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Reviews for All the Books on the Man Booker Prize Shortlist

The winner of the Man Booker Prize will be announced on Tuesday. Here are reviews for the books on the shortlist.


“4321” by Paul Auster (U.S.)

…it’s impossible not to be impressed — and even a little awed — by what Auster has accomplished. “4 3 2 1” is a work of outsize ambition and remarkable craft, a monumental assemblage of competing and complementary fictions, a novel that contains multitudes.

“History of Wolves” by Emily Fridlund (U.S.)

Few images in contemporary fiction have struck me as forcefully as that of Patra bent over in the driveway in anguish, mouth cracked open in a Munch-like silent scream. Fridlund has a tendency to double up on her descriptors, to use two adjectives where one would do. But she is masterly when she lets more scraped-down prose push a series of elemental questions to the fore: Do intentions matter? What price will you pay to feel wanted? How does it feel to be both guilty and exonerated? The result is a novel of ideas that reads like smart pulp, a page-turner of craft and calibration.

“Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid (U.K.-Pakistan)

By mixing the real and the surreal, and using old fairy-tale magic, Hamid has created a fictional universe that captures the global perils percolating beneath today’s headlines, while at the same time painting an unnervingly dystopian portrait of what might lie down the road. The world in “Exit West” is, in many respects, an extrapolation of the world we live in now, with wars like the one in Syria turning cities into war zones; with political crises, warp-speed technological changes, and growing tensions between nativists and migrants threatening to upend millions of lives.

“Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders (U.S.)

As with you, probably, I know [Saunders] chiefly through his work, including “Pastoralia” and “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline,” his satirical diagnoses of our post-post-modern condition: our theme park life, mass-produced existential writings, the communal pig-wallow in the mud pits of consumerism. But if the historical theme park in “CivilWarLand” was a stage for its workers’ ludicrous miseries, the war here is a crucible for a heroic American identity: fearful but unflagging; hopeful even in tragedy; staggering, however tentatively, toward a better world.

“Autumn” by Ali Smith (U.K.)

Smith’s writing is light and playful, deceptively simple, skipping along like a stone on the surface of a lake, brimming with humanity and bending, despite everything, toward hope.

“Elmet” by Fiona Mozley (U.K.)

Elmet belongs to a strain of northern British gothic that mirrors the variety that has long held sway in the southern states of the U.S. The gothic has always returned to us what we repress, whether that be monks hiding in priest holes or bodies buried in swamps. Those who have been socio-economically repressed – fighting men, former squaddies, Travellers – resurge in this rich, fabular novel, as does something more radical and doomed: a pre-capitalist morality.

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