On Monday 14 October, we’ll be eagerly awaiting the announcement of the winner of this year’s Booker Prize. From a shortlist of six, one will be crowned the pick of the judging panel but if you can’t wait that long, read on to find out which title the Warwickshire Libraries Shadow Readers picked as their winner.

This year’s shortlist are (in alphabetical order – we’ll leave the preference order until later):

Margaret Atwood – The Testaments

Lucy Ellmann – Ducks, Newburyport

Bernadine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

Chigozie Obioma – An Orchestra of Minorities

Salman Rushdie – Quichotte

Elif Shafak – 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World

Blog Booker

The Shadow Reading group has been running for a number of years now, reading along with the Booker and Women’s Prize for Fiction (see our blog from earlier this year to find out which of those titles we liked). We get together when the shortlists have been announced to discuss our initial impressions and then get reading! A few days before the winners are announced, we meet up again to discuss each title, pick a Warwickshire winner and pick which we think the judges will go for. We’re always open to new members too so if you’re reading this and like the sound of joining, get in touch.

9781784742324Margaret Atwood – The Testaments

As you may know, this is the sequel to Atwood’s 1985 novel ‘The Handmaid’s Tale‘ and was released in September to much acclaim. Several of our group were really pleased that Atwood had given us a sequel as the events in Gilead were left so up in the air at the end of ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ that we wanted to know more and this didn’t disappoint. While some elements of the plot were predictable, they were also engaging and finding out the back story to the founding of Gilead and some of the characters was satisfying. Although not as shocking as ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ (if you’ve read it or seen the TV series, you’ll know that some horrible things happen), there are still some episodes that raise a few eyebrows and the fast-paced story makes this an adventure that will keep you turning the page until the very end.

Without giving too much away for those who haven’t yet read it, finding out more about Aunt Lydia is eye-opening and Atwood’s obvious wide knowledge of world issues, power struggles and her inspiration from current affairs is obvious throughout the book. In many ways, it’s an un-nerving portrait of what could so easily happen, made even more scary when you realise that all of the events in the book have happened in some form somewhere in the world throughout history. Having said that, it was a good read – gripping, with a good story, although some in the group felt it was a little too simple and easy a read and wondered whether it would be ‘enough’ for the judges to pick? We shall see! We also loved the cover design – such a striking and eye-catching image!

Lucy Ellmann – Ducks, Newburyport9781910296967

If you’ve seen a physical copy of this novel, you’ll know it is a behemoth! At 1,000 pages, it’s written as a stream of consciousness monologue with little punctuation, no chapter breaks and gives insight into the mind of an Ohio housewife. Musing about topics ranging from Trump to cherry pie, this covers a lot of ground but for many in the group, it was just too much! Some of us started the book and were immersed in the voice, finding it mesmerising and getting absorbed in the daily minutiae of the life of the housewife. We were almost lulled into a false sense of security that (spoiler alert) when  something happens in the latter stages of the book we just had to continue reading, keeping us hooked until the end.

For others in the group, the size of this novel was just too off-putting. For those that read some of the book, there was a feeling that the same message could have been communicated in far less pages and words, making it likely that people would engage more. The style of writing was a challenge (although we made comparisons to last year’s winner, Milkman, a novel written in a similar style that the group really enjoyed) and felt that this one was not worth the effort or time needed to get through its meaty pages. We also pondered on the fact that it’s definitely not one you could take to bed with you and read – imagine if you dropped off to sleep and it fell on your nose?!

9780241985007Bernadine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other

This book also divided the group – some really enjoyed the wide-ranging stories that gradually narrowed and came together, while for others, the style of writing and some of the characters were not appealing, hampering their enjoyment of the book. Several group members felt that this was one to re-visit and that once they’d finished, they wanted to start reading all over again to trace the connections and pathways throughout the book that form its conclusion. It sparked some interesting discussion about gender, race and identity in today’s society and one group member felt the story was a “very human” one that the reader could connect to, despite the unlikable characters and episodes that were included.

This one also made us consider what we thought the judges will be looking for in their winner. All the books on the shortlist are very different from each other – some are challenging reads in terms of content and story, others in style, with different layouts. We wondered whether the judges are looking for something that stands out in terms of uniqueness, even if that could make it less widely appealing to readers. Certainly some of the books we’ve read through the years have been more engaging than others and it is always interesting to see which grabs the attention of readers and which almost sink into obscurity.

Many in the group felt this was a strong contender and a potential winner – although the book featured some difficult issues, it was very readable and enjoyable and one that will no doubt be popular with reading groups in the future.

