Based on my reading I’ll create some superlatives that may or may not be factors that Man Booker judges consider in their decision…
Most Beautiful Language
Hands down, this goes to Tóibín’s Testament of Mary. Tóibín has created a small novel of poetry to explore Mary’s bewilderment and grief concerning her son’s transformation from a sweet boy to the resurrected icon of the inchoate church. I am utterly in awe of the elegance with which Tóibín strings clauses together into looping sentences that bring you into Mary’s memories before he stabs you with shorter sentences of her present loss. Here’s a bit I loved from the final pages, though I copied out other examples while I was reading from the extended narrative of Lazarus’s resurrection. This excerpt won its spot in this post because it is much easier to imagine the context for Mary’s mourning Jesus.
There are times in these days before death comes with my name in whispers, calling me towards darkness, lulling me towards rest, when I know that I want more from the world. Not much, but more. It is simple. If water can be changed into wine and the dead can be brought back, then I want time pushed back. I want to life again before my son’s death happened, or before he left home, when he was a baby and his father was alive and there was ease in the world. I want one of those golden Sabbath days, days without wind when there were prayers on our lips, when I joined the women and intoned the words, the supplication to God to give justice to the weak and the orphan, maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute, rescue the needy, deliver them from the hands of the wicked. When I said these words to God, it mattered that my husband and son were close by and that soon, when I had walked home alone and sat in the shadows with my hands joined, I would hear their footsteps returning and I would await my son’s shy smile as the door was opened for him by his father and then we would sit in silence waiting for the sun to disappear when we could talk again and eat together and prepare with ease for the peaceful night after the day when we ad renewed ourselves, when our love for each other, for God and the world, had deepened and spread.
This is over now. The boy became a man and left home and became a dying figure hanging on a cross. I want to be able to imagine that what happened to him will not come, it will see us and decide—not now, not them. And we will be left in peace to grow old. (76)
Alyssa just wrote about Halloween books; I am willing to argue that this is the most haunting bit of writing I’ve read in ages.
Most Interesting Point of View
I think Harvest has this one in spite of its having a middle age English male narrator in a year when other contenders have young women narrators from Zimbabwe and Japan. This narrator is much trickier than the other narrators—he’s telling the story of a crime in a small village, and the larger general corruption in the community that allows everyone to silently watch his or her neighbors blame a newly arrived family for it. The plural and singular first person wind together so the reader has trouble initially seeing who is part of the “we” that observes and thinks some things, and why the narrator obscures his own view in the middle of a plural mentality at times. The book is a little slow, but every time “we” comes up, it makes the mood a little more chilling (yes, apparently the Man-Booker list is rife with selections described by Halloween-appropriate adjectives).
Most Pleasant to Read
So far I am really enjoying A Tale for the Time Being. It’s the confident diary of an Americanized Japanese teenage girl, and the story of a novelist who found the diary washing ashore. The diarist, Nao, is personable and tells about her life in tones far cheerier than you’d imagine possible considering the major themes are loneliness, cultural estrangement, and despair. The only bright spot for Nao seems to be her tech-savvy Buddhist nun great-grandmother, who has lived a fascinating life and now is explaining philosophy one text at a time.
I don’t particularly care for the fictionalized author Ruth, but the book moves extremely fast (especially considering how many points of Buddhism and Japanese culture it pauses to explain), and there are no more than a few pages of Ruth before Nao returns with her multi-time dimensioned diary.
In any case, I am excited to see how the book ends, even as I enjoy the pages leading to it. The very definition of a pleasant read.
Do you have any last minute opinions about the Man-Booker winner?