Tag: International Booker Prize 2023

#InternationalBooker2023: and the winner is…

The shadow panel chose Whale for our shadow winner, but would the official judges of the International Booker follow suit..?

Nope. Instead, they went for:

Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov, tr. Angela Rodel (Weidenfeld & Nicholson)

Congratulations to all involved! Time Shelter was actually my favourite book from the longlist, so I’m delighted by that result. We picked another of my favourites for the shadow winner, so it’s all good.

My thanks go to all my fellow shadow panellists for making this such an enjoyable experience. See you next year!

Click here to read my other posts on the 2023 International Booker Prize.

#InternationalBooker2023: the shadow panel’s winner

Here we go… Before the official winner of the International Booker Prize is revealed later today, it’s time for the shadow panel to announce our winner. We selected our own shadow shortlist, and have individually ranked the titles to award 10, 7, 5, 3, 2 and 1 points.

It was quite an open field this year, but with 47 points, our shadow winner for 2023 is…

Whale by Cheon Myeong-kwan, tr. Chi-Young Kim (Europa Editions UK)

We’re also giving a special commendation to our runner-up, which, with 44 points, is While We Were Dreaming by Clemens Meyer, tr. Katy Derbyshire (Fitzcarraldo Editions). Both these books are well worth your time. I wonder if Whale will take the official title as well – we’ll find out soon…

#InternationalBooker2023: Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov (tr. Angela Rodel)

I don’t know whether I’d have read this Bulgarian novel if not for its International Booker listing. I am so glad that I did. 

Gospodinov’s narrator (a version of the author) meets a mysterious figure named Gaustine, who seems preoccupied with the past. With dementia on the rise, Gaustine’s idea is to set up a clinic whose rooms recreate periods of the 20th century, to help jog his patients’ memories. 

It’s an idea that works well for some people, less well for others (and too well for a few). There are striking sequences, such as those where a secret policeman has become the main source of memory for the man he once pursued, because he remembers more about the man’s life than anyone else. 

It turns out that everyone wants a taste of old times. People without memory loss are admitted to the clinic for a hit of nostalgia. Then, the vogue for the past spreads out across Europe, with countries holding referendums on which time period they should revert to. Gospodinov handles this beautifully, illustrating the dangers of being too fixated on the past. Here, his narrator reflects on how the lived present transforms with hindsight:

I presume that 1968 did not exist in 1968. Nobody back then said, Hey, man, that stuff we’re living through now, it’s the great ’68, which’ll go down in history. Everything happens years after it has happened…You need time and a story for that which has supposedly already taken place to happen…with a delay, just as photos were developed and images appeared slowly in the dark…Most likely 1939 did not exist in 1939, there were just mornings when you woke up with a headache, uncertain and afraid.

Translated from Bulgarian by Angela Rodel

Gospodinov adds another layer to his novel by undermining the narrator, whose own memory starts to fail him. He can’t be sure whether Gaustine was real or his creation (or even whether he, the narrator, was Gaustine’s creation). Nothing is certain within the pages of the book, and there is no real shelter from time, after all. 

Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Click here to read my other posts on the 2023 International Booker Prize.

#InternationalBooker2023: the shadow panel’s shortlist

After the official International Booker shortlist, it’s time for the shadow panel to announce ours. We’ve done our usual process of reading and scoring. Here are the six books that have risen to the top for us:

  • While We Were Dreaming by Clemens Meyer, translated from German by Katy Derbyshire (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
  • The Birthday Party by Laurent Mauvignier, translated from French by Daniel Levin Becker (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
  • Is Mother Dead by Vigdis Hjorth, translated from Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund (Verso)
  • Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov, translated from Bulgarian by Angela Rodel (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
  • Whale by Cheon Myeong-kwan, translated from Korean by Chi-Young Kim (Europa Editions)
  • Boulder by Eva Baltasar, translated from Catalan by Julia Sanches (And Other Stories)

So, half of our shortlist is the same as the official one, but – as I predicted in my post on the official shortlist – we have gone in quite a different direction overall. I’m sure we will have some interesting discussions on the way to our shadow winner.

The official winner of the International Booker Prize will be announced on 23 May, and we’ll reveal our shadow winner shortly before then.

#InternationalBooker2023: Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel (tr. Rosalind Harvey)

Mexico is my latest stop on this year’s International Booker journey. Still Born examines changing feelings about motherhood, through the experiences of two thirtysomething female friends. Both were sure at one time that they didn’t want to have children, and Laura, the narrator, had her tubes tied. 

Laura’s friend Alina starts to feel different, and becomes pregnant after fertility treatment. But she’s faced with a difficult situation when she learns late in the pregnancy that her baby will not be able to support itself independently – yet she’s also advised that going to term will help with any future pregnancy. Then, when baby Inés is born, she survives – albeit with brain damage. So Alina has to rethink her relationship to Inés several times, a process that Nettel traces sensitively. 

Laura, for her part, finds herself stepping in to look after her neighbour’s young son, at the same time as her relationship with her own mother is coming under strain. Through this set-up, Nettel explores her subject from multiple angles, in a thought-provoking piece of work. 

Published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Click here to read my other posts on the 2023 International Booker Prize.

#InternationalBooker2023: A System So Magnificent It Is Blinding by Amanda Svensson (tr. Nichola Smalley)

A set of triplets is born in Sweden in 1989. Their lives are eventful from the start, as one is quickly whisked away to have treatment for breathing problems. By 2016, the siblings are living very separate lives. Sebastian works as a cognitive scientist in London, though the nature of what his organisation does is so secret, even he doesn’t know exactly what his work involves. Clara is trying to revive her journalistic career by reporting on Easter Island’s environmental degradation. Matilda left her home country looking for love, and is now back in Sweden with a relationship and stepdaughter. The revelation of a family secret is about to bring the triplets back together.

