The 2022 Booker Prize Longlist Predictions

On Tuesday 26th July, The Booker Longlist will be announced. To say that I am excited is an understatement. I’ve always made it a point to read the entire longlist and I’ve been doing pretty well so far.

Anyway here are my 2022 Booker Prize Predictions.

In non alphabetical order:

To Paradise – Hanya Yanigihara

Crossroads – Jonathan Franzen

The Sentence – Louise Erdrich

The Love Songs of W.E.B. Dubois – Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Love Marriage – Monica Ali

Best of Friends – Kamila Shamsie

Lapvona – Ottessa Moshfegh

The Last White Man – Mohsin Hamid

Maps of our Spectacular Bodies – Maddie Mortimer

Poguemahone – Patrick McCabe

The Colony – Audrey Magee

The Immortal King Rao – Vauhini Vara

Young Mungo – Douglas Stuart

Many thanks to The Booker Foundation for letting me use their logo

Mark Camilleri – Alias (2021)

One of the best things about the Gallo series is that they improve upon each other. Alias is his fourth outing and it is the best one in the series, so far (at the time of writing there is news of a fifth book).

This time the murder involves a number of seemingly unconnected murders. They all vary in date and background, the most important one being of his close friend Claudio, and yet Gallo manages to find a tenuous link and solve the crime. Unlike the other volumes this one takes more time to solve but it’s done well, with some very good twists thrown in.

As I have mentioned, with these mysteries, I always look for the subtexts. This time there is a focus on religious cults., how people can be brainwashed or how people need someone to look up to. This is quite an interesting phenomenon as in Malta we do have a couple of these and they do exert some power on their followers.

One of the more famous Spider-Man stories is Spidey No More, this is when Peter parker starts to debate whether he should continue fighting crime and reflects upon his role as a superhero. To a certain extent this is echoed in Gallo. Due the complexity of the case Gallo starts to wonder if it’s really worth being a detective (saying that his womanising ways do not help his psychological well being either) – I like Gallo’s more introspective side and it crops up a lot here.

With each Gallo book, it seems that Mark Camilleri is more confident, not only with themes but with writing style. In Alias, the use of language is more elaborate and descriptive. There were passages which were verging on the poetic at times, which balance out Gallo’s rougher moments.

As this is the last one so far, I admit I enjoyed my month reading the Gallo series and seeing the character evolve. I know he’ll be back but at this moment I can say that this is a goodbye of sorts, albeit a tiny one.

Many thanks to Merlin for providing a copy of Alias

The other Gallo novels

Prima Facie

Volens

Nex

Meiko Kawakami, Louise Heal Kawai (Translator) – Ms Ice Sandwich (2013, translation 2017)

Ever since the publication of Breasts and Eggs Meiko Kawakami’s has become more popular but before the English translation of that novel, indie press, Pushkin quietly released this novella way pre-Kawakami mania.

The book focuses on a narrator who is obsessed with a lady who sells sandwiches from a stall in the local mall. The reason why he gave her that nickname is because of her distinctive eyes. However the narrator’s life is a challenging one: he does not have a father, his mother neglects him and his only confidante is his demented grandmother. Later on he manages to find a friend but she also has problems and their friendship is an unstable one.

Thus Ms. Ice Sandwich is a metaphor for loneliness, desolation and abandonment. The more the narrator becomes aware of this, the more he gravitates towards Ms. ice Sandwich. The problem is that the narrator has to move on and face reality. is he capable of this?

For a tiny novel, I think Ms. Ice Sandwich get it’s message through powerfully. Through the economic prose we can sympathise with the boy and partake in his naïve worldview easily. The novella is a breezy read and contains trademarks of other novels: bullying, escapism and an almost meta-fascination with something we take for granted. It’s a fun and sweet book, which, compared to the two I read, is lighter but it shows how versatile Kawakami is as an author.

Polis Loizou – A Good Year (2022)

Fairlight Moderns are a series of pocket sized books which feature stories by authors from around the world, and although I like what Fairlight publish, I will admit that these little books are a reading highlight. So far the quality has been high and I haven’t been disappointed by the ones I’ve read. Although they can be completed in less than an hour, they are quite punchy and will stick with the reader for a while.

This time we’re off to Cyprus with Polis Loizou. The plot is about pregnant Despo, whose life is steeped in Cypriot folklore especially the Kalikantzari, goblins who emerge during the 12 days of Christmas and cause havoc. These creatures are at the back of her mind. At the same time her husband Loukas is having a relationship with a married Englishman who is studying the fauna and flora of Cyprus. Both couples are drifting apart and yet they know that their child will need them to be together.

