Philippa from Brompton Library has reviewed three of the six books that were shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker prize, including Milkman, which was announced last week as this year’s winner.
The Long Take by Robin Robinson
The Long Take defies easy classification as it is both a novel and a poem. It is the story of a World War II veteran who travels through America, rather than return home to Nova Scotia after the war. He describes in vivid detail his experiences of New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
There isn’t a lot of plot but I enjoyed the compelling descriptions of city life and the memorable characters he meets along the way. It explores the crippling mental impact the war had on him and the deep divides in society at this time. I found it quite a challenging read but I think I was hindered by my lack of knowledge of 1940s America. However, I enjoyed the language and each chapter or section could be enjoyed by itself as a poem.
Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
George Washington Black is an 11-year-old slave in Barbados in the 1820s. His life is changed forever when his master’s brother takes him on as an assistant. He tells Washington to call him Titch and teaches him about nature, science and his inventions. When Washington finds himself suddenly in danger they escape Barbados together in Titch’s invention, the cloud cutter.
Out of the books I read from the shortlist, this had the most straightforward structure. However, the story is captivating and strange. It is faced paced and we rush about with Washington all over the world, which took me by surprise. Although there are only a few main characters, it covers a lot of countries, topics and themes. There are horrific scenes of brutality, but touching moments too. I found it an odd but enjoyable read.
Middle sister lives in a world where it is dangerous to be interesting, dangerous to have a name or to name others; a world where what is said or unsaid can have devastating consequences. Middle sister tries to keep to herself but when Milkman takes an interest in her the rumours begin to spread.
When I started this it felt like science fiction or dystopia but as I learned more about Middle Sister’s world I started to think perhaps this was closer to home than I thought. It cleverly exposes the absurdity of what we are willing to accept as normal. It has an unusual structure as it is written almost as a stream of consciousness and the story jumps around a lot chronologically. It is so original that it doesn’t really remind me of anything I’ve read before. I think one of the most striking things is how current and of the moment it feels and so I was not surprised it won.
If you’d like to read any of these titles and can’t get into the library – don’t worry as they’re all available as eBooks via Cloud Library All you need is your Kensington and Chelsea library card.