Nobody talks about the Booker
Late congratulations to South African writer Damon Galgut for win the 2021 Man Booker Award for his novel “The Promise”. When I reviewed The Promise on this site, I predicted that he had no chance of winning the Booker because he was too good-looking. I am glad that the committee has proven that I am a bad prognosticator and also a person of excellent taste. Either way, you should all read The Promise if you’re in the mood for a book about a declining farming family barely surviving 40 tumultuous years of South African history.
That said, I keep moving forward on my nightmarish project of reading as many of this year’s Booker Long List nominees as possible, because I’m a literary masochist. The latest group of suitors (and now non-winners) turned out to be as sad and unpleasant as all of the previous suitors. Does the Booker committee give extra points for the non-fun? It certainly looks that way.
The softness of the water by Nathan Harris
I approached this novel with some caution, as Nathan Harris graduated from the Michener School of Creative Writing at the University of Texas at Austin, where I live. Although I haven’t been invited to a literary party for at least five years, there’s always a chance he still lives here and will be at that party the next time it happens. What if I said something mean about his book?
Fortunately, The Sweet Water isn’t a bad book. I could even say it’s a good book. It’s not a fun book, because it’s a Booker’s book. But it’s a strong and conscientious book, a solid first novel to make a mother proud.
Harris places The Sweetness of Water at the very beginning of Reconstruction, in a Georgia town with the delightfully magical realistically named Old Ox. Its main character is a gritty, vaguely sympathetic Union farmer, whose son is presumed dead while wearing Confederate combat gear. The son arrives, a few recently freed slaves start working on the farm, and the plot begins to shift.
While I won’t go into too much detail, this book is kind of the kid in love with 12 Years A Slave and Brokeback Mountain. For the most part, it eschews âpeople are badâ tropes and contains a gallery of well-rounded characters with clear motivations. There are no boring flashbacks or prose poems in italics. Everything is very simple, empathetic and, let’s face it, a little boring at times. But it’s generally efficient and unpretentious.
A passage to the north by Anuk Arudpragasam
The Booker awards its Prize to the best novel published in English. This gives the reader a chance to discover the entire literary diaspora. The best book of last year, in my opinion, came from Zimbabwe, and this year’s one from South Africa. A Northern Passage emerges from Sri Lanka. I don’t think I’ve ever read Sri Lankan literature before this, so the author’s descriptions of life in Colombo were a real treat.
However, I have to point out that A Passage North is an experimental book, which means it contains a lot of inner monologue. And i mean a lot. The ostensible story revolves around the caregiver of an elderly woman who returns home to her war-torn rural village, where she falls into a well and dies. The grandson, a former aid worker, must travel north to investigate. It all sounds very literary, but it has potential. Sadly, the story continues to travel deep into the grandson’s subconscious, or perhaps into his butt. At one point, he takes a train trip and remembers another train trip to another city, during which he still remembers a third train journey. And this sequence also contains the full retelling of a Hindu myth and a sex scene with a woman who clearly obsesses our protagonist.
It was too much for me, honestly, and I never broke the mystery of what happened to the caregiver. I would have thrown the book across the room unless I had read it on my Kindle and didn’t want to damage the Kindle. Now I know a little more about Sri Lanka, but probably less than I would have liked.
Nobody talks about it by Patricia Lockwood
It’s a book that people in my social circle have been talking about when it came out this year, because it’s about assholes on Twitter, and I know so many assholes on Twitter. The Lockwood protagonist is famous in “The Portal” for spouting out funny epigrams like “What if dogs were twins”? This makes her very famous and she travels the world giving oblique lectures.
Like Rachel Cusk’s book I reviewed earlier this year, Lockwood essentially wrote this book in code for the literary elite. There is a great deal of concern about a “dictator” who has taken control of the United States, even though that dictator apparently only has power over the mind of the narrator. He certainly does not stop traveling to the five continents to deliver her good words. What a terrible dictator!
Reality finally kicks in when the narrator suffers an unspeakable family tragedy. Based on the acknowledgments, Lockwood bases this on a real family tragedy that seems pretty awful. And, unsurprisingly, the book gets better after the reality intervention, although since this is a Booker book, it’s not much fun once it’s done. improves, but it is extremely well written. Then Lockwood lost my sympathy by writing in her acknowledgments that she writes the acknowledgments in “quarantine”. ORLY? Did the “dictator” put you in “quarantine”? What a horror for you!
Like everyone in “the portal” and the authors of most of Booker’s books, Lockwood seems to exist mostly in a prison of self-esteem. It’s hard to know where Twitter ends and where reality begins.