Nailed on Booker Prize winner 2021 selected from the shortlist…..

The Booker Prize shortlist was announced today, in a recent reading spate, I guessed 2 from 4 – thats:

The Fortune Men, Nadifa Mohamed (Viking, Penguin General, PRH)

No One is Talking About This, Patricia Lockwood (Bloomsbury Circus, Bloomsbury Publishing)

Can I say

I’m sorry for the two I read that didnt get there, the excellent Light Perpetual Francis Spufford (Faber) and A Town Called Solace Mary Lawson (Chatto & Windus, Vintage

So can I beat this Jury? Is this really them?

4 left to read before my official announcement, tune in for the winner.

Richard Powers: Bewilderment

Maggie Shipstead: Great Circle

Anuk Arudpragasam: A Passage North

Damon Galgut: The Promise

Can The official jury find this winner? I doubt it!

Patricia Lockwood ‘No One Is Talking About This’

“Booker Prize 2021: 6 Books Sure to be shortlisted for this prize.
“No One Is Talking About This”: In order of reading book number 5.


SHOOT IT IN MY VEINS, we said, whenever the headline was too perfect, the juxtaposition too good to be true.img_0238SHOOT IT IN MY VEINS, we said, when the Flat Earth Society announced it had members all over the globe.


I sometimes wondered what it must have been like to have your whole idea of what a story or novel is put in question, for instance for the pre-war audience to wake up to discover the Beat Generation “From William S. Burroughs’ cut-up technique (the splicing of a document, rearranged to create new meaning), to Jack Kerouac’s stream of consciousness, the Beats forged new formats through their innovative and experimental approaches toward literature.” Well here I’m faced with writing shaped by the internet, short attention span paragraphs unlinked to each other but slowly forming a whole, a message in the first half of this book, here are a few:


The people who lived in the portal were often compared to those legendary experiment rats who kept hitting a button over and over to get a pellet. But at least the rats were getting a pellet, or the hope of a pellet, or the memory of a pellet. When we hit the button, all we were getting was to be more of a rat.


A twenty-three-year-old influencer sat next to her on the couch and spoke of the feeling of being a public body; his skin seemed to have no pores whatsoever. “Did you read . . . ?” they said to each other again and again. “Did you read?” They kept raising their hands excitedly to high-five, for they had discovered something even better than being soulmates: that they were exactly, and happily, and hopelessly, the same amount of online.


And after losing herself online, the narrator is faced with reality in the second part of this book, told in the same short sharp paragraphs which after seeming void, empty, vaguely humorous in the first part, in this second part they become a little more linked to each other, although rarely directly. This same approach becomes caring, alive, touching and human; quite some feat!
Reading the acknowledgements afterwards it seems this experience in the second part is based on Lockwoods own family, and hence her own life, there is then little doubt that the first part is also based on her life. I’ll let you discover this story, but here is a sounbite:


Dread rose in their hearts upon hearing the worst seven words in the English language. There was a new law in Ohio. It stated that it was a felony to induce a pregnant woman before thirty-seven weeks, no matter what had gone wrong, no matter how big her baby’s head was. Previously it had been a misdemeanor, a far less draconian charge. The law itself was only a month old: fresh as a newborn, and no one knew whose it was, and naked fear on the doctors’ faces.


This is experimental writing, and required me to hang in there in the first section, even if some of the paragraphs were mildly humorous. The narrator after sinking without trace into the portal is dragged out by real life, by emotions and later after the events of the second part we know she’ll be pulled towards it again but she will not fall in.

First Published in English as “No One Is Talking About This” in 2021 by Bloomsbury circus

Kazuo Ishiguro ‘KLARA and THE SUN’

“Booker Prize 2021: 6 Books Sure to be shortlisted for this prize.
“Klara and The Sun”: In order of reading book number 4.


‘He’s a B2,’ Manager said. ‘Third series. For the right child, Rex will make a perfect companion. In particular, I feel he’ll encourage a conscientious and studious attitude in a young person.’
‘Well this young lady here could certainly do with that.’
‘Oh, Mother, he’s perfect.’ Then the mother said: ‘B2, third series. The ones with the solar absorption problems, right?’
She said it just like that, in front of Rex, her smile still on her face. Rex kept smiling too, but the child looked baffled and glanced from Rex to her mother.
‘It’s true,’ Manager said, ‘that the third series had a few minor issues at the start. But those reports were greatly exaggerated. In environments with normal levels of light, there’s no problem whatsoever.’
‘I’ve heard solar malabsorption can lead to further problems,’ the mother said. ‘Even behavioral ones.’


