MBIP 2016 Round Up – Reviews 4, 5 & 6

MBI2016 Logo RGB pinkYesterday, I looked at the first three of the books on the 2016 Man Booker International Prize longlist which I had already tried, rating them in my own inept way, and attempting to gaze into my crystal ball to see how they might fare with the judges at the shortlist stage.  I’m not sure that I really succeeded, but I’m back today anyway with another three (links on the titles are to my full reviews) – let’s see if this makes any more sense than the last post😉

*****
Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila
Jacaranda, translated by Roland Glasser
What’s it all about?
A man arrives at a half-built train station in a large central-African city, a penniless writer hoping for a IMG_5299refuge.  What he finds instead is a den of iniquity called Tram 83, a bar/nightclub/venue for sexual encounters, and our friend is overwhelmed by the vast array of opportunities to sin on offer.  It’s lucky, then, that his friend, Requiem, is at home in this Dantean nightmare and can show him the ropes – although when I say lucky…

Does it deserve to make the shortlist?
It’s certainly a fun read, and one I’d recommend, but I think I’d have to reserve judgement on this one until I’ve read more of the longlist.  From looking at those I’ve read, and making snap predictions about those to come, I have a feeling that this one might just be hovering on the cusp of my personal top six.

Will it make the shortlist?
It certainly has a fair chance.  I remember a few years back that one of our shadow judges was urging the IFFP to include some ‘sexier’ books on the long- and shortlists, and Tram 83 is exactly what he meant.  Yes, it’s important to tackle serious themes and examine the heart of human darkness, but there’s no harm in doing it in a bar from time to time – and the judges might just agree😉

*****
White Hunger by Aki Ollikainen
Peirene Press, translated by Emily Jeremiah & Fleur Jeremiah
What’s it all about?
IMG_5178
We find ourselves in 19th-century Finland in the midst of a famine, and when it looks like her husband is at death’s door, the woman of the household decides that it’s time to pack up the kids and head for greener pastures (leaving the pater familias behind…).  Of course, finding greener pastures isn’t easy when the world is covered with ice, and it soon becomes clear that they may never reach their destination.

Does it deserve to make the shortlist?
I was a little surprised this one made the longlist, and I’d have to say it was probably my least favourite of the 2015 Peirene set (I had a sneaking suspicion The Looking-Glass Sisters might creep onto the list instead …).  There’s certainly nothing wrong with White Hunger, but it’s not in my top six.

Will it make the shortlist?
It’s certainly possible.  This is a very IFFP book (the opposite of Tram 83!), a female-driven novella with plenty of suffering and a historical setting.  While I might look elsewhere, I can see this being a favourite with many readers, with some of the judges potentially agreeing.

*****
The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante –
Europa Editions, translated by Ann Goldstein
What’s it all about?
The last of the four-part Neapolitan Novels series, The Story of the Lost Child takes us back toLost Child Italy to see how Lila and Lenù continue their fraught friendship, fighting against male oppression along the way.  Part relationship drama, part historical fiction, we see how the two women cope with a tumultuous political background and the violent Solara brothers, before the series ends in typically heart-breaking fashion…

Does it deserve to make the shortlist?
This is one that’s really hard to call, mainly because of the baggage I bring to the decision.  Having tried all of the novels, I’m reading this in a very different way to someone who is focusing purely on the fourth part.  Does it work as a stand-alone book?  Possibly not…

Will it make the shortlist?
Again, a tricky one – the judges will have the same problems as I have (I suspect they may have read the whole series too…).  Having said that, with Ferrante having been very obviously overlooked previously, they may well decide that it’s time to reward her for the series, not just for this book.  One thing’s for sure, though – if she does take out the prize, it’s very unlikely that she’ll be picking it up in person😉

*****
There you have it – six books, six made-up opinions.  Now it’s time to get the journey started again…  I’ll be posting each Thursday on one of the longlisted titles, and it all begins next week.  Much as I’d like to start the tour off with a few days on the beach, I’m afraid we’re going to be getting off to a rather bumpy start.  We’re off to Angola where things are currently a little dangerous – but I do know somewhere we can hole up for a while…

6 thoughts on “MBIP 2016 Round Up – Reviews 4, 5 & 6

  1. “if she does take out the prize, it’s very unlikely that she’ll be picking it up in person.” – You mean “he” I suppose😉 From what I hear it is considered an established fact in insider circles that “Elena” is in reality a man. Not that it matters, but the media hype about the “unknown” author is sometimes a bit too much for me and puts me a off to read her/his books at this moment (the Knausgard/Houellebecq syndrome, you know).

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    1. Thomas – I don’t buy the ‘male writer’ idea, it’s just stirring from people who refuse to believe that someone might just not want to be bothered with the publicity and fame of success…

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      1. Tony – as our media works nowadays, I think it is obvious that a decision of someone to be “invisible” is creating even more publicity, fame and success and speculation. I am honestly a bit fed-up with reports about authors that focus mainly on the personage of the author (or as in Ferrante’s case speculations about him/her) and not her/his literary merits and I can clearly see that a big part of the fame and success of authors like Knausgard and Houellebecq is not based on their literary merit but on their media presence (or as in Ferrante’s case absence). That Ferrante is indeed a male writer is of course gossip from the publishing industry, but by people who are otherwise very well informed. Sorry when I sound a bit grumpy here, but I have a hunch that the “absence” of Ferrante might as well be a clever marketing trick. I may be wrong, but I smell something fishy here. In general I am not a fan of such deliberate obfuscations which eclipse her/his writing in my opinion.

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        1. Thomas – Well, we all have our own views on this😉 For me, the fact that she was writing for years in anonymity before she became world famous indicates that it’s not a gimmick…

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          1. Tony – sure, we all have our own view, no problem. My problem is that we are fed with so much information about her as a private person, someone could almost write a biography about her with very detailed information which no one can validate. We don’t know if it is all made up. I find the fact strange that in almost all reviews of her books the reviewers bring in details about her as a private person, her being a mother, her being a feminist, her having had this or that experience – this is all rather ridiculous and very very problematic if you ask me. Also the interviews with her via email – for me this is all very weird. If you want to be a private person, then why do you share so much private information in these interviews? As much as I respect the wish of privacy of a writer, I cannot help but having the uncomfortable feeling that we readers are rather well played by a clever media machinery. Just my opinion, maybe I am wrong. As I said, I strongly dislike the mystifications and obfuscations with which the audience is fed in this case (and others). Ok, I am not harking on this subject here any longer…;-)

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  2. I’m with you on Ferrante’s anonymity, Tony – it only became a ‘gimmick’ when she became ‘famous’ because we demand ownership of ‘famous’ people. Whether it’s fair to judge the final part of a series in terms of the series itself is difficult to say – no other way to do it, I would think.
    William Golding did win the Booker with the first part of a trilogy, but I’m not sure it was clear it would be a trilogy at that point.
    Your other comments on the novels you’ve read seem spot on to me – like you, I preferred The Looking Glass Sisters to White Hunger, though the latter is much more what the IFFP used to go for.
    Much more enthused about reading them this year than last!

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