Autumn has arrived gang. I wore tights this week, Strictly Come Dancing is back on the telly box and the Man Booker Shortlist is out. Since the ol’ English degree when I did a module on the Booker prize, I diligently work my way through the shortlist every year (currently reading the brilliant and lengthy- over 1000 pages- Paul Auster 4321). Yes I like trying to guess the winner (there’s a brilliant event held at the Southbank Centre the evening before the award ceremony with readings from all the authors, you can book here), but the shortlists have showcased some of my favourite books of all time. It’s like being given an annual reading list by your cleverest friend. Here is a smattering of past highlights:
Sarah Waters: The Little Stranger (2009)
I LOVE this book. Set in post WWII rural Warwickshire, this tells the tale of the Ayres’- a previously wealthy gentry family, and their crumbling manor house. When Doctor Faraday starts visiting, the house begins to turn on its inhabitants. The ultimate haunted house story. Water’s brilliant The Finger Smith has also been nominated (2002) and is well worth checking out- it’s had a very sexy adaptation into a Korean film called The Handmaiden which I watched in an almost empty cinema- literally a private porn screening.
Otessa Moshfegh: Eileen (2016)
You’ll love and you’ll hate Moshfegh’s character Eileen. A sad, lonely, complicated girl thrown into a situation beyond her control. Think Fleabag in a crime drama. Suspenseful, disgusting, genius.
Patrick de Witt: The Sisters Brothers (2011)
An American wild west story where the Sisters brothers are hired to kill Hermann Warm, but when they find him they discover he has seemingly discovered a chemical to find gold and join him in a gold panning operation. A darkly comic adventure.
Margaret Atwood: Cats Eye (1989)
Margaret Atwood is Booker royalty having been nominated 4 times and winning in 2000 with The Blind Assassin. Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale was also a Booker shortlist- featured on my best dystopian book list. Cats Eye is about Eileen’s relationship with and memory of her best friend and childhood tormentor Cordelia (always a thrill to see one’s name). Little girls are not sugar and spice and all things nice.
Carol Shields: The Stone Diaries (1993)
This is probably my favourite sort of book, and why I’m so enjoying Auster’s 4321 at the moment. It’s about a seemingly ordinary life from birth to death. But if Daisy Goodwill Flett’s life is ordinary then so is everyone’s. A Canadian Jane Austen. If you love it also read Mrs Bridge by Evan S. Connell.
Matthew Kneale: English Passengers (2000)
This is the ultimate adventure story with a whole cast of brilliant characters. Reverend Geoffrey Wilson travels on a Manx smuggler’s boat to Tasmania to try to discover the Garden of Eden. The story is told in more than 20 voices- each chapter ending in a cliff hanger- tackling the worst elements of the British Empire and the fate of the aborigines. Funny, rompy and devastating, it’s an absolute joy.