The Booker Prize is one of the most prestigious literary prizes in fiction. Getting the nomination at all is a feat in and of itself; getting onto the shortlist and winning cements an author’s place in literary history. This year, 13 books were longlisted for the prize, with only six making the shortlist — those under consideration for winning the overall prize.
Luckily for our readers, in keeping with tradition, the Michigan Daily Book Review has read and reviewed all of the nominated books. Among them are the youngest author ever nominated, the oldest author ever nominated, the shortest book ever nominated and a debut novel. Here are our thoughts on the finalists of 2022.
Our projected winner: “Glory” by NoViolet Bulawayo
Our longlisted underdog: “Nightcrawling” by Leila Mottley
“Glory” by NoViolet Bulawayo
NoViolet Bulawayo’s “Glory” is nothing short of a masterpiece. It follows the downfall of a dictatorship in the fictional African country of Jidada, in which the 40-year reign of Old Horse comes to an end in a violent coup d’etat (inspired by an actual 2017 coup in Zimbabwe). Though every character in the novel is an animal, the struggles and conflicts in the novel feel as real as the events they’re inspired by. Bulawayo’s novel operates within its own vast mythos and cultural legacy, which is slowly built upon by various references to Jidada’s rich albeit complicated past as a former colony. The novel is a negotiation between this colonialist past and a future as an independent nation. Bulawayo communicates these themes in a multitude of ways, but her use of language throughout the novel is perhaps the most striking; words and phrases are repeated with a steady rhythm, until they gain an emotional resonance in the reader’s mind, reminiscent of poetry. Bulawayo unflinchingly examines the question of how we can overcome traumatic legacies and pick up the pieces to forge our own paths.
Daily Arts Writer Tate LaFrenier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Small Things Like These” by Claire Keegan
At 116 pages, “Small Things Like These” by Claire Keegan is the shortest book ever nominated for the Booker Prize. Don’t let its size fool you; the book is quiet and contemplative but stands out with its exposure of a tragic reality that threatens to rock the Irish town of New Ross. Set in 1985, the book follows Bill Furlong, a coal merchant who lives a good life with his wife and five daughters.
“Small Things Like These” is the story of a hardworking man and a choice that could alter his life forever. In a way, the book is simple. Even Keegan’s prose is simple; the book is filled with descriptions of Furlong’s work and home environment and the coldness of Ireland around Christmastime. But that’s not to say it doesn’t pack an emotional punch.
“Small Things Like These” is a worthy Booker finalist, but it probably won’t win.
You can read Ava’s full review of “Small Things Like These” here.
Daily Arts Writer Ava Seaman can be reached at email@example.com.
“The Trees” by Percival Everett
Grounded in mystery and intrigue, steeped in bitter dark humor, Percival Everett’s “The Trees” combines the Guggenheim- and Creative Capital fellowship-awarded author’s signature engaging and pleasurable prose with a side of scathing social commentary. “The Trees,” rife with twists and turns, takes place in the small town of Money, Mississippi. Sixty-seven years after the brutal murder of Emmett Till, a series of killings, eerily similar to Till’s, arise.
Gut-wrenching, acerbic and willing to go to the unseemly places we would rather ignore, “The Trees” is both highly deserving of its spot on the shortlist and a top contender for the Booker prize.
Daily Arts Writer Yumna Dagher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida” by Shehan Karunatilaka
“The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida” by Shehan Karunatilaka delivers a biting satire on the human condition, rich with colorful visuals, cutting sardonic humor and existential contemplation. Set in 1990, as the ruthless decades-long Sri Lankan civil war rages, Karunatilaka introduces the readers to a protagonist whose lifestyle and behavior casts him as an outsider, an unrelatable deviant murdered for trying to uncover the truth. What unfolds is a familiar murder mystery whodunit but with a twist of magical realism that skews the line between real and fake. “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida” offers what a good book should — a delicious page-turner that will keep you thinking even after the cover closes. “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida” most assuredly deserves its spot on the shortlist for the 2022 Booker Prize.
You can read Noah’s full review of “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida” here.
Daily Arts Writer Noah Lusk can be reached at email@example.com.