Ishiguro’s Klara is set some time in the not too distant future and lets us compare two feats of engineering, Klara, an AF, an Artificial Friend, developed to be a friend for teenagers and the teenager in question, Josie. Josie who is “lifted”, that is to say as we learn near the middle of the book, genetically engineered, a choice her richer parents were able to make because if you’re not “lifted” you have no real chance of an education.

The story is told by Klara, from the beginning in the shop waiting to be bought, where we learn through Klara of her observations and deductions, Klara is a B2 as illustrated in the opening quote and of course has a very particular relationship with the sun which gives her all of her “nourishment”. Whilst in the shop window, Klara made two observations which were to form her vision of the world, firstly a machine working in the street outside which giving of large amounts of smoke temporarily hides the sun and secondly a drunk passed out on the street who comes around when the sun shines strongly on him.

Soon after being bought by Josie, Klara learns that Josie is very ill and may die (genetic engineering seems to be a risky business, Josie had had a sister that had died at her age and as we learn, if they manage to live through this age then they’ll be ok). So she tries to reason how to save Josie and thinks back to her earlier experience:


I thought too about the time the sun had given his special nourishment to beggar man and his dog and considered the important differences between his circumstances and Josie’s. For one thing many passers by had known beggar man and when he’d become weak he had done so on a busy street visible to taxi drivers and runners, any of these people might have drawn the sun’s attention to his condition and that of his dog. Even more significantly I remembered what had been happening not long before the sun had given his special nourishment to beggar man, the Cootings Machine had been making its awful pollution.


We learn that people think of AFs as having superstitions but we see through Klara that a partial understanding of the world around you can lead to this. Can the sun help Josie? Through Klara’s observations we learn of the toll of human suffering the technology brings, of people losing their jobs, of communities fighting back. More directly, firstly we see in the shop the differences between the AFs, each with their own personality and then hear Josie’s father wonder about the ironing out of differences between the lifted children:


Mr Paul is an expert engineer I said turning to face him, I was hoping he’d be able to think of something, but the father kept gazing through the windshield at the yard I couldn’t explain it to mosey earlier in the diner, I couldn’t explain why I hate Kapaldi so much, why I can’t bring myself to be civil towards him but I’d like to try and explain it to you Klara if you don’t mind, his switch of subject was highly unwelcome but anxious not to lose his goodwill I said nothing and waited I think I hate Kapaldi because deep down I suspect he may be right that what he claims is true that science has now proved beyond doubt that there is nothing so unique about my daughter, nothing there our modern tools can’t excavate, copy, transfer, that people have been living with one another for all this time, centuries loving and hating each other and all on a mistaken premise, a kind of superstition we kept going while we didn’t know better, that’s how Kapaldi sees it and there’s a part of me that fears he’s right.


Josie’s mother would like Klara to learn to be Josie, to replace her for a while if she were to die, to ease the pain. It of course never gets to this and as the book comes to an end, and Klara to the end of her useful life, her observations as to what makes a human individual and why she would not have been able to replace Josie ring true. Finally a whole AF life, for an exceptional AF to really understand humans.

Another most enjoyable book well worth reading.

First Published in English as “KLARA and THE SUN” in 2021 by Faber & Faber.

Mary Lawson ‘A Town Called Solace’

“Booker Prize 2021: 6 Books Sure to be shortlisted for this prize.
“A Town Called Solace”: In order of reading book number 3.


The boxes were in the middle of the floor, which made Clara fidgety. Every time the man came into the living room he had to walk around them. If he’d put them against a wall he wouldn’t have to do that and it would have looked much neater. And why would he bring them in from his car and then not unpack them? At first Clara had thought it meant that he was delivering them for Mrs Orchard and she would unpack them herself when she got home. But she hadn’t come home and the boxes were still there and so was the man, who didn’t belong.


Mary Lawson takes us to northern Ontario, 700 miles north of Toronto in this bitter sweet novel with the aptly named town. Clara, a young child is sat in her window looking out for the return of her sixteen year old sister, Rose, who has run away from home when she observes a stranger in the house opposite, mrs Orchard’s house. Mrs Orchard is Clara’s friend and she has given her a key to feed Moses the cat whilst she is in hospital. As Clara questions what she sees based on her 8 year old experience, her dialogue is reminiscent of another Klara from “Klara and the Sun” as illustrated in the opening quote.