An Orchestra of Minorities – Chigozie Obioma 9781408710807

This was another book with a very distinctive narrator – the ‘chi’ or Igbo spirit guardian of the main character – and for some in the group, this made it a wonderful reading experience. Interspersed with Igbo language, this is a story steeped in West African traditions that one member of our group really found fascinating. Others, however, thought that the book would have been better if told from the different points of view of the characters, some of who seemed hopeless and several of us wanted to give them a good shake. Some of the history, for example the links between Nigeria and Cyprus, was also not clear. We wanted to know more about this and felt that if we had been told more or had known more, it might have made for a more enjoyable reading experience. 

We drew parallels between this book and ‘An American Marriage‘ by Tayari Jones which won the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year. Many of the themes were similar and issues of race, relationships and everyday life sparked discussion.

This book did make us debate the process of shadowing book prizes and whether having to read so many books so quickly was a good or frustrating experience. For some of us, we’re reading books that we wouldn’t otherwise have glanced at (full disclosure, I’m talking about myself here and I must admit that this shortlist, I only managed two out of the six). Some of us like the challenge such titles bring and have been introduced to some fascinating characters that we wouldn’t have otherwise known about. If a book has a character we engage with, are interested in or features a topic we know about, this helps make the experience fulfilling whereas it can be a struggle to engage with books that are outside our reading comfort zone or we just don’t ‘click’ with.

9781787331914Salman Rushdie – Quichotte

Inspired by ‘Don Quixote‘, and taking a satirical look at modern life, this was a “joy to read” according to one group member. Another one that many in the group finished and then wanted to re-read to get more out of it. It was also one that was enjoyable as an audiobook. Full of scathing descriptions and Rushdie’s immense knowledge is obvious in the writing, this had lots of different layers to it. At times, the reader is made to question just whose head we’re in as we read and we’re made to work for our reading pleasure, though the group felt that overall, this was worth it.

Rushdie’s title also factored in our discussion of what the judges are looking for in a winner. Having previously won the Booker in 1981 and been nominated several times, we wondered whether such prizes should include many times nominated authors or are they taking the place of other lesser known authors? Atwood too has both won and been nominated several times and we pondered whether multiple nominations/wins/loses might impact the judges’ decisions? What do you think?

Elif Shafak – 10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in This Strange World 9780241293867

The issues raised in this book are not easy to read about – abuse, violence towards women, loneliness and death make this, at first, seem like a novel that would be hard work. Many in the group were therefore surprised when it turned out to be a hugely engaging story with interesting characters and posing several thought-provoking questions to the reader. Told through flashback and bringing the sights, sounds and smells of Istanbul to life, this features characters on the very edge of society who work together and the book even has a happy-ish ending. There are some shocking events in the book, not least the fact that it’s told from the perspective of a woman who has been murdered and is in the last stages of life. The themes and events could be difficult to read for some but there is lighter relief in some of the characters that we meet, some of the friendships that form and the ending is hopeful despite the darkness faced.

A tale in two halves, this is the book we felt would likely be most popular with readers as it contains both gut-wrenching heartbreak and comical farce (though not all the group felt this added to the book and some could have done without it). Many of us felt that Shafak is a very “elegant writer” and were intrigued by the inspiration behind the story – the ‘Cemetery of the Companionless’ (you can read more about this here). She includes some background in the book too which we really enjoyed having. Overall, this was a fantastic book that the majority of our group enjoyed. We’d be keen to know what you make of it?

The all-important vote!

At the end of each shadow reading discussion group, we vote on our favourite, giving points to each book (6 to the favourite, 1 to the least favourite). We then total up the scores and see how we have ranked the shortlist. Here’s the result for this year:

1st: Elif Shafak – 10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in This Strange World

2nd: Salman Rushdie – Quichotte

Joint 3rd: Bernadine Evaristo – Girl, Woman, Other & Margaret Atwood – The Testaments

4th: Chigozie Obioma – An Orchestra of Minorities

5th: Lucy Ellmann – Ducks, Newburyport.

We also picked the title we think the judges will go for – this year, we felt that ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ was most likely to be picked (though we also hoped that Margaret Atwood might get the nod as she’d been overlooked for ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’).

The results are announced on Monday so we shall see if we’ve picked correctly and whether we match the judges or are widely off. You can find out all about the Booker Prize on their website and browse the longlist on our catalogue. If you’ve read any of the titles, let us know in the comments.

Happy Reading!