A Good Year is steeped in Cypriot culture and superstitions and that fascinated me. As the book takes place during Christmastime it is interesting to see the myriad of customs from keeping a fire burning until epiphany to family gatherings. At one point the English couple give Loukas and Despo a Christmas cake and they don’t like it that much, proving how deep set traditions can be. Incidentally as I live on an island in the Mediterranean (albeit Malta is 94% Roman Catholic as opposed to Cyprus’ Christian Orthodox), I was curious to see if any traditions overlapped but other than the role of the poinsettia there’s a lot of differences

As Loukas begins to worry about his orientation we see how religion plays an important role. At one point he begins to confess to a priest about his desires and the whole thing ends in a disaster as homosexuality is inconceivable. From Despo’s side the reader can see how pagan rituals take over the true meaning of Christmas due to her worry that the baby will be born before epiphany, thus exposing it to the Kalikantzari.

I read and enjoyed Polis Loizou’s previous novel The Way it Breaks , which was about the problems in contemporary Cyprus but A Good Year focuses on a lot of Christmas traditions, many of which were unknown to me, which goes to show the diversity of the Mediterranean cultures. Anyway A Good Year is another worthy addition to The Fairlight Moderns and definitely one of the strongest of the batch.

Many thanks to Fairlight for providing a copy of A Good Year

Roma Wells – Seek the Singing Fish (2022)

At the moment Epoque Press are having an excellent run. A few months ago the superlative Ghosts of Spring was published and before that the elegantly written The Passing of Forms that we have Loved , the beautifully brutal The Beasts they Turned Away and both What Willow Says and The Nacullians made my top 10 lists of 2021 and 2020 respectively. In other words, I love what this press does.

However I think that Roma Wells Seek the Singing Fish is the best book published so far. Personally it hit a lot of things I like in literature.

Artemila, the narrator and main protagonist of the story, is Sri Lankan, moreover she was born during the civil war, a period where there was violence , uprisings and grotesque killings. It was a time of many atrocities. Atremila has three big passions in life and that is animals. Throughout the book we are treated with tons of animals facts ranging from how beaver dams purify water to the ecosystem which exists in a sloth’s fur. Bowerbirds, brainwashing wasps and immortal jellyfish all feature here and it is fascinating. The other is her father, who teaches her about life and reading. All three loves are connected.

However it is the human animal is the only species which Artemila has problems with. After her parents are killed due to the political situation and her brother is kidnapped, she decides to look for him only to be betrayed by a friend and ends up in London. The question is whether Artemila will ever make it back to her homeland, as problematic as it may be.

There are a lot of themes. Mainly human world vs animal world. Many times Artemila questions our connections with animals. Why are the violent factions in Sri Lanka named after tigers and lions? why do we use certain expressions with animals in them? why do we destroy habitats when animals are integral parts of the ecosystem. Also sometimes nature will take over as there is one memorable chapter which describes a tsunami hitting Sri Lanka

The other is culture clashes, social classes and exploitation of refugees: when Artemila is on the ship heading to the UK she is assigned as a cleaner in nightclubs and greasy spoon restaurants, all the people there take advantage of her position is treated inhumanely, later on she ends up as a helper for a well to do British family and her observations about class become prominent.

As war features in the book, the readers gets accounts of the destruction it leaves behind, although now Sri Lanka is a place of peace, psychological conditions such as PTSD are still occurring and the novel goes into how this is just as destructive as war.

Ultimately Seek the Singing Fish is about the saving properties of literature and how reading is a passport to freedom. At one point Atremila seeks shelter in a bookstore in Camden, strikes a relationship with the owner and there she achieves stability and peace.

I absolutely loved this book. The writing is gorgeous, it is ornate without being too flowery, each word, every sentence just gives the reader gooseflesh. Roma Wells never says anything in a straightforward way and yet it is easy to understand. There are tons of animal related similes which are original. The prose not only flows, it grabs the reader from the first sentence and takes them for a ride until the last sentence.

I will repeat myself. This was a great read. Not only is Roma Wells a word whiz but the book functions as an eye opening experience. Be it war or refugees or the natural world, anyone who reads Seek the Singing Fish will come away with something and that’s a sign of an excellent novel.

