Last year I read the entire shortlist, but only after the winner had been announced. There were some good novels on there, but only the Colm Toibin came close to actually being great. For me, eventual winner The Luminaries was one of the biggest wastes of time I remember enduring. And that includes the years where I played Championship Manager for roughly 6 hours a day.
This year’s shortlist looked a little more exciting. I was intrigued by the premise of Howard Jacobson’s J. I was happy to see that yet another novel based in India was in contention. And, most of all, one of my absolute favourite authors in existence was on the list.
Ali Smith. What is there to say about her. Having met her on several occassions, I can say that she’s not only an incredible, daring, witty, and original writer, but she is also one of the nicest and most encouraging people on the planet. I kind of wish she was my aunty. But she isn’t.
And for that reason, I’ll be completely honest about her shortlisted work How to be Both. It isn’t my favourite of her novels. It’s an interesting and playful piece of literature, split into two separate stories that can be read in either order. But unfortunately, one of the stories (that of adolescent, grief-stricken George) is so much stronger than the other (which focuses on the life of Francesco del Cossa, a real-life figure responsible for a series of striking paintings in the Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara, Italy.)
You can read my full review on Bookmunch.
Should it win? Despite this not being Ali’s best work, it is still much better than most of last year’s contenders. It certainly does more in 300-something pages than The Luminaries did in its 3 and half million or so. I wouldn’t be upset, or surprised, to see Ali take down the prize. The book is unique and original, and that is what the Booker is supposed to be about. Some of her previous novels may have been more obvious winners, but there isn’t a writer today who deserves the recognition more.