Booker shortlist 2009
Short takes on this year’s nominations by novelist
A.S. Byatt, The Children’s Book. Byatt visits the Edwardian era in her complex and layered novel on the intertwined fates of two artistic families, the Wellwoods and the Fludds, and delivers a devastating novel about childhood and its loss. It is also a characteristically dense Byatt novel: by the time you finish it, you have learnt everything about the Edwardian period that there is to know.
J.M. Coetzee, Summertime. The third instalment in the trilogy of “fictionalised memoir” that includes Boyhood and Youth, Summertime involves an English biographer’s research into the artistically critical years, 1972-77, of the late South African writer John Coetzee. Playful, elusive, yet unrelentingly honest, Summertime makes a ringing claim for the truth that only fiction can tell.
Adam Foulds, The Quickening Maze. Foulds’s second novel, written in lyrical, restrained prose of near-perfection, is a deceptively slim book about the incarceration of the 19th-century nature poet John Clare in an asylum in Epping Forest in the late 1830s. It is also a subtle meditation on the mysterious nature of the creative process.
Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall. Mantel’s novel about Thomas Cromwell follows him from his shadowy origins as a blacksmith’s son in Putney to his elevation as the indispensable right-hand man of Henry VIII. The book ends with the death of Thomas More in 1535, so there’s a follow-up on its way; Cromwell lived until 1540. Nothing like this book exists in contemporary English writing: its history is so deeply inhabited, its narration in terms of both point of view and style so utterly original, that it animates the Tudor era miraculously.
Simon Mawer, The Glass Room. Viktor and Liesel Landauer have architect Rainer von Abt build them a modernist masterpiece, Der Galsraum, in Czechoslovakia. But this is the late 1930s and the Landauers flee the country as Nazis take over their house of dreams. The whole troubled history of the 20th century then unfolds through reflection in the Glass Room.
Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger. Waters does the ghost story in this novel about a working-class country GP, Dr. Faraday, visiting a patient in Hundreds Hall, the seat of the Ayres family, now fallen on hard times. The year is 1947, the patient is a 14-year-old skivvy, and there are inexplicable and spooky goings-on in the Georgian manor house. Waters is scalpel-sharp in her dissection of post-war class hierarchies and attitudes.
Neel Mukherjee is the author of the novel, Past Continuous, which own the Crossword Award, 2009.
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