Many thanks to Epoque for providing a copy of Seek the Singing Fish

Philip Pullman – The Book of Dust : Volume One: La Belle Sauvage (2017)

In the early 00’s when I was working in a bookstore, Philip Pullman’s third volume of his Dark materials Trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, was published and there was quite a fuss over it, even being longlisted for The Booker of that year. I decided to give the trilogy a try with Northern Lights and I found it a bit pretentious in places, sometimes I was confused. A year later I read Northern Lights again and my feelings did not change.

So why did I buy La Belle Sauvage? because I read that it was a Dark Materials prequel and I thought that would help me appreciate the trilogy and get me to read it properly.

Success

I simply loved reading La Belle Sauvage. It was one of those books where I tried to snatch little pieces here and there during my free moments. Pullman’s prose just flows and his knack of simplifying complex thoughts and elaborate world building made the story an enjoyable read.

The plot concerns Malcolm, a bright boy who helps his parents run a tavern in Oxford. One day a group of people come over and ask him about the priory next door. When the men leave Malcolm discovers a baby being delivered there. Upon further investigation he finds out that her name is Lyra and carries some importance.

At the same time, through a series of events he forms a bond with Hannah Relf, who supplies him with background material about topics such as dust and the alethiometer , two topics which occur in the later books.

As Malcolm delves more into Lyra’s uniqueness, dust and the alethiometer he discovers that he is in the centre of a conspiracy plot which involve the three main topics he is discovering. Eventually a flood breaks out, and Malcolm and Lyra ,with the help of kitchen aid, Alice, escape on the canoe la Belle Sauvage and try deliver Lyra to her true father, avoiding challenges which crop up on their journey.

I have tried my hardest to keep the book’s summary brief but so much happens that is essential to the plot that I had to go into some detail. I left out many important things, such as the books setting, which is a religious dictatorship of sorts, the importance of daemons, an shape shifting animal companion who is bound to their owner and the Rusakov Field. It’s more fun if the reader discovers these things. As I said earlier I am making the plot and details sound complex. Philip Pullman’s writing style makes everything easy to understand.

La Belle Sauvage has quite a few subtexts. The major one attacking dictatorships. The governing body of the book is called The Magisterium, who prevent people from saying heresies, often using brute force to silence individuals. At one point in the book a system is set up where children can report adults to the authorities, which definitely has shades of Nazi Germany or North Korea.

I also saw quite a bit of climate change. As there’s the flood, the characters wonder why such freak events are happening. This is self-explanatory considering what is going on in the world.

Elsewhere there’s homages to Noah’s Ark, The Odyssey and British folklore. La Belle Sauvage is definitely a meaty book, yet it’s fun and does take the reader along. Whether you wanted to know or not, I will be reading the Dark materials trilogy as I now have a solid understanding of the concepts which left me a bit perplexed in Northern Lights.

Mark Camilleri – Nex (2016)

There comes a point in a crime series where the creator and the creation start to bond. What I mean by this is that the author knows their main protagonist and is allowed to take certain liberties. For me. Nex is that novel.

Mark Camilleri has been revealing some bits and pieces of Inspector Gallo’s character but in Nex it seems like that we get a fully formed picture: his attitude, past relationships and even his method of dealing with this particular case is approached maturely.

Even the case itself is more ambitious than previous Gallo outings: a murder which spans time, has quite a cast of characters and seems unsolvable due to lack of evidence, even the way the first victim is linked midway through the book is done well.

As always there’s a political aspect to all Gallo adventures, in particular, EU Laws regarding immigration, one of the highlights of the book is an EU meeting where officials discuss complications with migrants regarding Schengen zones and their treatment. Another weighty topic which is discussed elsewhere is domestic violence and corruption, a running theme in Gallo novels.

Out of the three (as of writing there are four Gallo books) I’ve read Nex is definitely the strongest and can be seen as an artistic jump. Plot, character and writing. I stated in my Volens review, I had expectations that the third Gallo outing would be a strong novel and I was correct. Nex is a step upwards and I am looking forward to book four (Alias)

Jarvis Cocker – Good Pop, Bad Pop: An Inventory (2022)

For me, Pulp’s breakthrough album, A Different Class was a special record: great melodies and witty memorable lyrics. Lead singer Jarvis Cocker also gave interesting interviews to the press. Later on when Pulp split, I began following Jarvis’ equally interesting solo career.

However, I have been wanting a Jarvis Cocker autobiography for a very long time. I do know that’s he good at writing and I was sure he’d have tons of anecdotes. After all, Pulp started in the early 80’s and were a cult band until the mid 90’s then became sort of cultish after. There has to be a wealth of stories.

Good Pop, Bad Pop is that autobiography and in typical Jarvis fashion he takes a different approach.

