Here’s what we thought of the Booker shortlist 2018

Here’s what we had to say about each of the books on the 2018 Booker shortlist…

The Long Take by Robin Robertson – excerpt: “If you were to ask me, could I explain to you everything that happened in a way that I felt entirely satisfied with? No. Is that as much an indictment of me as of the book? Sure. Did the urgent acceleration and pairing of the war-time memories with the pace of change work for me? Not completely. Did I want more, by the climax (in the sense of more drama, more explicit trouble)? I think – yes. And yet were you to ask me if the book was imperfect or flawed, I’d say no. It is what it is – it’s just that (to my mind) the vehicle of poetry (which can be elusive) fits awkwardly at times with the satisfying swagger of noir.”

Milkman by Anna Burns – excerpt: “For this reader, it took a little while to get into the rhythm of things and then, when that rhythm was established, the story bloomed. The more time you acclimatise, the longer you spend in the book’s company, the greater your devotion to it (ie if you try and read in a way that you get through a good few pages at a go), the better Milkman becomes. Burns also succeeds where so many other writers fail – foreshadowing in a way that manages to tell you much in advance without in any way robbing the book of its charms or doing away with additional actual surprises (and there are surprises here, throughout).”

Everything Under by Daisy Johnson – excerpt: “Johnson gets points for construction, for ambition, for erudition and for heart. She loses points for occasionally over-egging the pudding (using two words or three words when one would do) and she loses points for not entirely trusting her readers (example – she uses the word ‘earworm’ and then explains what it means). But in the great tallying, she comes out ahead and Everything Under gets filed under: very promising debut.”

Washington Black by Esi Udugyan – excerpt: “Washington’s narration is spot on: distinctive and convincing, alternating between the terrified apathy of one raised in captivity, and the analytical hindsight of an intelligent, educated man. The tone is detached – and the less immersive reading experience might be a drawback for some, but this is a closet which houses ugly skeletons and, possibly, taking some of the emotion away allows us to see the horror of it more clearly.”

The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner – excerpt: “This isn’t a book you’d read primarily for the plot, but for the detail, and while I’ve seen some other reviews that come down hard on Kushner’s exhaustive itemizing of the minutiae of prison life as an example of research weighing too heavy upon the text, I think they’re missing the point: there’s no movement, no development, when you’re in jail for life, so a novel about incarceration has to occupy the same moment again and again.”

The Overstory by Richard Powers – excerpt: “It’s a gloriously descriptive book – the scope of Powers’ vision and appeal here is as awesome as the trees themselves, and good portions of the book are given over to describing exactly how awesome (as in: causing terrified awe) the trees actually are – but it’s also action-packed and peopled with a very diverse cast, which makes it a read that’s as engaging and absorbing in terms of its plot as in terms of its theme.” 

The short version: we don’t think the shortlist is as good as the longlist

 

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