The story is told from three points of view, Clara but also Liam, the stranger from the first quote, arriving after a painful separation and Mrs Orchard who has gone to hospital, the novel explores the implicit link between Liam, who as a young boy lived next to Mrs Orchard before moving away and Clara living next door to Mrs Orchard with both of the adults for different reasons having come to the improbable Solace in pain and both finding a sort of solace. Liam working for a local roofer who it turns out had never left Solace and slowly reflects about his life, even slowly remembering some of the forgotten time before moving away from next door to Mrs Orchard when he was young. The search for Rosa permeates the story, as the policeman says, they run away to Toronto, there really is nowhere else to go. Mrs Orchard thinks about the past, talking to her long dead husband from her hospital bed, talks about the importance of Clara to her and about Liam as she revisits her own traumas:


I can’t tell you how I long for home. Just the normal routines of the day; they’re what I miss most. Putting the kettle on. Perhaps having a little chat with Clara if she pops over after school. I enjoy our conversations very much, you never know where they’re going to end up. She doesn’t make my heart lift the way Liam did, but no other child has ever done that.


This slow moving story as people learn to live with life’s pains grows on you and as a reader you slow down to the speed of the story.

First Published in English as “A Town Called Solace” in 2021 by Vintage

Nadifa Mohamed ‘The Fortune Men’

“Booker Prize 2021: 6 Books Sure to be shortlisted for this prize.
“The Fortune Men”: In order of reading book number 2.


Mahmood Mattan pushes through the crowd at the bar.
« I said get me another coffee. ». Berlin catches his Trinidadian wife’s waist and steers her towards Mahmood.
« Lou sort this trouble maker another coffee».Image1
Ranged along the bar are many of Tiger Bay’s Somali sailors. They look somewhere between gangsters and dandies in their cravates, pocket chains and trilby hats. Only Mahmood wears a homburg pulled down low over his gaunt face and sad eyes. He is a quiet man always appearing and disappearing silently at the fringes of the sailors or the gamblers or the thieves. Men pull their possessions closer when he is around and keep their eyes on his long elegant fingers.


Nadifa Mohamed takes us on a trip back in time, to Tiger Bay in the early fifties where she draws us a vibrant picture of this area around the docks in Cardiff, and in particular to the Somali sailors washed up on these shores in between ships, or in the case of Mahmood Mattan with wife and children. At the beginning of the book we meet Mattan in Berlin’s milk bar, with a short description which nonetheless gives us a detailed sketch of him as illustrated in the opening quote.

Why were the Somali sailors there in Tiger Bay? Why were sailors of all nationalities there in the early fifties? The answer is obvious but who were these people? It may be difficult to give them names but Nadifa Mohamed brings to life the vibrancy by naming the jobs they filled:


Passing the shops on Bute Street, he finds a few lights still on: at Zussen’s pawnbroker’s where many of his clothes are on hock, at the Cypriot barbershop where he has his hair trimmed and at Volacki’s where he used to buy seafaring kits but now just bags the occasional dress for Laura. The tall grand windows of Cory’s Rest are steamed up, with figures laughing and dancing behind the leaded glass. He peeks his head through the door to check if some of his regulars are there, but the West Indian faces around the snooker table are unfamiliar. He had once belonged to this army of workers pulled in from all over the world, dredged in to replace the thousands of mariners lost in the war: dockers, tallymen, kickers, stevedores, winch men, hatch men, samplers, grain porters, timber porters, tackle men, yard masters, teamers, dock watchmen, needle men, ferrymen, shunters, pilots, tugboatmen, foyboatmen, freshwater men, blacksmiths, jetty clerks, warehousemen, measurers, weighers, dredgermen, lumpers, launch men, lightermen, crane drivers, coal trimmers, and his own battalion, the stokers.


Then to help us understand that immigration isn’t a new thing but is age old, Berlin tells us stories of his own from the beginning of the century, working on the skyscrapers in New York or as an exhibit in the world fair in Germany.

But the story is about a sordid crime, the murder by blade of Violet Volacki the daughter of an Eastern European Jewish father, she runs a shop on Bute street, and also cashes seaman’s cheques. Violet lives with her sister and niece, and one night opens late for a person described as black and is found dead with her throat cut 20 minutes later.

