Like every year since the prize’s inception in 2009, the Guardian asked readers to pitch in to come up with the Not the Booker longlist. The response this year was so overwhelming that the final list featured a whopping 147 titles. Since the longlist included a lot of popular and highly acclaimed writers (e.g, Megan Abbott, Don DeLillo, Julian Barnes, China Miéville) and the fact that the decision was based on readers’ voting, I was expecting it to feature the usual suspects and only a handful of new names.
Much to my surprise though, the six books in the shortlist, subsequently announced yesterday (15th August), are all from independent publishing houses. If, like me, you also haven’t heard much about the titles on the list, here is a quick breakdown to help you decide which book to read first.
1) The Combinations by Louis Armand (Equus)This intriguing novel is definitely one of my top picks from the list. It has been on my radar for quite some time and especially now that it’s made it to the shortlist, I will definitely be reading it soon. This is the second novel by Louis Armand to be shortlisted for Not the Booker, his first being Cairo. Below is a short synopsis of the novel.
“Fiction. Drama. Art. The “European anti-novel” in all its unrepentant glory is here in The Combinations, following in the tradition of Sterne, Rabelais, Cervantes, Joyce, Perec. In 8 octaves, 64 chapters and 888 pages, Louis Armand’s The Combinations is an unprecedented “work of attempted fiction” that combines the beauty & intellectual exertion that is chess with the panorama of futility & chaos that is Prague (a.k.a. “Golem City”), across the 20th-century and before/after. Golem City, the ship of fools boarded by the famed D’s (e.g. John) and K’s (e.g. Edward) of the 16th/17th centuries (who attempted and failed to turn lead into gold), and the infamous H’s (e.g. Adolf, e.g. Reinhard) of the 20th (who attempted and succeeded in turning flesh into soap). Armand’s prose weaves together the City’s thousand-and-one fascinating tales with a deeply personal account of one lost soul set adrift amid the early-90s’ awakening from the nightmare that was the previous half-century of communist Mitteleuropa.”
Paris critic Jean Bessièrre has described The Combinations as “a ‘great novel’ — long and complex. It exemplifies remarkably the possibilities of the genre and contradicts the contemporary obsession with its decline and commodification”.
2) The Less Than Perfect Legend of Donna Creosote by Dan Micklethwait (Bluemoose Books)I have to admit I had never heard of this book before. I did a fair amount of research (read: googling) but besides rave reviews from those who have read it, there wasn’t much information available regarding the premise of the book. Here’s what I could find.
“A modern fairy tale from the inner city, where the mundane becomes fantastical and the everyday ethereal, but where living happily ever after is often easier read than done. Donna Crick-Oakley walks on six inches of stories every day. She may live on the top floor of a tower block but she still pads her walls and floor with books to shut the real world further out. Or do they only shut her in? Armed with her myths and medieval adventures, Donna sets out to escape her isolation and change her home town to better suit her dreams.”
Bluemoose Books billed this as “a brilliant look at Huddersfield through the eyes of a young woman who thinks she’s Don Quixote.”
3) Walking the Lights by Deborah Andrews (Freight Books)This debut novel by award-winning theatre practitioner turned novelist Deborah Andrews is a compelling study of one young woman learning the life of an actor, as she learns how to live life, negotiating the self-destructive temptations of young adulthood. Andrews credits her knowledge of the theatre as the inspiration behind the book.
Helen Sedgwick, author of The Comet Seekers, described this book as “An intoxicating debut about the lives we reach for and the mistakes that floor us. Bubbly, beautifully precarious, authentic and heartfelt, Deborah Andrews’ writing glitters with empathy.”
4) The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel (Scribe)This is another book I have been looking forward to reading since I first heard about it. The Summer That Melted Everything is the debut novel by McDaniel who is also a poet, playwright, screenwriter and artist. The book is set in 1984 and follows Fielding Bliss, a teenage boy living in a close-knit Ohio community. It deals with loss of innocence and our vulnerability to prejudice. The synopsis of the story follows:
“He has never forgotten the summer of 1984: the year a heat wave scorched Breathed, Ohio. The year he became friends with the devil. Sal seems to appear out of nowhere – a bruised and tattered thirteen-year-old boy claiming to be the devil himself answering an invitation. Fielding Bliss, the son of a local prosecutor, brings him home where he’s welcomed into the Bliss family, assuming he’s a runaway from a nearby farm town. When word spreads that the devil has come to Breathed, not everyone is happy to welcome this self-proclaimed fallen angel. Murmurs follow him and tensions rise, along with the temperature as an unbearable heat wave rolls into town right along with him. As strange accidents start to occur, riled by the feverish heat, some in the town start to believe that Sal is exactly who he claims to be. While the Bliss family wrestle with their own personal demons, a fanatic drives the town to the brink of a catastrophe that will change this sleepy Ohio backwater forever.”
This complex novel tackles themes of the nature of good and evil, friendship, the power of familial bond and mass hysteria, and is already drawing comparisons to Lord of the Flies and The Virgin Suicides.
5) Chains of Sand by Jemma Wayne (Legend Press)This has to be one of the better-known titles on the list. Wayne’s first novel, After Before, was nominated for the Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize, Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Waverton Good Read Award. Her second novel follows the struggle of two men against the backdrop of the Israel-Palestine crisis.
Udi is a veteran of the Israeli army and has killed five men. He wants a new life in a new place. Daniel is 29, a Londoner, an investment banker and a Jew. He wants for nothing, yet he is too unable to escape an intangible yearning for something more. And for less. He looks to Israel for the answer. Daniel Finkelstein of The Times described it as “a wonderful book. Intriguing, moving, absorbing. It explores universal emotions, and particular feelings. It’s also a great read.”
6) What Will Remain by Dan Clements (Silvertail)This harrowing and spellbinding war story is the debut novel of a writer who was described by The Times as a “warrior poet”. Clements is a war veteran himself and his book is inspired by his personal experiences while serving in Afghanistan. It consists of a series of distinct but closely interwoven stories told against the backdrop of the conflict: fragments of memory, sorrow and hope that build like impressionistic brushstrokes upon a canvas to create a profound and essential tableau of modern war and its place in society.
The winning book will be chosen by a democratic judging process, which will commence on 17th October. The winner will be announced on 24 October 2016, giving you more than two months to catch up with the shortlist. Happy reading!