The long gap between the announcement of this year’s Man Booker International Prize shortlist and the actual prize ceremony has meant that the whole event appears to have faded into the background somewhat, but rest assured that the judges will have been working hard behind the scenes. Of course, the same can be said for our Shadow Panel, and while our shortlist is slightly different to the official half-dozen, we’re just as keen to get our decision right. It’s proved to be a difficult task to get through all six books again, particularly as we chose a couple of hefty tomes in our final six, but I’ve given it my best shot, and today’s post is a summary of some of the thoughts I had second (or, in one case, third) time around (links, as always, are to my reviews). I wonder if there are any clues here as to which one I’ll be lending my support to…
Fish Have No Feet by Jón Kalman Stefánsson
– MacLehose Press, translated by Philip Roughton
(full second read)
While JKS’ latest book made my initial final six, I did have some reservations, mainly concerning the Knausgaardian nature of the 1980s scenes and the confusion as to who the narrator actually is. However, second time around I enjoyed it a whole lot more; I was less confused by some of the family connections, and even if I’m still not convinced it’s quite up there with the stupendous trilogy of novels that preceded it, there’s enough there to make me glad I helped push it onto our shortlist. Of course, a large part of that is down to Roughton’s excellent translation (one of several wonderful efforts on this list), and here’s hoping that he’s hard at work on the sequel as we speak 🙂
Compass by Mathias Énard
– Fitzcarraldo Editions, translated by Charlotte Mandell
I was never likely to find the time to read the whole of Compass again so soon, but I did manage to read several sections, including the first and last fifty pages or so. This was one of my favourites first time around, and another look merely confirmed my opinion. It’s an excellent work, with (naturally…) another excellent translation, the long, meandering sentences drawing out a love story over decades and continents. No, I’m not convinced that it’s up there with the sublime Zone (the focus on Arabic and music is a little less familiar than the Mediterranean themes of the earlier novel), but then, few books are. I have a feeling that Énard will be among the final names bandied about by the judges, and he’s pretty high in my esteem, too.
Judas by Amos Oz
– Chatto & Windus, translated by Nicolas de Lange
(full second read)
This one is a bit of a dark horse, but it’s certainly a real contender. I thoroughly enjoyed my second trip through Oz’s Jerusalem, and what stood out on this return visit was the quality of characterisation, with each of the main characters painstakingly drawn. In particular, Schmuel’s hesitation and self-contradictions stood out, as did the idea of a book of silence, with long periods of calm broken by people talking but not listening as they deliver monologues that aren’t always aimed at the person in front of them.
I also enjoyed the sudden shift in Atalia’s affections, skilfully shown by the move from seen to seer, as her thoughts suddenly appear, when up to then she had always been described from Schmuel’s point of view. Again, de Lange has done stellar work on the novel, and I’m amazed that I’ve still only read two of the writer’s books, given that the other one (Scenes from Village Life) was actually my personal pick for the first Shadow IFFP. This one may well get my vote too.
Bricks and Mortar by Clemens Meyer
– Fitzcarraldo Editions, translated by Katy Derbyshire
(selected passages of the translation in comparison with the original)
Having read the book in German the first time, I had a quick (digital) flick through the translation for my second try. It was an entertaining experience, and a lot of fun to compare my choices with what Katy Derbyshire decided on, and even if (as was the case with last year’s German choice, A Whole Life) I felt that the German seemed a little ‘harder’ (grittier?) than the translation, it read pretty well. Of particular interest was the section ‘Eternity Two’, where the narrator’s love for (dirty) wordplay meant that Derbyshire had a lot of freedom to play around with the language herself. However, if I’m honest, I was a little relieved that nobody was forcing me to do a full reread, and while I’d quite like to try Im Stein again at some point, I doubt it’s going to make its way into my top three.
The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen
– MacLehose Press, translated by Don Bartlett & Don Shaw
(full second read)
This book is undoubtedly my major discovery of this year’s event as I’d never even heard of Jacobsen before the shortlist was announced. A second reading confirmed that he’s an excellent writer (and that the two Dons have formed a sterling tag-team) – I’m sure I’ll be trying more of his work before too long. I’m certainly not the only one to have compared Jaobsen to his fellow (Shadow) shortlistee, JKS, and The Unseen certainly has elements of the Icelandic writer’s style in a story that is probably more successful than Fish Have No Feet. But is there enough here to give it a shot of taking out the main prize? I loved it, but I’m still torn…
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin
– Oneworld Publications, translated by Megan McDowell
(full third read)
Most readers will know that Schweblin’s book has been one of my favourites for a good while now, and even on a third read, it was a breathless experience. There were plenty of details I didn’t pick up on the first two times, and I was struck by how many lines were foreshadowing later events. Having said that, I do wonder whether the judges might feel that it doesn’t quite hold up, and that there are too many things left to the reader’s imagination. It’s a short work – will it measure up to some of the denser, more complex stories (e.g. Compass, Judas) after repeated reading? I still love this, but it’s not the clear favourite it was at one point…
Well, it was fun to go through the books again, even if it didn’t really bring me any closer to a final decision. Nevertheless, it’s now time for me to make my choice as we need a winner very soon… Watch out for our final Shadow Panel verdict next week 🙂