Battle of the Booker: Meet the Shortlist

In my mind, the kid just plops down into my lap. The sunlight shifts, the puzzle cleaves into an owl and comes apart again, I prod Paul to standing.  
 
George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo
Following on from a number of highly acclaimed short story collections, Lincoln in the Bardo is George Saunders’s debut novel. As for the remaining contestants, the battle of the books continues.  
 
Ali Smith, Autumn
‘It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times. That’s the thing about things. We’re sitting in the Nature Center on a late afternoon like any other, and his body moves automatically toward mine – not out of love or respect, but simply because he hasn’t yet learned the etiquette of minding where his body stops and another begins. Not my hare. I wished to be happy (as I believe all wish to be happy), and so undertook an innocent – well, a   rather   innocent – friendship with a fellow in my school. So try not to
move the head. Boom. Since English was still an alien tongue to Isaac Reznikoff in 1900, he asked his older, more experienced compatriot for a suggestion. The man said to him:   Forget the name Reznikoff. So an
old old man washes up on a shore. Nadia and Saeed quickly located a cluster of fellow countrywomen and -men and learned that they were on the Greek island of Mykonos, a great draw for tourists in the summer, and, it seemed, a great draw for migrants this winter, and that the doors out, which is to say the doors to richer destinations, were heavily guarded, but the doors in, the doors from poorer places, were mostly left unsecured, perhaps in the hope that people would go back to where they came from – although almost no one ever did – or perhaps because there were simply too many doors from too many poorer places to guard them all.’   –   Read the rest of this extract. – Read the rest of this extract. In this group, everyone was foreign, and so, in a sense, no one was. That’s how I know it’s him: there’s no interest in me, no hesitation. What’s this in his mouth, grit?  
Mohsin Hamid, Exit West
‘The beach was fronted by a beach club, with bars and tables and large outdoor loudspeakers and loungers stacked away for winter. the official asked. ‘Early in my youth I found I had a certain predilection which, to me, felt quite natural and even wonderful, but to others – my father, mother, brothers, friends, teachers, clergy, grandparents – my predilection did not seem natural or wonderful at all, but perverse and shameful, and hence I suffered: must I deny my predilection, and marry, and doom myself to a certain, shall we say, dearth of fulfillment? He looks like a
punctured football with its stitching split, the leather
kind that people kicked a hundred years ago. And my throat cinches closed. Farmers shot vermin and we trapped rabbits for food. It won’t do you any good here. Rabbits gambolled in the fields and when we were lucky, when the wind was still and a veil settled on the hills, we saw a hare. It was a rare thing for creatures of her kind to leave their young in summer and run through the fields. A dam, she lived with her drove in a nest in the shadow of the tracks. He comes to me occasionally before I’m fully awake, though I almost never remember what he said, or what I did or didn’t do to him. She was hardened to the passing of the trains and when I saw her I saw her alone as if she had crept out of the nest unseen and unheard. Searching for food or for a mate. You can’t go wrong with that. And so it was that Isaac Reznikoff began his new life in America as Ichabod Ferguson.’ –   Read the rest of this extract. Because it’s strange, you know? Its signs were written in English but also in other European tongues. But we soon saw that there was no hope for us, and so (to race past a few details, and stops-and-starts, and fresh beginnings, and heartfelt resolutions, and betrayals of those resolutions, there, in one corner of the, ah, carriage house, and so on), one afternoon, a day or so after a particularly frank talk, in which Gilbert stated his intention to henceforth ‘live correctly’, I took a butcher knife to my room and, after writing a note to my parents (I am sorry, was the gist), and another to him (I have loved, and therefore depart fulfilled), I slit my wrists rather savagely over a porcelain tub. I roamed shirtless and sweated cleanly and enjoyed the hug of the thick air. You need an American name for your new life in America, something with a good American ring to it. Again. Time to go. In July we gave you the opportunity to ‘speed date’ the Man Booker longlist, by collecting together a selection of our favourite extracts, short stories, essays and interviews with each author for you to explore. You can also listen to Auster discuss the novel, the differences between fate and chance, and embedding historical events into fiction. It seemed deserted, and Saeed and Nadia went and stood by the sea, the water stopping just short of their feet and sinking into the sand, leaving lines in the smoothness like those of expired soap bubbles blown by a parent for a child. She searched as if she were a hunting animal, as if she were a hare who had thought again and decided not to be prey but rather to run and to hunt, as if she were a hare who found herself chased one day by a fox and stopped suddenly and turned and chased back.’
– Read this extract in full at   the Bookseller. Here are some more extended snippets from each of the remaining authors’ books:
 
Paul Auster, 4 3 2 1  
‘According to family legend, Ferguson’s grandfather departed on foot from his native city of Minsk with one hundred rubles sewn into the lining of his jacket, traveled west to Hamburg through Warsaw and Berlin, and then booked passage on a ship called the   Empress of China,   which crossed the Atlantic in rough winter storms and sailed into New York Harbor on the first day of the twentieth century. Outside the window, an avalanche of poplar fluff floats by, silent and weightless as air. They fall apart,
always have, always will, it’s in their nature. But not the hare. In those months I picked up freckles on my bony shoulders and the sun set slowly and the evenings were pewter before they were black, before the mornings seeped through again. it’s
sand, it’s under his tongue, he can feel it, he can hear it
grinding when his teeth move against each other,
singing its sand-
song’
– Read this extract in full at   the   Bookseller. You can also check out   George Saunders in conversation with Ben Marcus, in which they discuss their ‘essential, radical and incendiary’ writing. But in the second before we rise, before he whines out his protest and asks to stay a little longer, he leans back against my chest, yawning. I don’t. He’s four, he’s got an owl puzzle to do, don’t talk to him. Your name?   Slapping his head in frustration, the weary immigrant blurted out in Yiddish,   Ikh hob fargessen (I’ve forgotten)! An hour passed, then another hour, and by the time the nineteen-year-old Reznikoff sat down to be questioned by the immigration official, he had forgotten the name the man had told him to give. While waiting to be interviewed by an immigration official at Ellis Island, he struck up a conversation with a fellow Russian Jew. The veritable fight-to-the-literary-death that is the Man Booker continues – six authors remain in the race, meaning the unfortunate seven who haven’t made the shortlist will have to be satisfied with having new editions of their books printed with the phrase ‘Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize’ for evermore.  
 
Emily Fridlund, History of Wolves
‘It’s not that I never think about Paul. After a while a pale-skinned man with light brown hair came out and told them to move along, making shooing gestures with his hands, but without any hostility or particular rudeness, more as though he was conversing in an international pidgin dialect of sign language. It’s marvelous, and sad too, how good it can feel to have your body taken for granted.’ – Read this extract in full at   the   Pool.  
 
Fiona Mozley, Elmet
‘We arrived in summer when the landscape was in full bloom and the days were long and hot and the light was soft. You can read an extract from the novel at Granta.com, and listen to Saunders discuss the novel with our online editor – they touch on the mind of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil war, the art of creating distinctive historical voices and writing the afterlife. They walked away from the beach club and in the lee of a hill they saw what looked like a refugee camp, with hundreds of tents and lean-tos and people of many colours and hues – many colours and hues but mostly falling within a band of brown that ranged from dark chocolate to milky tea – and these people were gathered around fires that burned inside upright oil drums and speaking in a cacophony that was the languages of the world, what one might hear if one were a communications satellite, or a spymaster tapping into a fibre-optic cable under the sea. It’s time. It has taken the shirt off his back;
naked as the day I was born are the words in the head
he moves on its neck, but it hurts to. Tell them you’re Rockefeller, the man said. The
sea’s been rough. She was searching.