If you’re after a good read that does more than just pass the time poolside on holiday, the Man Booker longlist always delivers. From stories of class and racial politics to sweeping tales exploring our relationship with time, these are the books getting everyone talking this year – we recommend you get started now…
Described by the Man Booker judges as “a dreamscape that is also realistic, and a deeply political statement”, Colson Whitehead’s devastating portrayal of slavery won the 2017’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The historic ‘underground railroad’ is made real, and becomes the way in which slave Cora believes she will find freedom in the American north. Whitehead’s novel doesn’t shy away from suffering and grim realities; it’s expertly crafted and will have you gripped.
Abraham Lincoln is consumed with grief upon the realisation of his child Willie’s death, and Willie finds himself trapped in limbo, somewhere between the dead and the living. Despite being set at the dawn of the Civil War, the novel has a remarkably modern resonance and the grief of a father who has lost his child is heart breaking.
Following on from the critically acclaimed The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Hamid’s Exit West tracks the relationship and eventual escape of a young couple in a country on the brink of civil war. This account of migration is particularly poignant given the current geopolitical climate, and the ideas will stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page.
This ambitious novel follows the fate and families of five intertwined protagonists in an exploration of what it means to be Muslim and the potential consequences of religion and politics. Family members cut ties, forge their own paths, return, and reappear in Shamsie’s wide-reaching and courageous narrative.
Emily Fridlund’s debut is a slowly unfolding mystery laced with a coming-of-age story that calls into question the way in which we treat our family, with a particular focus on regret and faith. Linda is 14 and harbours a traumatic past when she latches onto a new family that moves in across the lake. At first, this family seems to reinstate some vestige of normality in Linda’s life, but that normality is quickly undercut by disturbing revelations.
Swing Time is an insightful and exuberant novel charting the lives of two childhood friends who, as adults, have grown apart. Expect jealousy, regret, talent worn by the monotony of everyday life, glamour and a strikingly written portrayal of how our earliest experiences can alter our lives, all written with Smith’s trademark empathy and moments of dazzling humour.
Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones, written as a single sentence, has already won the Goldsmiths Prize. The narrator tells the story of his life and the circumstances leading up to his death. McCormack writes the character of a deeply disillusioned man with extraordinary accuracy and effortlessly brings to life the small town setting.
Weaving in and out of realism, Ali Smith’s Autumn recounts the daily life of an art history teacher in her 30s interlaced with the dreams of her century-old neighbour in a coma in a residential care facility. Their beautifully written friendship blooms against the backdrop of a post-Brexit UK and the violence, tensions and emotions caused by the vote.
In Days Without End, the reader follows brothers-in-arms John Cole and Thomas McNulty as they try and find success in 1850’s North America. The landscape is brutal and violent, punctuated by war and depravity, yet Barry strives to fill the narrative with moments of bravery and beauty.
If you’re after a thriller, this is it. Set in a typical, middle-England village, a young girl goes missing whilst on holiday. McGregor charts the impact this has on the inhabitants, the effect of the media and how quickly close relationships can become marred with doubt and suspicion.
An immersive and challenging read, Auster’s epic 4 3 2 1 doesn’t disappoint. The novel tracks the life of Archibald Isaac Ferguson, but across four parallel timelines, each with its own consequences and fate. The book deftly shows how, despite external influences, subtle shifts in internal decisions and seemingly insignificant moments can cause the most drastic of changes.
Roy’s return to fiction is a departure from her previous, Booker-prize winning novel, The God Of Small Things, in many ways. Featuring turbulent politics and focusing on India and Pakistan’s fraught relationship over Kashmir, this is a kaleidoscopic look at modern India, seen through the eyes of those who live on the fringe of society, with expectedly affecting prose.
Exploring concepts of land, ownership and familial dynamics, a father falls into conflict with landowners over the placement of their home. This affecting tale was described by the judges as “a hugely potent story about aspects of hidden England”, putting intersections between law, society, family and class under the microscope.