Then begins the search for the killer, a Somali had been seen in Bute street by one witness, Mattan is known to the police for petty larceny and is questioned. Nadifa Mohamed gives us a very credible insight into Mattan’s life, his way of thinking and a possible reason for his not necessarily wanting to tell where he had been.

The story is based on a true life case and the language of his defense lawyer is an eye opener to the level of casual racism at the time.

Yet another excellent choice, a must for the short list!

First Published in English as “The Fortune Men” in 2021 by Viking.

Francis Spufford ‘Light Perpetual’

“Booker Prize 2021: 6 Books Sure to be shortlisted for this prize.
“Light Perpetual”: In order of reading book number 1.


Those, and also the lucky ones, the energetic ones, the organised ones among the strivers, will go off into the long youthfulness of the prosperous, drinking wine and buying lampshades and able to treat turning thirty as a point in late adolescence. For the rest, though, this is it. This first flowering will be the only one. They’ll have their bloom, and that’s all. By the time they’re thirty, time will have stomped all over them.


Now this book about the East of London is just so full of life, I sort of remember all of these times (a little ouside of the east end of course) except the opening chapter, more from my mother’s memories. The book treats the -what if?- As the V2 bombers rained down on London, Spufford goes back to one of their impacts, of the New Cross Road branch of Woolworth’s building, in the first chapter, four pages that cover several mili-seconds from the moment the bomb pierces the ceiling of the store until it’s explosion and the anhililation of everyone within a considerable distance, including 5 young children. Five young children that Spufford revives in his – what if? -, five young children that he makes relive the rapidly changing years of the 20th century. I’ll add here that thanks to the 21st century we can see, ourselves, another rapidly changing world.

From childhood on we might guess where their lives are taking them, but that’s not taking into account the changes in the world and in the East of London. There is Vern, the wide boy, the chancer, where could he go in the East of London? From little booms to bust in scams, until the money comes to this part of London and then yeah, from big booms to bust.


Maybe he should have gone for the Café Royal? Vern quails as the taxi door opens, and it suddenly seems a long way across the pavement to the steps of Tognozzi’s, and a total toss-up whether McLeish will even get the point of the kind of understated, cripplingly expensive, visited-by-the-Queen poshness that this place represents. Footballers know about the Café Royal. They get taken there with their wives by the management when they win the Cup. There’s gold leaf, and bottles of bubbly going fwoosh, and a picture for the paper. It’s their idea of quality, isn’t it – of the high life? Yeah, he should have taken him there; or to do a bit of that kind of nightclubbing where posh meets gangland.


There’s Alec, a bright young lad, married, young working hard, apprenticed and then a type setter, taking his family forward, Fleet street, until technology gets the better of him and he is forced to face the truth, was his family ever really going forward with him?


Everyone knows that parenthood changes you: but he’d thought that meant the rearrangement that comes at the beginning of it, when you learn that your life is going to be curled protectively around the kids. He doesn’t know what to do with this recent, new rage, where you feel the pattern of hopes and expectations you’ve had for them all this time start to shrivel and unpick, at their initiative; where they let you know that they don’t want, or apparently even understand, what you want for them;


Teddy boys through to skin heads, always angry, seen through Val’s Mike, when your world finally implodes where do you go and how? Well Val takes us there.

Wow, a blast of fresh air, am I glad I chose this book! If the other shortlisted books are as good as this it’ll be one hell of a year.

First Published in English as “Light Perpetual” in 2021 by Faber and Faber.

Out-guess The Booker

The Booker Prize longlist was announced on the 27th of July, but that’s 12 books! The problem is that I won’t have enough time for the shortlist this year, what with other engagements etc, etc. So I thought if I can out guess the official jury I can maybe only read 6 and begin on the longlist date.

What are my chances I thought? Nailed on to get at least one right, two right seems good odds too so that will reduce my shortlist workload


But what about choosing well, even emulating the jury? Well 3 out of 6 would be good so lets go for it and outguess the jury!

So here are my 6 from twelve, the unofficial Shortlist

Can The official jury match these choices? I doubt it!


