The 2016 Man Booker Shortlist

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The 2016 Man Booker shortlist has been announced!

I am excited to see two Canadian authors on this list (Madeline Thien and David Szalay, who is Canadian born), as well as a nice cross section of diversity. I’m surprised that The North Water didn’t make the shortlist, but I am very much looking forward to reading the 4 that I haven’t yet picked up. I will likely read His Bloody Project next, and may try out The Sellout on audio (I tried to read this a few months ago, but just couldn’t get into it).

Check out my review of Eileen 
Check out my review of Hot Milk 

Amazon links:
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh
All That Man Is by David Szalay
Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeline Thien

What book are you most excited about? Any predictions for the winner?

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BOOK REVIEW | The Vegetarian by Han Kang

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4/5 stars

From the publisher: 
A beautiful, unsettling novel ion three acts, about rebellion and taboo, violence and eroticism, and the twisting metamorphosis of a soul Yeong-hye and her husband are ordinary people. He is an office worker with moderate ambitions and mild manners; she is an uninspired but dutiful wife. The acceptable flatline of their marriage is interrupted when Yeong-hye, seeking a more ‘plant-like’ existence, decides to become a vegetarian, prompted by grotesque recurring nightmares. In South Korea, where vegetarianism is almost unheard-of and societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye’s decision is a shocking act of subversion. Her passive rebellion manifests in ever more bizarre and frightening forms, leading her bland husband to self-justified acts of sexual sadism. His cruelties drive her towards attempted suicide and hospitalisation. She unknowingly captivates her sister’s husband, a video artist. She becomes the focus of his increasingly erotic and unhinged artworks, while spiralling further and further into her fantasies of abandoning her fleshly prison and becoming – impossibly, ecstatically – a tree. Fraught, disturbing and beautiful, The Vegetarian is a novel about modern day South Korea, but also a novel about shame, desire and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.

My thoughts: 
The Vegetarian tells a deeply disturbing story and explores many troubling topics though three succinct parts.

I laughed out loud during moments in part one as they reflected many of my own personal experiences with becoming vegetarian in the 90’s. Similar sentiments were often sent my way – it was bizarre to stop eating meat at that time. Thankfully my family was supportive, but that is not the case for Yeong-hye and we soon get a glimpse into the abuse she has suffered, and how this impacts her emotional well-being. Yeong-hye’s inward spiral progresses as parts two and three shift in narrative, continuing the story from the perspectives of her brother-in-law and sister.

I want to keep this spoiler free, so I won’t say much more. This book tackles topics such as physical abuse, animal abuse, rape, mental illness, and eating disorders. I’m amazed by the story Han Kang has crafted in under 200 pages.

BOOK REVIEW | The North Water by Ian McGuire | 2016 Man Booker Long List

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4.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
A 19th-century whaling ship sets sail for the Arctic with a killer aboard in this dark, sharp and highly original tale that grips like a thriller.    

Behold the man: stinking, drunk, brutal and bloodthirsty, Henry Drax is a harpooner on the Volunteer, a Yorkshire whaling ship bound for the hunting waters of the Arctic Circle. Also aboard is Patrick Sumner, an ex-army surgeon with a shattered reputation, no money and no better option than to embark as ship’s medic on this ill-fated voyage.    

In India during the Siege of Delhi, Sumner thought he had experienced the depths to which a man can stoop and imagined he’d find respite on the Volunteer, but now, trapped in the wooden belly of the ship with Drax, he encounters pure evil and is forced to act. As the true purposes of the expedition become clear, the confrontation between the two men plays out in the freezing darkness of an Arctic winter.

My thoughts:
“Their world is hard enough, they think, without the added burden of moral convolution.”

I really love books about bleak landscapes such as John Irving’s the Last Night in Twisted River or Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, and now I can add the North Water to the list.

This is the tale of the men aboard the whaling ship, the Volunteer. All of these men are foul in their own ways, but this story focuses primarily on Drax, a harpooner, and Sumner, a drug addicted medic. From the realities of survival on a whaling ship, to the descriptions of the violent cold, the North Water is beautifully crafted.

This book is brutal and vile, but it works because the writing is so damn good and the story is incredibly engaging. This is my top pick (so far!) for the Man Booker 2016 award.

BOOK REVIEW | Hot Milk by Deborah Levy | 2016 Man Booker Long List

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3.5/5 stars

From the publisher:
Sofia, a young anthropologist, has spent much of her life trying to solve the mystery of her mother’s unexplainable illness. She is frustrated with Rose and her constant complaints, but utterly relieved to be called to abandon her own disappointing fledgling adult life. She and her mother travel to the searing, arid coast of southern Spain to see a famous consultant–their very last chance–in the hope that he might cure her unpredictable limb paralysis.

But Dr. Gomez has strange methods that seem to have little to do with physical medicine, and as the treatment progresses, Sofia’s mother’s illness becomes increasingly baffling. Sofia’s role as detective–tracking her mother’s symptoms in an attempt to find the secret motivation for her pain–deepens as she discovers her own desires in this transient desert community.

“Hot Milk” is a profound exploration of the sting of sexuality, of unspoken female rage, of myth and modernity, the lure of hypochondria and big pharma, and, above all, the value of experimenting with life; of being curious, bewildered, and vitally alive to the world.

My thoughts:
This book is certainly not going to be for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. Levy has crafted a delicate story with a rich cultural landscape – it’s easy to get lost in this one. Sofia is both easy to admire and easy to dislike; ultimately, I am rooting for her happiness. As a fellow anthropologist, I can relate to her struggle to find her space in the world, as well as her affinity for analyzing those around her.

Oh, and the unruly curly hair, I can relate to that too.

This would make a great last minute summer read, or a winter read when you feel the need to get away.

BOOK REVIEW | My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout | 2016 Man Booker Long List

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2/5 stars

From the publisher:
Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable.

My thoughts:
I generally love books about the human condition, and have no problem at all with stories that are slow to build and are subtle in their intent. That said, something was missing for me with this one. It was so close to being a book I really loved! I wanted to see Lucy and her mother go just a little bit deeper, I was waiting for that breakthrough. There were some lovely moments, but it missed the mark for me. Strout definitely has amazing insights and I will probably pick up some of her other works soon.

BOOK REVIEW | Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh | 2016 Man Booker Long List

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

3/5 stars

From the publisher:
The Christmas season offers little cheer for Eileen Dunlop, an unassuming yet disturbed young woman trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s caretaker in a home whose squalor is the talk of the neighborhood and a day job as a secretary at the boys’ prison, filled with its own quotidian horrors. Consumed by resentment and self-loathing, Eileen tempers her dreary days with perverse fantasies and dreams of escaping to the big city. In the meantime, she fills her nights and weekends with shoplifting, stalking a buff prison guard named Randy, and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father’s messes. When the bright, beautiful, and cheery Rebecca Saint John arrives on the scene as the new counselor at Moorehead, Eileen is enchanted and proves unable to resist what appears at first to be a miraculously budding friendship. In a Hitchcockian twist, her affection for Rebecca ultimately pulls her into complicity in a crime that surpasses her wildest imaginings.

My thoughts:
Eileen, you strange little bird. This is the sort of book that makes you feel itchy while reading it, it’s just so vile. This is a quick and entertaining read, with a disturbing conclusion. I liked it, and will likely look for other books my Moshfegh in the future – no doubt her voice is unique!