgettable novel.
‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara (Picador)
This 700 page epic novel has already made a star of American author, Hanya Yanagihara with The New Yorker informing us the novel will “drive you mad, consume you, and take over your life”. Critics have raved about the disturbing, yet beautiful prose on a subject that is still considered by many to be very much taboo. Set in New York, ‘A Little Life’ reveals the damning effects that childhood abuse has had on Jude, a recent graduate who throughout the novel becomes more and more broken and haunted by his traumatic past. An immensely powerful and heart-wrenching novel about the power of love and friendships that culminates in acts of self discovery, human endurance and the definition of life itself. This is the critics favourite to win the coveted prize, but regardless of whether Yanagihara wins or not, she has made a name for herself purely through the depth and emotion of her classic, contemporary fiction.
So, there you have all six, and what a choice there is!
The 2015 winner will be announced on Tuesday 13 October in London’s Guildhall and the presentation will be broadcast by the BBC. Each shortlisted author will receive £2,500 and a specially bound edition of their book, with the winner receiving a further £50,000 along with international recognition.
Let us know who you think should win the prize and why not send us your thoughts about each book.