Monday, October 17, 2022

The 2022 Booker Prize Marathon

In 2021, I tasked myself with reading the Booker Prize shortlist. Despite not giving myself as much time to read all the books as I had wanted (due to the idea coming after the shortlist had already been selected), I opted to do the same thing again this year.

When I read the shortlist last year, I started off by choosing The Fortune Men by Nadifia Mohamed because it is a work of fiction based on a true crime (and ultimately: punishment) story which occurred not far from my home long before I was born. After that, I chose books in order of their betting odds starting with the favourite - The Promise by Damon Galgut - which ended up winning the Prize.

For 2022, I've decided to avoid looking at the betting markets until I have read all six books. There's a reason why. If I manage to complete all six books in time, I will rank them in order and see how my list contrasts with the bookmakers' order. I might even have a bet or two.

I've also thought of a fun way to pick each book. I've printed off little pictures of each cover. I'll fold each one a couple of times and then put them inside a bowl (I knew I'd use it again for something worthwhile, Spiky!). I'll pick one to start and then, every time I finish, I'll dip back in to select the next book to read.

Everything will be documented below starting with the first book to come out of the hat bowl.

2022 Booker Prize Lucky Dip

Wednesday 14 September
At the start of this post, I mentioned that, in 2021 - even though I finished all six books before the winner was revealed - I didn't feel I gave myself enough time. The shortlist was announced on September 6, but I opted to read Stephen King's latest novel - Fairy Tale - which also came out that day.

I have now finished Fairy Tale. That makes it thirty-three days to get things done. I think.

The first book to be read will be...

Booker Prize 2022 - Oh William!
..Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout.

To be straight up with you, this is the book I am the most reluctant to read because it is a book in a series I have not read.

Saturday 17 September
I've just finished reading Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout.

As you've already seen, I was not sure whether I would like this book because I was aware that it was part of a series of novels about Lucy Barton.

I am glad I came into this book with those doubts because it turned out that I didn't necessarily have to have read the previous titles in the series because I easily became acquainted with Lucy through a first-person narrative which was constructed of free-flowing prose which was one of the things I thought made this novel a good read.

This story focuses on Lucy Barton's ex-husband - William - who goes on an odyssey of sorts when he finds out, through those DNA websites, that he has a long-lost sister. Lucy, who is coming off the passing of her most recent husband, assists him on this journey and - by doing so - learns a lot about her own life.

I found those two characters very, very charming. I was so invested in their friendship that I hoped that, by the end of the story, they would become a couple again. 

The one thing I cannot help but wonder is whether I would have enjoyed Oh William! even more had I read the previous books in this series. 

Next out of the bowl is....

Booker Prize 2022 - Glory

I am quite happy that I've been able to pull Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo out early in this idea of mine. 

With time evidently not on my side, I wanted to read this one in case I don't finish all six books by the time the winner is revealed. 

There are a couple of other reasons why I wanted to get to this book.

Of the six titles - it has, in my opinion, the best cover. Secondly, when I watched the livestream of the shortlist announcement, a lot of people in the chat part of the stream had typed 'Glory'  so it appears to be one of the favourites. 

I still, as of right now, have avoided the Booker Prize betting markets. However, I have a feeling that this could be the bookies' favourite. 

We'll see.

Friday 23 September
The best way I can sum up some thoughts about Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo is that I found it myself loving it, hating it, loving it, hating it, loving it, hating it, loving it, hating it.

Other than what I wrote above, in regard to it seemingly being a favourite amongst some of the people I happened to catch in the Booker Prize shortlist livestream, I opened the book not knowing anything about what I was about to read.

I soon realised that the novel was a political satire of Zimbabwe done in a style similar to George Orwell's Animal Farm with all of the characters resembling animals. 

Upon realising what I was reading, I thought 'okay, I am really going to enjoy this'. And I did. For a while. Then, however, I began to see tropes that the author kept returning to which began to - in my opinion - lose any affect.

NoViolet Bulawayo tends to attack a point by repetition. Just like I did with my opening paragraph to today's entry. This structure worked initially. However, by the late stages of the book, I began rolling my eyes.

This is an example from later in the book.

Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo

This was a key part to the story. By this point, I had tired of seeing the repetition, so imagine my displeasure when I pressed the Kindle to read the next page.

Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo

Any effect the author was looking for had lost its strength by here. It was a case of going to the well far too many times, in my opinion. 

I won't go so far as to say that I was totally put off by this book. It had its moments for sure, but - as I sit here shortly after finishing - all I am thinking about are the parts which ultimately became a drag.

Glory for sure has its supporters. It would not surprise me if it is the favourite (I still refuse to look at the betting odds until after I've completed the six books). Neither would it shock me if it goes on to win because it is a clever idea that works if you overlook the monotony that also comes with it.

By the way, the word of the day on Wordle is..

Wordle Word of the Day: 23 September 2022

How funny.

Saturday 24 September
It's time to pick the next book out of the bowl.

Here goes...

Booker Prize 2022: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida

I haven't read a synopsis about The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka. I surmise it's based somewhere in Asia.

