Annal: 1998 Man Booker Prize for Fiction

Results of the Man Booker Prize in the year 1998.

Book:Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Ian McEwan

On a chilly February day, two old friends meet in the throng outside a crematorium to pay their last respects to Molly Lane. Both Clive Linley and Vernon Halliday had been Molly’s lovers in the days before they reached their current eminence. Clive is Britain’s most successful modern composer; Vernon is editor of the quality broadsheet The Judge. Gorgeous, feisty Molly had other lovers, too, notably Julian Garmony, Foreign Secretary, a notorious right-winger tipped to be the next prime minister. In the days that follow Molly’s funeral, Clive and Vernon will make a pact with consequences neither has foreseen. Each will make a disastrous moral decision, their friendship will be tested to its limits, and Julian Garmony will be fighting for his political life.

A contemporary morality tale that is as profound as it is witty, this short novel is perhaps the most purely enjoyable fiction Ian McEwan has ever written. And why Amsterdam? What happens there to Clive and Vernon is the most delicious shock in a novel brimming with surprises.

Book:Breakfast On Pluto

Breakfast On Pluto

Patrick McCabe

With wonderful delicacy and subtle insight and intimation, McCabe creates Mr. Patrick “Pussy” Braden, the enduringly and endearingly hopeful hero(ine) whose gutty survival and yearning quest for love resonate in and drive the glimmering, agonizing narrative in which the Troubles are a distant and immediate echo and refrain.

As Breakfast on Pluto opens, her ladyship, resplendent in housecoat and head scarf, reclines in Kilburn, London, writing her story for the elusive psychiatrist Dr. Terence, paring her fingernails as she reawakens the truth behind her life and the chaos of long-ago days in a city filled with hatred. Twenty years ago, she escaped her hometown of Tyreelin, Ireland, fleeing her foster mother, Whisker—prodigious Guinness-guzzler, human chimney—and her mad household (endless doorstep babas!), to begin a new life in London. There, in blousey tops and satin miniskirts, she plies her trade, often risking life and limb among the…[more]

Book:England, England

England, England

Julian Barnes

Picture an England where all the pubs are quaint, the Royals behave themselves (more or less), and the cliffs of Dover actually are white. Now imagine that the principal national treasures—from Stonehenge to Buckingham Palace—are grouped together on the Isle of Wight.

This is precisely the vision that Sir Jack Pitman seeks to realize: a “destination” where tourists can find replicas of Big Ben, Wembley Stadium, the National Gallery, Princess Di’s grave, and even Harrods (conveniently located inside the Tower of London), and visit them all in the course of a weekend. As this land of make-believe takes on its own comic and horrible reality, Barnes delights us with a novel that is at once a philosophical inquiry, a burst of mischief, a hilarious romp, and a moving elegy about authenticity and nationality.

Book:The Industry of Souls

The Industry of Souls

Martin Booth

The Industry of Souls is the story of Alexander Bayliss, a British citizen arrested in Leipzig by the KGB in the 1950s. He is erroneously charged with espionage and accused of being an enemy of the Soviet peoples, and after a brief and “utterly irrelevant” trial he is sentenced to twenty-five years of hard labor in the work camps of Siberia. Officially reported drowned after his car went off a bridge, Bayliss (later known as Shurik) is reduced to “a filed dossier in a locked cabinet in the vaults of the Lubyanka, a lost man, a non-person.” Eventually freed from the gulag in the 1970s, he has no reason to return to the West, a world he barely remembers and to which he no longer belongs—he has become Russian in everything but birth. He finds his way to the home of his best friend at the camp—Kirill. Taken in by Kirill’s childless daughter and her husband, he eventually becomes a local school master—beloved by everyone in the village. …[more]

Book:Master Georgie

Master Georgie: A Novel

Beryl Bainbridge

Master Georgie—George Hardy, a surgeon and amateur photographer—stands at the center of this intense, searing, unsettling novel that takes him from a comfortable life in prosperous nineteenth century Liverpool to the battlefield at Inkerman and the horrors of the Crimean War. His story begins and ends in front of a camera, but Master Georgie is more than the subject of a photograph. Three voices record the series of strange events, bad judgments, good intentions, and ill luck that shape the destiny of Master Georgie. There is Myrtle, a foundling rescued by an accident of fate that secures her an ambiguous position in the Hardy household. There is Pompey Jones, a resourceful street boy, then a fire-eater, and finally a photographer’s assistant. There is the pompous, melancholy Dr. Potter who studies the classics and the new science of Darwin no less than he ponders the singular misadventure in a Liverpool brothel that has so ominously linked his own fortune with that of a servant girl, a scamp, and his brother-inlaw, Master Georgie.

Book:The Restraint of Beasts

The Restraint of Beasts

Magnus Mills

Here is the captivating tale of three men who work for a company specializing in high-tension fences, the kind that keep beasts in and humans out—or maybe the other way around. Tam and Richie are good Scots lads at heart (taciturn and suspicious of authority) who have turned loafing and pub-crawling into an art form. They try the patience of their foreman, the narrator of the novel, who has the misfortune of being British. Carefully laid plans go haywire from the start. The fence they had built for Mr. McCrindle has gone slack, and while he watches them attempt to set things right, things go horribly, terribly wrong. Covering their tracks as best they can, the hapless trio head south from Scotland to do a job in England. But sometimes good fences make disastrous neighbors.

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