MBIP 2016 Round Up – Reviews 1, 2 & 3

MBI2016 Logo RGB pinkAfter a lengthy wait, the longlist for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize is here, and, even with a few surprising omissions, my first impressions were relatively positive.  However, while I’m very keen to get on with my reading and reviewing, there’s something to get out of the way first.  You see, I’m lucky enough to have already sampled six of the thirteen longlisted titles, and over the next couple of days, I’ll have another look at those books, pondering pretentiously about their chances of going further in the competition (as if I have any idea about that…).  The links on the titles will take you to my full reviews – but let’s get started 😉

The Vegetarian by Han Kang –
Portobello Books, translated by Deborah Smith
What’s it all about?
A Korean housewife shocks her husband and relatives when she suddenly stops eating meat 'The Vegetarian' by Han Kang (Review)(which is far more uncommon in Korea than in the West).  Over three interlinked novellas, we watch her develop and transform in a story which is saying a lot more than you’d think.  The Vegetarian is a critique of a rigid society as well as an examination of one woman’s desire to be free.

Does it deserve to make the shortlist?
Han Kang’s first work to make it into English was probably the one book which people in the know were sure would be on the longlist, and it would be no surprise to see it make the shortlist.  In truth, I feel it’s not quite as accomplished as her more recent work in English, Human Acts, but it’s still likely to make the cut for the final six.

Will it make the shortlist?
Yes.  Han Kang ticks several important boxes for this prize (female, Asian) quite apart from being an excellent writer.  My feeling is that the real judges love this book and will want to see it go much further 🙂

Death by Water by Kenzaburō Ōe
Atlantic Books, translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm
What’s it all about?
IMG_5384An ageing writer returns to his childhood home, hoping to finally begin work on a novel he’s been wanting to write all his life, one looking at (and vindicating) his late father.  However, a lack of documentation, and then ill health, conspire against him, and he instead finds himself drawn into a plan to uncover some feminist Japanese history – an event which some locals would rather remain buried.

Does it deserve to make the shortlist?
Definitely.  I’m a big fan of Ōe’s work, and while this started slowly, by the end I was convinced that it was a late-career classic (of the kind, ironically enough, that his alter-ego in the book was unable to pull off).  This is probably my favourite of the six I’ve read from the longlist so far, and I’d be surprised if it didn’t make the next stage.

Will it make the shortlist?
Again, yes.  One of the few ‘big’ books on the list, Death by Water will add some Nobel cred to the shortlist, perhaps balancing out some of the lesser-known writers that will be chosen.

Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan –
Verso Books, translated by Labodalih Sembiring
What’s it all about?
IMG_5346The novel begins with a murder in rural Indonesia, before taking us back in time, step by step, in an attempt to work out why it happened.  This is never a whodunnit (that’s clear from the first pages), but a whydunnit, and Kurniawan takes us on a mesmerising tour of his home province before revealing Man Tiger’s secret on the very last page.

Does it deserve to make the shortlist?
Not quite.  I enjoyed Man Tiger, especially the way the writer inverts the chronology, always plunging us further back into the protagonists’ past, but I felt that the book fizzled out a little towards the end, notwithstanding the final big reveal.

Will it make the shortlist?
No.  In another year, Kurniawan might have been chosen to add a non-European taste to the shortlist.  In 2016, the longlist is awash with ‘exotic’ cultures, meaning this one will probably miss out on a spot in the final six.

Three down, three to go.  Come back tomorrow as I travel to the Congo, the Arctic and the Mediterranean, casting an eye over another trio of MBIP contenders – don’t forget your passport 😉


6 thoughts on “MBIP 2016 Round Up – Reviews 1, 2 & 3

  1. The Vegetarian is next on my list to read. I’ve been meaning to read Ōe for ages so I’m glad to hear Death by Water is a strong contender. I’ve heard others say that Beauty is a Wound is the better of the two books but I also like the sound of Man Tiger being a whydunnit.


    1. Sharkell – No, lucky too 😉 I was hoping to have read three or four, so six is a bonus (and I’ll soon be up to eight as I had quick access to two of the shorter titles on the list…).


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