Without a Sense of an Ending

The lie of regret and of life gone off the rails.  What rails.  The life is the rails.  It is its own rails and it goes where it goes.  It cuts its own path.  My path took me here.

Okay – I will admit it.  I have been a mess the past month with way too much to do, so I utterly failed my goal of trying to read all of the books that were long-listed for the Man Booker Prize before the Short List came out, i.e. before today.

In my younger years – meaning up until now, but I am actively trying to change – I beat myself up about not reaching the goals that I set for myself.  But I’ve started (and before those of you who know me as a crazy type A person write me off, I said started) to realize, that I am human, and it is okay to fail at your goals sometimes.  In fact, goals should be aspirational so that in reaching for them, you accomplish more than what you otherwise would have had done.

What I mean to say, after all that rambling self-reflection, I have decided that instead of thinking that I failed by having a million other things to do that got in the way of my reading list, I’ve decided to be grateful for what I did accomplish – reading two great pieces of literature that I would not have otherwise gotten to had I not tried to read the entire Long List.

AND, I did manage to read one that made the Short List, Rachel Kushner’s The Mars Room.  The Mars Room follows a young woman as she makes her way through the criminal justice system, and chronicles her attempt to come to terms with serving two life sentences.  The book was thought-provoking, especially with regards to the American justice system and the so-called “American Dream.”  The story itself, however, was not my cup of tea.

Admittedly, The Mars Room is not the type of book that I would have gone for myself – which is one reason I like reading books that have been nominated for prizes; it gets me out of my comfort zone – but as it is not my favorite type of novel, you do need to take my thoughts on it with a grain of salt.

In the novel, you come face-to-face with the vulgarities of life; strippers, drug dealers, murderers are all featured in the novel. And Words are not minced. Instead, the book breaks through our quixotic illusions of what we think the world is and should be and shows us the realities of a life that has become far too familiar to too many.  The result leaves the reader in a space where he or she must learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.  Facing reality is usually an uncomfortable business.

In fact, just as the reader is finding him or herself less guarded, opening up to the “family like” network that the characters have created for themselves, google and its vast knowledge of the world upends the unspoken agreement between the author and the reader that the main characters in this story are the protagonists – the wrongly incarcerated who are at the complete – and unfair – mercy of the criminal justice system.  Google tells the story of their crimes.  And some of their crimes are heinous.

It was this moment that I realized why this book had been long listed (and subsequently short listed).  It is Rachel Kushner’s ability to create a story full of multi-dimensional characters that are neither good nor bad, but fully human that sets her apart. Her novel is an ode to reality.  A reality that desperately needs to be acknowledged and has for so long gone unnoticed.

I will say, however, that if you do like your novels to end all wrapped up in a tight bow, you will definitely feel unsatisfied at the end of this book.  It leaves you, to borrow a phrase from Julian Barnes, but one that is especially apt here,  without the “sense of an ending.”

A Reprieve From Scotland: The Man Booker Dozen

Putting a pause in my Scotland Posts (I promise, I only have a couple more of those), the Man Booker Long List (or “Man Booker Dozen”) was announced last week.  The Man Booker prize is given to the “best novel,” written in English and published in the U.K. (a semi recent change of the Rules – previously, the authors had to be from the commonwealth) of the year.

I try to read the winner each year, but this year, I have decided to attempt to read the long-list before the short list is released on September 20th.  As I went to Amazon to order the books, however, some of them have yet to be released, at least in the U.S.  So my goal has been made easier (thank goodness, as I have a small pile of books sitting on my bedside table, and that pile has been slowly growing).

According to the Man Booker website, this year’s longlist include several dystopian books, giving this year’s list a theme of “a world on the brink.”  Additionally, many explore social class, gender, and family.

And so, without more, the “Man Booker Dozen” are:

Belinda Bauer (UK), Snap (Bantam Press): a crime novel about a mother going missing, and the aftermath of her disappearance on the family.

Anna Burns (UK), Milkman (Faber & Faber) (preorder only in the US): a novel that explores the consequences of corrupt political life on one’s domestic/family life.

Nick Drnaso (USA), Sabrina (Granta Books): the first ever graphic novel to be on the long list.  Another disappearance story line, but it is interwoven with how the 24-hour news cycle impacts our lives (a theme also explored by the 2003 Man Booker winner – Vernon God Little, and now, in my opinion, more relevant than ever).

Esi Edugyan (Canada), Washington Black (Serpent’s Tail) (preorder only in the US): a historical novel following an escaped slave on his road to freedom.

Guy Gunaratne (UK), In Our Mad and Furious City (Tinder Press): a novel following friends and their interaction with urban life, focusing on the lives of the marginalized and oppressed.

Daisy Johnson (UK), Everything Under (Jonathan Cape): the story of an absentee mother trying to re-connect with her daughter and of the language they had invented together before the mother left.

Rachel Kushner (USA), The Mars Room (Jonathan Cape): a novel about incarceration in America.  This novel explores the criminal justice system, as well as gender, class, and the failure of the American Dream.

Sophie Mackintosh (Wales, UK), The Water Cure (Hamish Hamilton): likened to the Handmaiden’s Tale, this novel explores the story of a mother and three girls who are kept on an island by the father – until one day the father leaves, and the women are left to survive on their own.

Michael Ondaatje (Canada), Warlight (Jonathan Cape): Ondaatje was just awarded the Golden Man Booker Prize for his novel The English Patient (which has also been turned into an academy award wining film, by the same name; starring Ralph Fiennes, may be better known as Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter films).  This novel, however, follows two children after the end of World War II and their mysterious caretaker.

Richard Powers (USA), The Overstory (Willian Heinemann)The Overstory is a story of the environment.  Following nine very different individuals, the novel eventually brings them together as each tries to save the final few trees left in the world.  This novel explores global warming, and its effects on all classes, genders, and races.

Robin Robertson (Scotland, UK), The Long Take (Picador)The Long Take is actually a novel in verse form.  It follows a man suffering from PTSD, and his attempt to cope with live after war.

Sally Rooney (Ireland), Normal People (Faber & Faber) (preorder only in the US): this novel looks at the intersection between classes through the lens of children.  A young middle class girl befriends her parents’ house cleaner’s son.  The story watches them grow up in two distinct social circles while trying to maintain their connection.

Donal Ryan (Ireland), From a Low and Quiet Sea (Doubleday Ireland): Separated into four parts – the first three sections tell the story of three men.  The first, a man deciding whether to flee Syria with his family.  The second, a brokenhearted bus-driver in Ireland. And, lastly, a manipulator searching for forgiveness.  The final sections brings all three together in their search for home and acceptance.

This year’s judges include: Kwame Anthony Appiah (Chair); Val McDermid; Leo Robson; Jacqueline Rose; and Leanne Shapton.

I am still waiting on a couple of the books to get to my house, but, as some of them have arrived, let the reading begin!