A Disturbing Shortlist
I have recently completed reading the six books short listed for last year's Booker Prize. Reading Group hasn't met since August when we had a very pleasant couple of hours in the sunshine on my patio, so it was obviously time to look to another source to find recommendations for good contemporary literature. If there's one thing you can always rely on the Booker Prize for, it is usually some beautiful prose.
All six books were available on the County's digital library although there was a little wait for some. Years ago in a pre-children universe, I always used to find the time to absorb the shortlist within that year's reading material. In 2020/21, retirement and a pandemic combined to present the same opportunity.
On the one hand every book is very different to the other, set as they are in different countries and time periods. However, I was also struck by how each author had set out to explore extreme forms of human angst concentrating on main characters who were struggling to survive the trauma of their existence. Each tale was a harrowing account of life experiences alien to my own and profoundly disturbing. Perhaps that's why they made the same shortlist or alternatively is that the abiding theme of literature for the turn of the decade?
I'm not proposing to devote this entry to reviews or synopses and there is no need when, as recently as November, the Irish Times published an article where each of the authors explained the personal history from which their novel was drawn. No complaints on my part either as I too would definitely have chosen "Shuggie Bain" by Douglas Stuart as the overall winner.
I have noted before on this blog that in retirement I have discovered that the art and literature that are having the greatest impact on me are those that disquieten and haunt, taking me away from the comfort of familiarity. Perhaps it's an age thing; the older you get the more you have to stray from a congenial background to encounter new experiences and heightened emotions. Indeed, as a friend queried not so long ago, why are our most vivid memories, including from early childhood, of events that we potentially found disturbing?
All of the shortlist had an impact but Shuggie Bain is the story that continues to linger in the mind, weeks after I closed it.