Can you choose the winner? This year, it’s more delicate than ever

Reckless, dissipated, Maali Almeida is a former war photographer given seven nights as a traveling spirit to establish how he died. Equally urgent, he needs to whisper and prod his old lover and their best friend to find his secret stash of photographs, which reveals who presided over Sri Lanka’s criminal massacres and who he hopes will bring justice to their many victims. It’s a fair race against very little time.

Karunatilaka moves with spectacular agility between the fictional present and Maali’s remembered past, between the society of ghosts and that of government hitmen, between boiling tenderness or anger and Maali’s usual affected cynicism. So much life in so much death! Ghost stories usually irritate me, but I wish this one never ended.

Luckily he did, though, given that Claire Keegan Little things like these came next. This marked the end of the Fantastic Beasts race. Little things is a Christmas tale, the story of a modestly prosperous coal merchant in the Ireland of 1985 – not so long ago – who discovers a barefoot girl locked in the coal shed of the local laundry of the Magdalen.

Afterwards, he finds himself having tea and cake in the parlor of the convent, being told what he instinctively knows to be a pack of lies by the Mother Superior. It is, he realizes, a diabolical place. But what should he do? Like Garner, Keegan worked and sanded his piece of prose – the book is just 110 large-print pages – until it was perfectly smooth; the clarity of this indictment, not only of these wicked nuns or the church, but of all who feared them and remained silent, is brilliantly crystal clear.

So the Booker list was, after all, a mixed bag. Onward to Elizabeth Strout Oh William!, the third in the author’s series of books about a made-up character – like the author, a writer in late middle age – called Lucy Barton, who talks a lot about everyday reality. What Lucy Did Next, as Strout might well have called it, describes a journey her heroine takes with her first husband, William, an emotionally distant man who nevertheless always made her feel safe, to search for her half-sister. long lost.

Strout’s folksy colloquial style—”I mean I never really got over it, my early days, poverty, I guess that’s what I mean”—and combing through his smaller observations and feelings attract many readers. I am not one of them. The cultured narrowness of this domestic miniaturist, especially after the expansive and raucous examinations of the state of nations in Glory and Seven Moons and, on a different note, the rage against injustice in Keegan’s novel seems merely peripheral. But not for his legions of readers, of course. Or, for that matter, Justices Booker.

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A welcome return to fury, then, in Percival Everett Trees. Everett is a college English professor, but this contestant — being, as it stands, a hard-boiled thriller — initially feels less like a Booker book than any of the others. Several black detectives from competing agencies are dispatched to an upscale Mississippi town when a succession of white men, mostly with Klan ties, begin dying with a black corpse accompanying them holding their severed testicles. A 100-year-old witch with an interest in lynchings might have something to do with it; so is the waitress local diners call Dixie, who looks white but isn’t. As the local sheriff says, we all have a drop.

Critics have invoked Southern Gothic to describe Trees. It’s certainly gory, but it’s hard-hitting, direct writing that moves like a freight train; it has none of the elaborate morbidity suggested by the word “Gothic”. It does, however, encompass ideas of revenge, retaliation, and the march of history far outside the usual thriller range. Maybe it really shouldn’t be a competitor to Booker, but I’m glad it is.

So we have it. Where the judges could go, who could select such a spread, who could like both Oh William! and Glory, can only be guessed. No prizes for guessing my personal choice would be The seven moons of Maali Almeida, a rollercoaster of intrigue and language so lavish and impassioned that it seemed to spill out of the pages as I read it. If you bet, however, I’d have a bob all over the place.

The winner of the Booker Prize is announced on October 17.

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