The premise is that Jarvis Cocker is cleaning out his loft and he explains the ephemera he find’s and it’s relevance to Pulp’s history. Thus little toys take him back to his childhood. Old records and tickets display his teenage influences, the centrepiece of the collection is a notebook detailing Pulp’s manifesto which Jarvis Cocker planned out when he was 15 years old.

Elsewhere we get glimpses of his fashion tastes, why he wears glasses, Pulp’s early gigs and the shifting line up. By the end of the book it is 1988, Jarvis has been accepted to art school. Pulp’s line up is building up to the one we know today. At this point no shift to a Fire or island records, no rise to fame, the Michael Jackson incident or the messy fallout. I assume those will occur in the next volume.

Good Pop, Bad Pop is entertaining, and is very funny. Jarvis Cocker has a knack for being critical of his youthful choices and manages to get a laugh out of the reader. Presentation is great too! with tons of pictures, coloured pages, different font sizes. This is a fun book. In fact you don’t even need to be a fan of the band as Cocker’s approach is accessible. If you read one rock autobiography this year…….

Anna Chilvers – East Coast Road (2020)

Jen, the main protagonist in Anna Chilver’s East Coast road has a special talent: She can see dead people. This happens right in the beginning of the novel. Obviously as she tries to share this talent, her friend Rebecca, mocks her. Unfortunately Jen’s life does not only consist of this talent: her mother is a born again Christian and neglects her, the father is passive and she has a close relationship with her brother and is beginning a new one with a boy she has met. Jen’s other hobby is to go to the church of Saint Etheldreda in her homeplace of Ely and worship the statue of said saint.

During one intense session Jen collapses and wakes up in a hospital with her cousin (who she can only see) telling her that they need to leave and both undertake an odyssey and both have their own reasons. The cousin needs to because she is escaping from a pursuer and despite Jen getting wrapped up in this, also benefits as she wants to find her brother and make sense of all that is happening.

The above summary makes the book seem like an adventure story with some magical realist elements. It is far from that. East Coast Road tackles many topics such as grief ,abuse and faith. All is disguised by a readable plot. The book also serves as a sort of psyche geographical/historical tour of the East of England as both Jen and her cousin pass by the famous towns in that area.

East Coast Road is also unpredictable, there are some twists in the narrative. If magical realism is not your thing so hang on. There is a reason why Jen can see dead people and in the context of the themes it makes sense.

The book is published by Bluemoose, a press who release strong stories but with a lot of depth which not only will stick with the reader but are very good at getting rid of a reading slump. East Coast Road is no exception to the quality they publish. East Coast Road is deceptively simple. Trust me, when it hits, it hits HARD.

Ami Rao – Almost (2022)

I have read quite a few books which approach grief in interesting ways Sigried Nunez’ explores grief via dog acquisition , Jon Fosse’s (translated by Damion Searles) Septology examines the psychological effects of it through repetitive cyclical prose, Maggie O’Farrell historical novel Hamnet talks about the grief a mother goes through when losing her son. Ami Rao’s Almost can be added to this list as it also presents grief in a new way.

A family lose their daughter through a traffic accident. As the parents, especially the father (referred to as HE, another Barthesian link) examine their situation, they go through the stages. Yet, Ami Rao goes about this personal reflection in a new way.

What makes Almost different is that the book explores grief through various quotes by Roland Barthes. It’s like a meta conversation. In this alone there’s many levels. However the thing that strikes me is that Barthes was essentially against existentialist philosophy (or I guess criticized it could be a more apt term)and yet most of the quotes in this meta chat actually show that Barthes did have an existential vibe.

Ironically the part which struck me is not connected to Barthes. The bereaved father watches De Sica’s The Bicycle Thieves, which I see is a film about loss of childhood, but the father reinterprets the film on a deeper level; personal loss, with the bicycle representing his child and the thief God. Elsewhere grief is present and examined in other arts forms from music to poetry.

On Almost’s final page there is a sum stating how a family of three actually increases to seven when a loss occurs BUT is a negative mathematics as parents lose their titles, love is gone and since Barthes is an integral part of the story he’s part of the list. A death adds more but not in conventional way.

Almost made me do something every great books does and that is reflect. As grief is a universal feeling, I was amazed at how it can be examined in such a profound way. With her previous novel David and Ameena , Ami Rao tackled relationships in an innovative manner and once again she manages to give death an readable intellectual twist as well. For such a tricky subject, Ami Rao pulls it off perfectly.

Many thanks to Fairlight for providing a copy of Almost