The Fortune Men, Nadifa Mohamed (Viking, Penguin General, PRH)

Light Perpetual, Francis Spufford (Faber)

Second Place, Rachel Cusk, (Faber)

Bewilderment, Richard Powers (Hutchinson Heinemann, PRH)

A Town Called Solace, Mary Lawson (Chatto & Windus, Vintage, PRH)

No One is Talking About This, Patricia Lockwood (Bloomsbury Circus, Bloomsbury Publishing)

Jeanine Cummins ‘American Dirt’


Luca starts to understand that this is the one thing that all migrants have in common, this is the solidarity that exists among them, though they all come from different places and different circumstances some urban, some rural, some middle class, some poor, some well educated some illiterate, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, Mexican, Indian, each of them carry some story of suffering on top of that train and into El Norte beyond. Some like Rebecca share their stories carefully selectively finding a faithful ear and then chanting their words like prayers, other migrants are like blown open grenades telling their anguish compulsively to everyone they meet dispensing their pain like shrapnel so that one day they might wake to find their burdens have grown lighter. Luca wonders what it would be like to blow up like that, nut for now he remains undetonated.


As the book opens, Lydia owns a bookshop in Acapulco and the world is well, she lives with her husband Sebastián, a journalist and her son Luca and her world ends at a family barbecue when gunmen enter her garden and kill all thirteen of her family members present except her and Luca who hide in the shower.

Sure violence is creeping into Acapulco with the drugs but it’s mostly invisible, happens to others then one evening Lydia learns that the reclusive boss of the cartel that has taken over Acapulco, that Sébastián will reveal in tomorrow’s newspaper is a customer she knows who comes to her shop with a bodyguard and who buys poems.

She knows she must run, fast and far but the cartel’s influence is far reaching, you can’t travel on a road between towns without them finding you, any youth could be working for them, all they need is a smart phone and a gun. We follow Lydia and Luca as the travel with other migrants on the roof of “La Bestia”, the freight train and the other migrants they meet, of the sisters Rebecca and the too beautiful Soledad, yes, to be too beautiful is no good thing, who teach them how to join the train:


The wind fuzzes through Luca’s hair as the noise of the train grows closer, the booming clatter and reverberation of those monster wheels hauling themselves along the metal of the track. The very loudness of that noise seems designed as a warning that enters through your ears but lodges in your sternum stay away stay away stay away don’t be crazy don’t be crazy don’t be crazy ..he sees it emerge from beneath his feet mammy peers over the edge of a low guard rail just as the train pulls itself into view it’s good Rebecca smiles at them, nice and slow. Ready, Soledad says. her little sister nods Lydia’s face grim whilst she studies the stretch of the train….Soledad tosses her pack and then follows it with one graceful, chaotic, suicidal lurch she moves her body from the fixed to the moving she drops, Lydia can’t tell how far it is six feet, ten and then the girl is instantly receding, her form growing smaller as she moves away with the train.


Not many of the hopeful migrants they meet actualy make it, far less have any money left on arrival and if they think the cartel only control the roads the they don’t know the power of corruption, but they do. And throughout all this the young boy Luca is working through the grief of losing his father, his abuelo and his abuela, aunts uncles and cousins whilst fighting to stay alive on this long journey:


Luca is exhausted, there’s a tug of war in his heart already between wanting to remember and needing to forget in the months to come Luca will sometimes wish he hadn’t squandered these early days of his grief…because as the forgetting part takes anchor and stays it’ll feel like a treachery.


No one makes this journey for fun, they are all fleeing from something, some are able to talk about their experiences, with difficulty to a chosen trusted person and others, well the are just time bombs waiting to explode. Jeannine Cummins takes us through despair, recovery of sorts and a raw energy to survive. Makes me think of a film I’ve seen “The Golden Dream

First Published in English as “American Dirt” in 2020 by Tinder Press.

Brandon Taylor ‘Real Life’

“Booker Prize 2020: 6 Books shortlisted for this prize.
“Real Life”: In order of reading book number 5.

In order to follow this event, I am writing articles on all six of the short listed books and will propose my winner before the official announcement.
Visit the official site for more details: Booker Prize 2020


Wallace stood on an upper platform looking down into the scrum, trying to find his particular group of white people, thinking also that it was still possible to turn back, that he could go home and get on with his evening.


Brandon Taylor takes us to a Midwest university where the research assistants are working hard for the opportunity of a career and thus life in academia. Taylor concentrates on a group of young researchers arrived at the same time. There was Miller, a tall lad from Indiana, Cole and his partner from the real world Vincent, Yngve whose father was a surgeon and whose mother taught history at a liberal arts college. And then there was Wallace, the book is really about Wallace who is up from Alabama and black, the opening quote telling us how he sees his friends.

