Results of the Man Booker Prize in the year 1997.
The year is 1969. In the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India, a skyblue Plymouth with chrome tailfins is stranded on the highway amid a Marxist workers’ demonstration. Inside the car sit two-egg twins Rahel and Esthappen, and so begins their tale… Armed only with the invincible innocence of children, they fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family—their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu (who loves by night the man her children love by day), their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on her violin), their beloved uncle Chacko (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher), their enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt), and the ghost of an imperial entomologist’s moth (with unusually dense dorsal tufts). When their English cousin, Sophie Mol, and her mother, Margaret Kochamma, arrive on a Christmas visit, Esthappen and Rahel learn that Things Can Change in a Day. That lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even cease forever, beside their river “graygreen. With fish in it. With the sky and trees in it. And at night, the broken yellow moon in it.”
Jonathan had always seemed decent enough. A little stuffy perhaps, but certainly not a rat. Nicola maybe shouldn’t have stepped out to buy that pack of cigarettes, because the Jonathan she discovers in her living room when she returns is not the straightforward, lawyerly, predictable, solid-as-the-Bank-of-England Jonathan with whom she has been sharing her life, not to mention her flat, for the past six years. That Jonathan—handsome, strong, adorable, devotedly hers—would never have simply, unilaterally, decided that she should, as he abruptly put it, “move out.” Shocked, grief-stricken, Nicola packs her bags. In the ensuing painful weeks, with the help and support of her friends, she strives bravely to face Life After Jonathan. If not as liberating and empowering as Nicola might have expected the experience to be, it is transforming. The discoveries Nicola makes about herself as well as her skittish ex are rarely predictable—and not always welcome.
At the midpoint of his life, Jerry Marlow finds himself on a bus taking him from Milan to Strasbourg. Sitting slightly off-center on the long back seat, he takes stock of the wreckage strewn behind him—a failed marriage, a daughter going astray, and an affair that has left him both numb and licking every wound, self-inflicted or otherwise. Even Marlow’s teaching job at the university in Milan is jeopardized by new Italian laws restricting foreigners. And ahead? What lies in wait around the next bend? There are times when the most appalling premonitions seem all too plausible, yet the pull of hope cannot be resisted. Fueled by Marlow’s scalpel-sharp commentary—double-edged and unsparing—Europa is a decidedly adult road novel with a rich international gallery of characters, and offers an explosive, sometimes hilarious portrait of a man patching together his life on a continent whose rhetoric of unity is less convincing—and far less exciting—than its bizarre polyglot passions and ancient conflicts.
Bernard MacLaverty brings us into the life of Catherine McKenna—estranged daughter, vexed lover, new mother, and musician making her mark in a male-dominated field. On the remote island of Islay she struggles for her artistic life in the midst of a relationship gone dangerously wrong. In Glasgow she becomes a mother and later composes a large-scale symphonic work to celebrate her child. And in her home town in Northern Ireland she returns to bury a difficult father, forge a tentative peace with her mother, and confront the ghosts of a constricting past. In part hers is a very modern spiritual journey, from superstition to sensibility.
Quarantine is an imaginative and powerful retelling of Christ’s fabled forty-day fast in the desert. In Jim Crace’s account, Jesus travels to a cluster of arid caves, where he crosses paths with a small group of exiles and changes their lives in unexpected ways. Evoking the strangeness and beauty of the desert landscape, Crace provocatively interprets one of our most important stories.
William John Cavendish Bentinck Scott, the fifth Duke of Portland, who died in 1879, was a singularly eccentric man. What sets him apart from other famous eccentrics is the fact that he had the wealth to indulge his manias to the fullest. Perhaps his greatest achievement was to have a vast network of underground tunnels built beneath his estate, from which, with his horses and carriages, he could secretly escape to the outside world. On a visit to the Duke’s establishment, which still more or less stands, Mick Jackson became fascinated not only by the tunnels but by the stories that surrounded the memory of this strange man. He began to embroider them with fictional ideas of his own, and with the tales the local people passed on to him. Some of the characters’ names in the book are genuine, as indeed are some of the most bizarre details. The actual narrative is, however, pure invention, filled not only with tales of the Duke, but also with the excitement and discoveries of the age in which he lived, and the mysteries that we are still exploring.