What I do know is it is second-largest book on the list. The first is Glory, so I've picked the two big ones back-to-back.

Wednesday 28 September
Okay, we have a new favourite.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka. Going in, I had some doubts about it because it is set in Sri Lanka and I thought it would be similar to Anuk Arudpragasam's A Passage North which was on the 2021 shortlist.

While A Passage North is set in modern day Sri Lanka, this year's title is set within the 80's and early-90's when the country was in the throes of its civil war.

The story is about a photographer who has documented the war. He has recently been murdered and the story focuses on his afterlife journey as he meets the ghosts of his country and his attempt to bring his murderers to justice while still hoping to shine a light on the depravity of the war.

I couldn't help but think of the movie Ghost while reading this. Especially when Maali Almeida is asking other spirits how to learn tricks to communicate with the living, just like Patrick Swayze's character did in the 1990 film.

Another thing I thought of, while reading this novel, is whether it is similar in ways to Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones - a book I have not read, but know parts of the plot.

My main complaint about the writing of Glory dealt was about how NoViolet Bulawayo would over-egg the pudding when highlighting something in her narrative. Shehan Karunatilaka did something in 'The Seven Moons..' which seemed unique to me. 

The entire story has the authorial voice speaking to the reader. However, the 'You' is directed to the titular character. I didn't know if we are meant to consider ourselves as the 'ghost' in this plot or not. That, of course, left it open to interpretation. 

Or did it?

In the latter part of the book, the reader is told ' no longer wondered who the 'you' was, and who the person saying the 'you' was. Because both were you and, you were neither'.

I am now half-way through the shortlist. As it stands, I have my favourites in the following order:

1) The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida
2) Oh William!
3) Glory

I still cannot shake off the memory of seeing how many people were rooting for Glory in that livestream chatroom, though.

My Kindle is going to be charged up tonight. The next book will be picked tomorrow.

Thursday 29 September
It's time to select the fourth book to read.

It'll be...

Booker Prize 2022: Treacle Walker

All I know about Treacle Walker is that it is written by Alan Garner, who is the oldest author to be shortlisted. He'll turn eighty-eight on the day of the ceremony. Serendipity?

* * *

Treacle Walker by Alan Garner was a very short book to read. I finished it in less than two hours.

Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy it. With that said, I believe that is more than likely on me rather than on the work itself.

On the surface, this is about a young boy named Joe who befriends a rag and bone man - Treacle Walker. There are elements of magic that occur after they become acquainted. And that's about it. 

Considering I was able to read it in a very short period, I might revisit the book once I've read the next two on the shortlist. Maybe I'll understand it better on a reread. As of right now, I feel like I'm missing something big as to why this made the final six.

The updated personal ranking is:

1) The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida
2) Oh William!
3) Glory
4) Treacle Walker

Friday 30 September
With two titles left, it's time to confirm the order I will read them in.

The penultimate book will be..

Booker Prize 2022: Small Things Like These

I don't have the notes the people at the Booker Prize sent out, but - if I recall correctly - Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan is the shortest book on this year's list. It could even be the shortest book in Booker Prize history, but don't quote me on that one. 

If so, this could turn out to be a case of me reading another novel in a day if yesterday is anything to go by.

* * *

I did indeed get to finish Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan before the end of the day.

The story is set during Christmas in mid-80's Ireland and centres on Bill Furlong - a man who had been raised by a mother and the lady who employed her, but is now a husband and father of five girls.

Furlong, while doing his work delivering coal to the local convent, finds a young girl locked away by the nuns and forced to work. This leads the character to think about how his life could have been different were it not for his mother's employer - Mrs. Wilson (a protestant widow). 

The story progresses with Furlong, after reflecting on his past, realising that Mrs. Wilson's farmhand - Ned - could be his father and then going on to becoming a saviour for one of the trapped girls from the convent laundry as people were in the street celebrating Christmas.

For what was quite a short book, I found Small Things Like These to be a pleasure to read. Especially after failing to enjoy Treacle Walker. 

The novel (novella?) is a work of fiction. However, it is based on the real 'Magdeline laundries' in which girls were sent away to if they fell pregnant out of marriage and were forced to work for Roman Catholic orders.

It would not surprise me if this book turns out to be this year's winner. On my personal ranking, it narrowly moves Oh William! down into third.

1) The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida
2) Small Things Like These
3) Oh William!
4) Glory
5) Treacle Walker

It's now time to start the final book on the shortlist. It's obvious what the last bit of paper is going to reveal, but I'll still pick it out and open it:

Booker Prize 2022: The Trees

I am going into Percival Everett's The Trees without any insight as to what it is about nor whether there are any trivia notes about its place on the shortlist.

Tuesday 4 October
There is a new book perched at the top of my ranking.

The Trees by Percival Everett is not only the best shortlisted book I've read this year. It would also be number one if I were to combine this year's books with all six I read last year.

The story is set in modern day America. Kicking off in Money, Mississippi, we are introduced to a cast of redneck characters that would appear suited in something like My Name Is Earl with redneck nicknames like Junior Junior, Hot Mama Yeller and Junior Junior Junior just to name a selection. 

