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Man Booker 2017 shortlist includes Auster, Saunders, Ali Hamid and a bookseller from York

The 2017 Man Booker Prize shortlist has been announced. You can look at the list in several ways – three male and three female writers; two British, one British-Pakistani and three American writers, or even four established names and two new faces.

Smith is shortlisted for the fourth time. Hamid made the list in 2007 with The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Mozley is the youngest at 29, and one of two debut authors – the other is 38-year-old American Emily Fridlund.  4 3 2 1, or 4321, by Auster is the longest novel at 866 pages, while Lincoln in the Bardo is Saunders’ first full-length novel. Mozley works part-time in a bookshop in York where she has been selling her book. The winner will be announced on Tuesday 17 October in London’s Guildhall, and he or she will receive £50,000 plus lots of book sales.

More about the shortlisted novels:

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster

This is Auster’s first novel in seven years. Details of a life spent growing up in Brooklyn—of loving the Brooklyn Dodgers, Laurel and Hardy, summer camp—are laid out with the earnest intensity of a writer looking back on his life. Plot points arise—for instance, a person is killed by lightning—which mimic more unique moments from Auster’s own life experience. At nearly 900 pages, it is also a long novel—but a reason for that is 4 3 2 1 tells the story of its protagonist, Archie Ferguson, four different times. What remains consistent throughout Archie’s life (or lives) is that his father starts out with the same career, Archie falls in love with the same girl, and his personality seems more nature than nurture. But those are starting off points, and if our lives are the sum of our choices, they are the sum of other people’s choices as well. Circumstances matter, and what will keep you thinking about this book is the convergence of time and circumstance within each of Archie’s different lives. His past propels him, his circumstances form him, and regardless of which life we are reading, time will ultimately take him.

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

This is exactly the kind of book you want to curl up with in the winter. It’s propulsive, vividly written, laced with a razor’s chill and filled with imagery that’s impossible to forget. There is a constant sense of foreboding, of wondering when the truth will crash through the Minnesota ice. Linda is a loner, a teenage girl who walks to school and lives on a failed commune in the woods. But her life of solitude cracks open when her history teacher—whom she fantasizes about—is charged with child pornography. Outside of school, Linda begins to spend time with a young boy and his mother who moved into a house across the lake, but their family, like her teacher, are not as they appear. Fridlund masterfully ratchets up the tension, exploding this story of secrets and girlhood with crisp, cutting prose that will leave you shocked and in awe. A remarkable novel, that just so happens to be a debut, by a fiercely talented writer.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

When Nadia and Saeed fall in love in a distant unnamed city, they are just like any other young couple. But soon bullets begin to fly, fighter jets streak the sky, and curfews fall. As the spell of violence spreads, they flee their country, leaving behind their loved ones. Early in Exit West, Hamid explains that geography is destiny, and in the case of his two young lovers, geography dictates that they must leave. Hamid offers up a fantastical device to deliver his refugees to places: they pass through magic doors.

Rather than unmooring the story from reality, this device, as well as a few other fantastical touches, makes the book more poignant and focused, pointing our attention to the emotions of exile rather than the mechanics. Surrounded by other refugees, Nadia and Saeed try to establish their places in the world, putting up different responses to their circumstances. The result is a novel that is personal, not pedantic, an intimate human story about an experience shared by countless people of the world, one that most Americans just witness on television.  

Elmet by Fiona Mozley

According to the Guardian, “Elmet, charts how John, a man-mountain who used to make his money as a bare-knuckle boxer and muscle for hire, retreats from his hostile world to a copse in Yorkshire’s West Riding. He makes a refuge for his children and teaches them to live off the land, foraging for berries, planting plums and potatoes, hunting pigeons and pheasants with bows and arrows whittled from oak or yew. But Daddy doesn’t own the land on which he has built his home, and, when the man whose name is on the title deeds pays them a visit, a confrontation begins that can only end in disaster.”

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Saunders has said that Lincoln in the Bardo began as a play, and that sense of a drama gradually revealing itself through disparate voices remains in the work’s final form. The year is 1862. President Abraham Lincoln, already tormented by the knowledge that he’s responsible for the deaths of thousands of young men on the battlefields of the American Civil War, loses his beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, to typhoid.

The plot begins after Willie is laid to rest in a cemetery near the White House, where, invisible to the living, ghosts linger, unwilling to relinquish this world for the next. Their bantering conversation, much of it concerned with earthly — and earthy – pleasures, counterbalances Lincoln’s abject sorrow.

Autumn by Ali Smith

According to Dwight Garner in the NY Times, “Autumn is about a long platonic friendship between an elderly man and a much younger woman. His name is Daniel. He’s 101. . . . Her name is Elisabeth. She’s a 32-year-old fitfully employed art lecturer at an unnamed university in London. She comes to read to, and be with, him. . . . There’s a bit of a Harold and Maude thing going on here. . . . As Elisabeth and Daniel talk, and as Elisabeth processes the events of her life, a world opens. Autumn begins to be about 100 things in addition to friendship. It’s about poverty and bureaucracy and sex and morality and music. It includes a long and potent detour into the tragic life and powerful painting of the British Pop artist Pauline Boty (1938-66), whose work, Smith makes plain, should be better known. . . . This is the place to come out and say it: Ali Smith has a beautiful mind. I found this book to be unbearably moving in its playful, strange, soulful assessment of what it means to be alive at a somber time.”

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