Take a look at the short list for the Man Booker Prize in 2005:
John Banville, The Sea
Julian Barnes, Arthur and George
Sebastian Barry, A Long, Long Way
Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go
Ali Smith, The Accidental
Zadie Smith, On Beauty
Kazuo Ishiguro had already won for The Remains of the Day (1989), which was phenomenal, and he would go on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Never Let Me Go (click on title for my review) is an incredibly original speculative book about child clones being raised to be organ donors. It addresses many of the same topics that arose in Remains – class, the master/servant relationship – and the two books are even stronger read together. Never Let Me Go shoulda been a contender.
And I just finished listening to The Accidental on audio book. Talk about original! It’s the story of the ironically named Smarts: professor Michael, writer Eve, teen bully Magnus, and pre-teen bully victim Astrid. A fifth wheel, Amber, careens into their lives and throws them all for a loop. Each character has a unique voice, not just as a person, but as a literary invention. Eve speaks in question-and-answer interview format like the historical recreations that she writes; literary Michael speaks an entire chapter in verse; Magnus has an alter ego named “Hologram Boy”; and twelve-year-old Astrid is still seeking a voice, trying out phrases like “typical and ironic” and “i.e.” And Amber speaks in movie allusions, since she was conceived in a cinema.
It’s an amazing book, as Astrid would say. It addresses not just bullying, but adultery, writer’s block, and the ways in which we are vulnerable to the kind of fraud Amber commits on the whole family. It shines with motifs of light, photography, and cinema. I found it far more complex than The Sea, and the twist at the end has a much more satisfying kick to it. I highly recommend it, and I can’t believe that Banville won over Smith and Ishiguro. Harumph.