Today, the news came through. The shortlist for the Award was announced:
Pigeon English, Stephen Kelman
The Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee
Down The Rabbit Hole, Juan Pablo Villalobos
The Collaborator, Mirza Waheed
The Submission, Amy Waldman
Pigeon English seems to attract a great deal of negativity. Already, on the announcement thread in today’s Guardian, someone has posted a response describing the book as ‘dreadful’. Well, as critiques go, ‘dreadful’ says exactly nothing, and the reality is that this is a well-constructed story with a strong narrative voice.
The Emperor of All Maladies is the only non-fiction title to make the shortlist. Chavs was the other non-fiction offering, and I have to confess some disappointment that it didn’t make the shortlist, but, considering it’s a book that’s clearly been written to reflect the state of Britain today, with slabs of history underpinning the arguments within, it provokes a deep level of thought and reflection on the future of ordinary people in Britain. I still stand by my analysis that Chavs is the must read book from the longlist.
On the other hand, The Emperor of All Maladies is a beautifully written history book with a difference: the personification of cancer offers the reader a powerful reading experience. However, the book ultimately delivers an information giving exercise, which is exceptionally well constructed, but which didn’t result in a change in my world view in the same way that Chavs did. Also, the author disclosed that it took him seven years to write the book, and it’s difficult to see what he can do as a follow up, if anything. I strongly suspect there will not be a follow up, in which case, perhaps the author should receive an ‘Only Book Award’, rather than a ‘First Book Award’.
Down the Rabbit Hole is a contemporary story that ticks all the boxes in terms of current literary trends. It’s edgy with a stripped back narrative style described as ‘high speed’ in the explanatory notes at the beginning of the book. But, there was too much explanation and justification for my liking, and the narrative space was invaded by the author, creating a passive reading experience.
The Collaborator is loaded with description, and plants small seeds of a story across a mountainous landscape, but fails to reach any peaks.
The Submission is a reflective story dealing with the aftermath of 9/11, but without the histrionic aggression that can become a common way of coping with an atrocity. A measured storyline, with strong characterisation and supremely well-crafted prose delivers a thought-provoking offering with a lively delivery. This author is gifted, talented and hard-working.
And so, we await the final outcome . . .