“Treacle Walker” by Alan Garner
In “Treacle Walker,” an ordinary boy named Joe makes a bizarre transaction that enables him to see and experience the most peculiar things. It’s a surrealist novel, whimsical and full of oddities. Garner’s writing is incredibly spare, and its mysterious silences cause the reader to lean into the story, rapturously hanging onto every word and treasuring the dollops of pure wisdom and truth that make this novel compelling. There are certain phrases that are repeated throughout the novel, like “What sees is seen,” “I heal all things; save jealousy,” and “Can’t never did.” In this little book, Garner powerfully communicates his many insights about the world. “Treacle Walker” is a book you could read over and over again and still see something new every time.
You can read Pauline’s full review of “Treacle Walker” here.
Daily Arts Writer Pauline Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Oh William!” by Elizabeth Strout
In Elizabeth Strout’s third installation following Lucy Barton, the author’s ability to invigorate the complexities of life into her characters and narratives shines through better than ever before. Lucy, a writer softly in tune with the world’s emotions around her, is wrapped back into the world of her complicated ex-husband. He is perhaps the only aspect of the world she cannot unravel, and is an on-again, off-again friend for reasons she cannot explain; really, the two act as magnets of mysticism to each other despite the juxtaposition of their characters. As the most recent indulgence of the pair and central plot of the novel, William ropes Lucy into a long winded trip to co-investigate his discovery of a life-altering family secret.
It is not surprising that “Oh William!” is a Booker shortlist nominee: Strout offers a tender, intimate look into the angst, fears, insecurities and existential mysteries life has to offer, along with the lonely joys and beautiful imperfections that make it worthwhile.
Daily Arts Writer Ava Burzycki can be reached at email@example.com.
“After Sappho” by Selby Wynn Schwartz
“After Sappho,” author Selby Wynn Schwartz’s debut novel, is the kind of book you can open to any page and find something beautiful: “scry the marvelous new thing that will grace and harrow your life,” “the world was made of threads humming into place,” “just outside time or subject, wistful in colour, its edges tinged with foreboding.” Written as a series of short vignettes of just a few paragraphs at a time, labeled by character and year, this book is best read like a collection of poetry: in small doses focused on language and unconcerned with plot. Schwartz loosely traces the lives of iconic Sapphic women, from the very famous Colette and Virginia Woolf to the lesser-known Lina Poletti and Sarah Bernhardt, as they loved other women and made strides in feminism and art. But the book is not a biography; Schwartz herself describes it in the bibliographic endnote as “a hybrid of imaginaries and intimate non-fictions.” She takes on the voice of a Greek chorus in a tragedy as they follow Queer women through time and offer interludes of Sappho’s poetic fragments.
While “After Sappho” deserves its place on the longlist for its attention to historic detail and poetic language, its sometimes-confusing timeline and narrative — clarity on which are often sacrificed to the altar of making the book sound pretty — mean it sits comfortably off of the shortlist.
Senior Arts Editor Emilia Ferrante can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Trust” by Hernan Diaz
“Trust” has fantastic writing but is a disappointing concept novel. Composed of four chapters written as excerpts of other books, Diaz’s debut samples literature written in an alternate 20th century America. Each sample stacks neatly on top of each other in one conveniently-themed book jacket. They are written from a different perspective (with a corresponding new writing style and skill level) revolving around the topic of money and the life of one Wall Street tycoon. But the stories carry few points of continuity and, at its base construction, the book is a hamfisted consideration about how truth, myth and memory are formed — a tragically haphazard copy-and-paste of gorgeous short stories and gimmicky narratives. The second story, stylized as a half-complete manuscript, was written with no narrative purpose besides existing as a prolonged example of the many discarded biographies mentioned in a later story. Instead of being excited by the gimmick, I found it twee and embarrassing. Much like the “Bojack Horseman” character Vincent Adultman (the nom de plume of three kids masquerading in a trench coat), the novel wears the veneer of a cohesive story without being a unified treatise.
Daily Arts Writer Elizabeth Yoon can be reached at email@example.com.