This is yet another book in the selection with serious problems going forward from parent son relationships, Wallace whose mother drank weak beer all day because of her diabetes and whose father leaves them and somehow manages by this to define Wallace’s view of the world:


When I went to middle school my dad moved out of our house he says, he moved up the road into this other house my brother’s dad had built. It used to be an art gallery or something, a house first then an art gallery and then a house again, anyway my dad moved into it and he lived there, I wasn’t allowed to visit . He said he did’t want to see us any more. I asked him why and he said it didn’t matter why, it just was. He didn’t want to see us, me, anymore. Wallace is circling the rim of this old bitterness, can hear his dad’s voice rising up out of the past, that raspy laugh. He shook his head and smiled at Wallace put his hand on Wallace’s shoulder, they were almost equal height then, his fingers bony and knobby. He simply said I don’t want you here and that was it, Wallace was not granted an explanation for the break, for the severing of his family that left him in the house with his mother and his brother. He learned then that somethings have no reason that no matter how he feels he isn’t entitled to an answer from the world.


So, having just watched a documentary on Toni Morrison, I recognise a certain number of the messages in her writing here. Choosing to set the story in an almost exclusively white Midwest university lets Brandon Taylor give full rein to Wallaces feeling of estrangement in his own country, to casual racism and general lack of support for him from his “friends”. As Wallace has had difficulties with his studies, having to work really hard to catch up with the others from a lower starting knowledge base, he understands that in the eyes of some, this was not his initial dissadvantage and that the real dissadvantage will never go away. The smooth talking and racist Romain explains this to him against the background of non intervention from the others:


His deficiencies ….What Romain is referring to is instead a deficiency of whiteness a lack of some requisite saneness, this deficiency cannot be overcome the fact is no matter how hard he tries or how much he learns or how many skills he masters, he will always be provisional in the eyes of these people. No matter how they might be fond of him or gentle with him. “Did I hurt your feelings” Romain asks “I just want to be clear, I think you should stay, you owe the department that much don’t you agree?”
“I don’t have anything to say to that Romain”, Wallace says smiling. To keep his hands from shaking he clenches his fists until his knuckles turn to white ridges of pressure.
“Well think about it.” he says.
“I will thanks”. Emma puts her head on Wallace’s shoulder but she won’t say anything either, can’t bring herself to, no one does, no one ever does. Silence is their way of getting by because if they are silent long enough then this moment of minor discomfort will pass for them, will fold down into the landscape of the evening as if it had never happened. Only Wallace will remember it, that’s the frustrating part.


Amid Wallace’s difficulties with his supervisor who wants him to really consider what he wants to do with his life and his homosexual relationship with Miller where they come close to getting to know something about each other and the sub-surface violence of Miller scares him, he comes to realise that “Perhaps friendship is really nothing but controlled cruelty, maybe that’s all they are doing, lacerating each other and expecting kindness back.” And then there is this quote, the very essence of the book, which explains that Wallace just wants to be noticed and to be looked at as a person with this whole book explaining the impossibility of this simple wish:


Are you on that app?
Which app?
You know the one. Cole flushes as he says this looking away to the trees and to the long winding sidewalk that slopes down to the lake.
The gay one you mean?
That’s it yeah.
Oh yeah, I guess, sometimes.
Wallace deleted the app some weeks ago but this feels like a minor point Cole has always made sure to mention that he is not on the app and that he is relieved to have found Vincent before the advent of such technology, geo-location, finding the nearest queers for fucking or whatever. Wallace always has to keep himself from saying that Cole would have done well on the app he is tall and good looking in an average sort of way he is funny and quippy, gentle. He is also white which is never a disadvantage with gay men but Wallace says none of these things because to say them would disrupt Cole’s view of the average gay man as shallow and kind of stupid, they are shallow and kind of stupid but no more than any other group. Wallace only deleted the app because he had grown tired of watching himself be invisible to them, of the gathering silence in his inbox he wasn’t looking anyway but at the same time he wanted to be looked at the same as any one else.


This is a slow, persistant book, introspective about Wallace. What do you think he would/should do with his life from here?

