While many were flabbergasted that a graphic novel had the audacity to make it onto the Man Booker longlist, increasing numbers of graphic novel readers knew it was only a matter of time. Sabrina is a natural choice. While ostensibly about a woman’s murder and the fallout for her boyfriend and sister, it encompasses a much larger canvas. This event becomes a consumer product that spins conspiracy theories and conjecture in a society where personal interaction, intimacy and responsibility is in retreat.
The author’s previous title Half-Blood Blues was shortlisted for the Man Booker and won the Giller Prize. She returns with a tale about a young field slave at a Barbados sugar plantation who becomes a domestic servant of an English master more interested in being a naturalist, inventor and abolitionist than running a plantation. A murder implicates the young servant and his master chooses to flee with his servant as a bounty has been placed on the young man’s head. Ultimately the journey they take must follow different paths, as betrayal and desperation leads down a harrowing trail to freedom.
Nominated for National Book Awards for two of her previous novels, Telex From Cuba and Flamethrowers, Kushner’s latest is a mesmerizing layer of narratives focusing on the life and times of one Romy Hall, a young woman facing two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional facility in California’s Central Valley, circa 2003. Like other women facing institutional time, she has to deal with being cut-off from her previous outside life; in her case, the vibrant San Francisco of her youth and her young son – Jackson. The new reality of fending for yourself in an environment where thousands of women are doing the same brings a level of absurdity, sporadic violence, humour, posturing and pageantry that is captured with the observational genius and richness that has suffused her previous work and entranced readers.
A recent readers’ poll awarded Ondaatje’s The English Patient the Golden Man Booker Award for the best book amongst the last 50 Man Booker winners. Now Ondaatje finds himself back on this year’s longlist. The tension between the seemingly transparent and knowable present with the mysterious physics of memory is the template upon which Ondaatje builds his latest narrative sleight of hand. Two teenagers, Rachel and Nathaniel, are left in London after WWII when their parents move to Singapore. Their caretaker is someone they assume is a friend of the family who goes by the moniker of “The Moth”. Mr. “Moth” and his associates are perceived by Rachel and Nathaniel as being somewhat shady but they soon realize this group of eccentrics have their best interests at heart. When their mother returns without their father many months later without any explanation, the family seemingly picks up where it left off. It’s only years later that Rachel and Nathaniel are slowly able to piece together the strange details and truths of this most curious and baffling of times.
One of the unalloyed joys of being in this business is seeing one of the true greats get the recognition they so richly deserve. Many critics and book reviewers far more eloquent and insightful than we are (and with far more space), have extolled the virtues of Powers’ unique narrative skills over his extensive literary career. Suffice to say, his ability to seamlessly mix science, nature, art, psychology and philosophy into his fiction is simply astonishing. His latest is no exception and without giving anything away, what you experience when he starts tying his various threads together is an overarching story about our place in nature and the increasingly high price we pay for our separation from it.