“Booth” by Karen Joy Fowler
The Booth family — yes, that Booth family — makes for a surprisingly fascinating and nuanced focus for a narrative, and author Karen Joy Fowler capitalizes on that in her appropriately-titled novel “Booth.” As tempting as it may be to focus on the infamous assassin of the 16th U.S. president, Fowler is much more interested in using her novel to explore the intricacies of a multigenerational family of actors, plagued by a legacy of showmanship. In “Booth,” Fowler examines the patriarch of the Booth family, Junius Booth and his career as an illustrious Shakespearean actor. After Junius’s death, his legacy and impact are felt throughout his many children, and Fowler uses the lens of this legacy to examine the familial dynamics of the man who killed Abraham Lincoln. Over the course of the novel, an intricate portrait of sibling conflict, intergenerational trauma and political differences emerges, until Fowler leads us to the moment when one Booth family member decides to betray his country and change the course of history. Ultimately, “Booth” focuses less on the leading Booth man we all know and more on the circumstances that shaped him, which prove to be far more interesting than one might originally expect.
Daily Arts Writer Tate LaFrenier can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies” by Maddie Mortimer
Maddie Mortimer’s debut novel should be applauded for its unconventionality, but, unfortunately, that is all “Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies” is. The story follows 40-something Lia, who’s facing a cancer recurrence. She’s a self-hating woman whose diagnosis has sent her deep into a depression, a choice that regurgitates unoriginal and regrettable stereotypes and language about illnesses and those who suffer from them. Though Mortimer does well to weave together familial tensions, specifically in regard to Lia’s relationship with her mother and her daughter, it isn’t enough to compensate for the story’s disappointing representation of disease nor its futile attempts to reconcile significant character tensions. While Mortimer’s unorthodox style distinguishes her as an author to watch out for, her first work simply isn’t Booker-worthy.
You can read Lillian’s full review of “Maps of Our Spectacular Bodies” here.
Managing Arts Editor Lillian Pearce can be reached at email@example.com.
“Nightcrawling” by Leila Mottley
There’s no question that “Nightcrawling” was written by a poet — youngest-ever Booker nominee Leila Mottley (also Oakland’s 2018 Youth Poet Laureate) builds the form of her chapters through tactile details. The literary fiction title starts with soft, slow imagery, such as the tattoos on the tender skin of East Oakland teenager Kiara Holt as she struggles to make ends meet. The initial tone contrasts with the fast, blurry numbness that fudges Kiara’s memories in later chapters as she is exploited as a sex worker. Unquestionably gut-wrenching, “Nightcrawling” works on many levels; each word is carefully imbued with an apparent struggle between crushing hopelessness and unsettled optimism, and the larger movements the piece made left me twisted.
The novel forces you to feel; for that alone, it deserves its nomination.
Daily Arts Writer Meera Kumar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Case Study” by Graeme Macrae Burnet
Many novels are tagged “psychological,” but few embody the word like “Case Study.” In ’60s London, a young woman discovers the recent passing of her sister is among a collection of case studies by famous but controversial therapist Collins Braithwaite. Intending to investigate her sister’s death, she makes an appointment with the psychologist, styling herself “Rebecca” to hide her identity. But the pseudonym takes hold, and she feels herself slipping into the false persona more and more often.
Burnet’s prose cocoons us in the mind of “Rebecca,” rendering us all the more torn as that mind splits and fractures. It’s an affecting work, often troubling, always engaging. Reader beware: This novel may trigger dissociative episodes.
You can read Julian’s full review of “Case Study” here.
Books Beat Editor Julian Wray can be reached at email@example.com.
“The Colony” by Audrey Magee
“The Colony” by Audrey Magee is a complex commentary on the cost of imperialism, class structure and the preservation of language. Set in 1979 Ireland, the story follows two men, both set on using a remote island in the Atlantic Ocean as a backdrop for their own self discovery while taking advantage of the natives. Throughout the novel are intrusions of violence from The Troubles, which becomes increasingly important to the two men.
Magee writes without punctuation, allowing her prose to flow effortlessly through her character’s thoughts and narration. She often uses paragraphs of only one word in a vertical configuration, which adds fluidity to the inner musings of the characters. Though the story is not fast-paced, Magee’s lyrical writing style and the novel’s moral takeaways make it worthy of the longlist.
Daily Arts Writer Bella Kassa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.