First Published in English as “Real Life” by Daunt Books in 2020

Maaza Mengiste ‘The Shadow King’


“Booker Prize 2020: 6 Books shortlisted for this prize.
“The Shadow King”: In order of reading book number 6.

In order to follow this event, I am writing articles on all six of the short listed books and will propose my winner before the official announcement.
Visit the official site for more details: Booker Prize 2020



There is a madwoman on a wild horse blazing through the hills, she is stopping at every church and shouting into the heavens and calling wrathful angels down to Earth. She is a nun shifting into a hyena, an angry spirit screaming vengeance from the tops of barren trees. She is Empress Taitu resurrected to fight these ferenjoch….She is resplendent. She is a fearsome and shocking figure, something both familiar and foreign, frightening and incomprehensible. A woman dressed as a warrior, looking as fierce as any man.


Mazaa Mengiste takes us to the Ethiopia of Haile Selassie, Ras Teferi Mekonnen. To the invasion by Mussollini’s Italy in 1936 and the resistance by the people of Ethiopia. This is still a country of the oral tradition where heroic feats for the country are passed down from generation to generation, as with the ancient Greeks, through legend and song. The previous generation had already fought against the Italian invador and triumphed. Every child, boy or girl, has been taught from a young age by their fathers to load and fire a rifle. In this splendid story Mengiste tells us of a wealthy family, of their servants and of their fight. There are Kidane the head of the family and his wife Aster and their are the cook, known only as “the cook” and the young servant Hirut. As Kidane rides off to raise an army, Aster in the tradition of Ethiopian women decides to do the same. “We women won’t sit by while they march into our homes. This part, at least, the songs have gotten right.” We can see how this can easily become a legend as word of her gets back to the cook and Hirut as illustrated in the opening quote.

Despite great valour and their knowledge of the terrain Kidane’s forces are beaten and forced to the hills by a combination of the Italian’s use of north african soldiers, the Ascari, “those soldiers from Eritrea, Somalia, Libya, and even Ethiopia fighting for the Italians” and the use of aircraft and in particular mustard gas, which as with present day dictators, the Italians simply denied.

Mengiste tells us of the roles of women in Ethiopian society, born to serve and subject to men’s whims, we can imagine why some poorer Ethiopians sided with the Italians With Hirut eventually being raped by Kidane when he realises he will die in the conflict and leave no decendance. The story then moves on via two other major events to the climax of the story.

Firstly, the emperor in defeat flees to England, leaving his country men to fight a guerilla war, but the villagers have no will to fight on until Hirut notices the striking resemblence between one of the soldiers and the king. (The soldier himself named Minim, Nothing because he was born just after death of his older brother would be a modern psychiatrists meal ticket). Minim then becomes the Shadow King of the title with, as was the custom, two female bodyguards, Aster and Hirut.


Kidane glances into the field as the villagers fall to their knees. The emperor comes forward on his white horse, led by his female guards. Kidane takes in Hirut’s uniform, her proud stance, her fierce defiance, and sees his redemption.


Secondly, the sadistic colonel Carlo Fucelli builds a one room prison high in the mountains at a cliff edge, as he had already done in Libya. Fucelli uses the weakness of a soldier, Ettore Navarra whom he knows to be Jewish, As Mussolini begins his persecution, to force him to take photos of the prisoners. As Navarra writes in a letter to his father which he never sends:


Papa, they are making a prison that will hold no prisoners. They are going to fling men into the sky who have no wings. They are going to test the laws of gravity and terror and order me to photograph the ascent and fall. We are going to make Icarus and hurl him into the sun.


Eventually, when Hirut and Aster are captured and kept in this prison as bait to draw Kidane’s army out, Hirut watching The despicable Italian photographer recognises in him the forced subservience she has herself lived under and the sadism of Fucelli towards Navarra. Recognises yes, ultimately forgives, No as in an echo of her previous self he tries to bury a box of his personal photos and papers before fleeing:


Hirut wants to ask aloud what he is doing as he digs, but she already knows. Her heart twists in her chest as she realizes that she is watching an old version of herself, that girl who was a keeper of things she should not have claimed as her own. He is doing as she once did, in the naïve belief that what is buried stays that way, that what is hidden will stay unseen, that what is yours will remain always in your possession. He is being foolish.


This is an astounding book, easily the best I have read in a while. Buy it and enjoy it!

First Published in English as “The Shadow King” by Cannongate Books in 2020