When a couple of the characters are murdered -  and are found with a dead Black male next to them - those looking into the case uncover a link between the deceased and a lynching of a fourteen-year-old boy in the mid-50s.

Everything develops from there with further murders and deaths being attributed to a group looking for retribution for all those killed by lynching in the history of the US.

Basing this comedic social and political commentary/satire around the real-life killing of Emmett Till was, in my opinion, quote ballsy by the author. However, I found it to be perfect. I lost count of the number of times I found myself smiling at some of the clever things that Percival Everett thought up for this work.

I 100% loved The Trees. I feel glad that it was the final book I pulled out of the bowl because I would have found it so difficult to like anything which came after it in this journey through the shortlist.

With all that said, I have a bad track record when it comes to the Booker Prize. In 2021, the two novels I enjoyed the most were The Fortune Men (because it is set in my home city of Cardiff and was a work of fiction based on a real-life murder and hanging) and The Great Circle (good story and very lengthy). Neither won.

After finishing all six titles, the ranking is:

1) The Trees 
2) The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida
3) Small Things Like These
4) Oh William!
5) Glory
6) Treacle Walker

I know I stated that I would try Treacle Walker again. As of right now, I don't think it's worth it. 

I'm going to wait until tomorrow morning to take a look over the betting markets to compare my ranking with the bookies' order.

Wednesday 5 October
Before I check out the betting markets, I rated the books on Good Reads. Here's what I gave each one.

The Trees ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Small Things Like These ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Oh William! ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Glory ⭐⭐⭐
Treacle Walker ⭐⭐

This is how the consensus thought about each book on the Good Reads website (as of today, obviously). I gauged this by comparing their average five star score and then ranked them 

Small Things Like These (4.20)
The Trees (4.16)
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida (4.06)
Oh William! (3.89)
Glory (3.79)
Treacle Walker (3.30)

As you can see, the bottom half appears to be in line with me.

Now, onto the betting.


The bookmakers have Treacle Walker as the favourite. I wonder if this has anything to do with Alan Garner being the oldest author to appear on the shortlist and, to punctuate this even further, he'll turn eighty-eight on the day the winner will be announced. 

Here are the best odds for all titles as of this morning.

Treacle Walker 3/1
Oh William! 7/2
Glory 9/2
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida 5/1
Small Things Like These 5/1
The Trees 8/1

Yes, you are not seeing things - The Trees is the outsider. I am surprised at how the bookmakers' order contrasts with mine. 

It should go without saying that I am going to bet on Seven Moons of Maali Almeida and The Trees at those odds. I may even have a gamble on Small Things Like These.

* * *

The three bets have been struck...

My 3 Booker Prize 2022 Bets

At 8/1, I am obviously rooting even more for The Trees. Pun fully intentional.

Tuesday 11 October
I have been keeping track of the betting odds for days. I haven't been able to write about anything because the prices have remained stationary. Until now.

The best odds for all of the selections are now:

Treacle Walker 33/10
Oh William! 7/2
Glory 43/10
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida 5/1
Small Things Like These 5/1
The Trees 8/1

Treacle Walker has drifted out to 33/10 from 3/1. The odds for Glory to win have shortened slightly. They had been 9/2, but are now 43/10.

Thursday 13 October
William Hill's markets have now been published. This has made the 'top price' coverage change slightly with Oh William! now moving to favouritism.

Oh William! 4/1
Treacle Walker 21/5
Glory 21/5
Small Things Like These 5/1
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida 5/1
The Trees 8/1

Sunday 16 October
The tracking of the best odds has now become somewhat troublesome because only a couple of websites are available as of the time writing.

However, this does bring with it a new favourite.

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida is now at the top of the betting list at odds of 6/4. 

Booker Prize 2022 Betting

Monday 17 October
8:00AM - It's the day of the result and the betting odds are still as they were last night.

I've just read an article which was published on The Sunday Times website yesterday and it has made me ponder whether it had any affect on yesterday's betting odds shift in favour of The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida.

The reason why I reached that conclusion is because the piece writes - when covering the chance of Seven Moons winning - 'The bookies don't give it great odds but I wouldn't be surprised if it ended up winning'.

Johanna Thomas-Corr, who wrote the article, considers The Trees as the 'personal favourite' and asks whether the judges are brave enough to pick it as this year's winner. 

As well as being with me on The Trees and Seven Moons, the writer shared the same opinion as I on Glory writing that it is 'exhaustingly repetitive'.

* * *
7:05PM - It looks like betting has now been suspended. I was able to catch some adjustments when I visited the website a little after midday.

Booker Prize 2022 Betting - October 17

As you can see, the odds for Small Things Like These went down slightly while those for everything else, other than The Trees, were pushed out.

* * * 
9:55PM - And the winner is.. The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida. 

As you've read, this was my second-favourite novel on the shortlist. I am happy with that.

And that's all for this year. I've had fun reading the books this way. I may do it this way once again in 2023.

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