- Lincoln in the Bardo is the debut novel from accomplished short story writer George Saunders. It tells the story of William ‘Willie’ Wallace Lincoln, the third son of US President Abraham Lincoln, who died of typhoid at the age of 11. However, this is not a fictionalised life story, but a fictional account of Lincoln’s afterlife in what Tibetan Buddhists refer to as a bardo state. This is a state between death and rebirth, and this novel explores that experience (which is described in some detail in the Bardo Thodol, also known as the Tibetan book of the Dead) from Willie’s perspective. It is a grand ambition, but Saunders achieves it superbly in what Zadie Smith has described as ‘a masterpiece’.
- Elmet is an astonishing book for several reasons, not least of which is that it is a debut novel which was penned on a mobile phone as author Fiona Mozley commuted between London and York. It is a unique work which transcends genre, and explores family life on the outskirts of society – something which is both idyllic and horrifying, in turn. The Sunday Times described Elmet as ‘Hansel and Gretel meets The Godfather’.
- Exit West by Mohsin Hamid – who has previously authored How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia and The Reluctant Fundamentalist – is a novel about two young people who try to fall in love in a world which makes such a thing quite difficult. Part love story, part social commentary and part dystopian vision of the near future, Exit West cleverly says a great deal of value without once preaching to the reader. A parable of our time which has deservedly achieved bestseller status, the New York Times has described this novel as ‘An unnervingly dystopian portrait of what might lie down the road.’
- 4321 is a sprawling epic of a novel, and the first to come from Paul Auster for seven years. It is an ambitious work, seeking to show how relatively small differences in the life of a person can lead to quite different outcomes. The main character here is Archibald Isaac Ferguson, and in 4321 the author takes us through his life four times, illustrating not just how Ferguson’s own life changes in response to subtle variations, but how the people around him change too.
- Autumn by Ali Smith is the first of a series of four novels, each one taking its title from a season of the year. This novel is set in a post-Brexit Britain, and explores the ramifications of living in an increasingly divided world. Exploring themes of time, perspective, love and life itself, Autumn takes the reader on a journey which is both acutely poignant and refreshingly inspiring. The Observer described it as, ‘Bold and brilliant.’
- History of Wolves is the debut novel from Emily Fridlund, and tells the coming-of-age story of a fourteen year old Minnesotan girl called Linda. The main character is viewed as a bit of an outcast by her peers, but manages to gain a sense of belonging with a new family who move into a cabin near her own lakeside home. Unfortunately, the new family isn’t quite what it seems, but to say any more would certianly give away some major spoilers.
As usual, the shortlist of titles for this year’s Man Booker Prize was not without controversy, and that is to be expected, given the subjective nature of literary criticism. From our perspective, History of Wolves doesn’t quite reach the same standard as the other five titles in the shortlist, but all of the books are well worth reading and deserve recognition.
Betting on the winner of the Man Booker Prize is always a speculative matter, but for our money the choice seems to be between Lincoln in the Bardo and 4321, and either one would be a deserving winner. That said, the former title explores areas that are not often covered in modern fiction, and that novelty – as well as the superb writing – may well give it the edge. We will therefore tip the novel of George Saunders to take this year’s prize.
Sports.net’s Top Tip
Lincoln in the Bardo
*Please note, odds may fluctuate.