Believe it or not, 2022 is almost over, and what better way to finish off the year than reading the 2022 Booker Prize novels? Every year, six works of fiction are shortlisted, and the winner of this prestigious prize is announced in late October.
This year’s six authors on the shortlist represent five different nationalities, and half the books on the list were published by independent publishers.
Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo, borrows a trick from George Orwell’s Animal Farm by telling the story of Robert Mugabe, the former leader of Zimbabwe, from the point of view of animals. Since gaining independence from British colonial rule, the fictional country of Jidada has been ruled by an aging horse. A military of dogs helps Tuvy, a younger horse whose promises sound too good to be true, stage a coup d’état and strip Old Horse of his power. Will Tuvy do right by the animal kingdom and improve their desperate living conditions, or will he turn out to be just another horse once he gets a taste of political power? To find out – and to learn about Zimbabwe’s troubling postcolonial history – you’ll have to read this unusual, beautifully-written novel for yourself.
Treacle Walker by Alan Garner, introduces us to Joe Coppock, who “can’t see proper.” Joe spends his days in a mystical, folkloric world until Treacle Walker, a traveler who claims he can heal all ailments except jealousy, gives Joe two magical objects. Joe begins to experience the world differently once Treacle comes along – or did the world itself begin to change? Told in a combination of Old English and made-up words, Treacle Walker can be a bit hard to follow until you get the flow of the dialogue, but the story is worth the confusion. Fun fact: at 87, Garner is the oldest author ever to be nominated for the Booker Prize.
Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan transports the reader to Ireland in the mid-1980s. Coal merchant Bill Furlong is a hard-working man who cares deeply for his family and community. Having been rescued from poverty and disgrace as a child by a wealthy widow, Bill sincerely believes people are innately kind. During the Christmas rush, Bill delivers a load of coal to the local laundry, run by nuns, and witnesses a scene that shakes him to his core. Pressured to keep what he saw a secret, Bill wrestles with his faith, knowing the Catholic Church holds more power than a kindhearted coalman could ever hope for. Small Things Like These brings the cruelties of Irish Magdalene laundries to light through the lens of a generous but sensible man suddenly faced with a seemingly impossible decision.
Percival Everett’s The Trees takes place in the present time in the small town of Money, Mississippi. A series of ghastly murders has the State of Mississippi detectives baffled and the townspeople resistant and defensive. Each murder leaves behind not only the body of a white man, but also a second body of a young Black man with an undeniable resemblance to Emmett Till, whose horrific real-life lynching in Money shocked the world back in 1955. As the case builds, more murders begin to occur, not just in Mississippi, but all over the country. Is this a case of long-awaited revenge or a reflection of something deeper-seated in American history? One might not think this grisly story could be humorous, but the author’s gallows humor keeps the reader amused and horrified at the same time. It takes great balance and talent to pull off a book like this, but to think it can’t be done would be a disservice to Percival Everett’s brilliant writing.
Oh William! is Elizabeth Strout’s latest novel about her beloved character Lucy Barton. William is Lucy’s ex-husband and father of their two adult daughters. Reeling from the death of her second husband, Lucy is at a crossroads in her life and often becomes lost in thought. Despite their decades-long connection, William has always been something of a mystery to Lucy. When William discovers a secret about his family that leaves him questioning the actions of his late mother, he invites Lucy to travel to Maine with him to get to the truth. The beauty of this deceptively simple story lies in Lucy’s profound reflections on her impoverished, deeply damaging childhood, her complicated yet loving relationship with William, the death of her beloved second husband, and the overriding question of whether one person can ever truly know another.
And the winner is (drumroll, please) The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka. The titular character in this novel is a Sri Lankan war photographer who wakes up one morning in 1990 and realizes he is dead. Maali has no idea who killed him, but he does know he has unfinished business – he must find his box of incriminating photos that have the potential to expose the appalling corruption of the Sri Lankan civil war and bring down governments. Struggling to communicate with the living from his surprisingly bureaucratic “in-between” afterlife, Maali has seven moons (one week) to complete this final task. Part ghost story, part mystery, and part history book, the Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is impossible to categorize, and equally impossible to put down.
You can find all these books at Smiley Library and decide for yourself which one is your favorite.