A System So Magnificent is a big, digressive novel with a real energy to its writing, nicely captured in Nichola Smalley’s translation. For example:

First came the triplets, then the drama and the tears, and the drama again. Then almost twenty-three years’ ceasefire. But the day finally came when the last of the three triplets left home: the first-born, Sebastian, who, perhaps because he’d been the first to leave the womb, had the most difficulty flying the nest, even though he flew no further than to a room in the local student halls. The same day, their father moved into a single room at the local hotel. It didn’t even have a minibar, but there were stars outside the window – indeed, the whole universe. He looked out of the window and for the first time in his life it struck him that the universe was very, very big and that a person, in comparison, was very, very small.

Translation from Swedish by Nichola Smalley

In this paragraph, there’s rhythm, repetition, shifting imagery, and a casual switch from the human scale to the vast universe. It’s appropriate for a novel concerned with the question of whether there is a system underpinning the apparent connections and parallels in its characters’ lives. This book is an intriguing journey.

Published by Scribe UK.

Click here to read my other posts on the 2023 International Booker Prize.

#InternationalBooker2023: the official shortlist

On Tuesday, the official shortlist for this year’s International Booker Prize was announced:

  • Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel, translated from Spanish by Rosalind Harvey (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
  • Standing Heavy by GauZ’, translated from French by Frank Wynne (MacLehose Press)
  • Time Shelter by Georgi Gospodinov, translated from Bulgarian by Angela Rodel (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
  • The Gospel According to the New World by Maryse Condé, translated from French by Richard Philcox (World Editions)
  • Whale by Cheon Myeong-kwan, translated from Korean by Chi-Young Kim (Europa Editions)
  • Boulder by Eva Baltasar, translated from Catalan by Julia Sanches (And Other Stories)

It always fascinates (and frustrates!) me how different groups of people come to different conclusions on the same set of books. There are some good books on this shortlist, though it wouldn’t be my personal selection – and I suspect our Shadow Panel shortlist (which we’ll announce on Tuesday 2 May will also be quite different.

Tony from the Shadow Panel has his thoughts on the official shortlist here.

#InternationalBooker2023: Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv by Andrey Kurkov (tr. Reuben Woolley)

I’ve read Andrey Kurkov twice before, and have come to expect his novels to be larger than life, slightly to one side of reality. Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv is no exception. It begins with a group of hippies who meet at a certain cemetery in Lviv each year on the anniversary of Hendrix’s death, because his hand is said to be buried there. This time (2011), a former KGB officer joins the group, and teams up with one of the hippies to investigate some mysterious local phenomena. 

We also meet a cab driver whose particular speciality is driving in a way that helps dislodge his passengers’ kidney stones. He’s in love with a girl who is allergic to money but works in a bureau du change… Yes, that sounds like a Kurkov novel to me. 

Jimi Hendrix Live in Lviv was originally published in 2012, and reading it now, it does feel a bit like something from a more light-hearted time. Nevertheless, it’s enjoyable to spend time with these characters and see their world – which, after all, is just what I’d expect from Kurkov. 

Published by MacLehose Press.

Click here to read my other posts on the 2023 International Booker Prize.

#InternationalBooker2023: While We Were Dreaming by Clemens Meyer (tr. Katy Derbyshire)

While We Were Dreaming was Clemens Meyer’s debut novel, published in German in 2007. A review quoted on the back cover describes it as “a book like a fist”, and that force is apparent in the reading. This novel doesn’t let go.

Daniel and his friends are young teenagers in Leipzig when the Berlin Wall falls. The country reconfigures around them, but for the boys, life goes on in pretty much the same way: a carousel of violence, drinking, sex and skirmishes with the police, leading to spells inside.

The novel chronicles a time of dreams for its young characters, but those dreams don’t necessarily come true. As Daniel reflects:

Every day the memories dance in my head and I torment myself asking why it all turned out the way it did. Sure, we had a whole lot of fun back then, but still there was a kind of lostness in us, in everything we did, a feeling I can’t explain.

Translation from German by Katy Derbyshire

While We Were Dreaming is structured out of chronological order, which has the effect of underlining how hard it is for Meyer’s characters to escape their situation, because there isn’t a clear sense of forward progression. Nonetheless, there are moments of hope, amid the book’s constant swirl.

Published by Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Click here to read my other posts on the 2023 International Booker Prize.

#InternationalBooker2023: Boulder by Eva Baltasar (tr. Julia Sanches)

Another new language for the International Booker: this is the first nominee translated from Catalan. It’s short and intense, which are both things I like. Baltasar’s narrator is an itinerant cook. She’s not one for settling down, and pours her energy into her work.

Things change when she finds on a merchant ship and meets Samsa, a geologist who nicknames her Boulder. Samsa gets a job in Iceland and the pair’s relationship moves beyond the physical. But Samsa is looking for the kind of orderly life which is ultimately anathema to the narrator. Then Samsa announces that she wants to have a baby, subsequently giving birth to Tinna. At each stage, Boulder finds herself considering what she really wants and how to relate to Samsa (and Tinna).

Baltasar’s novel is dense with imagery, which brings you close to the narrator:

My hands are knives, basting brushes, squeezers. I use them to manipulate food and also plunge them inside my head, where they braise the desire that occupies and perishes me. Desire cannot be killed, it can only be fermented and rocked to sleep. I cook to save myself. I cook ceaselessly. Tinna’s laughter mixes like foam into peaks of sugar and egg whites. She plays hide-and-seek and shrieks with excitement when Samsa pretends that she can’t find her and calls me over. Her voice trickles along the kitchen living-room floors, like a vinegar that can bleach me and break me up.

Translation from Catalan by Julia Sanches

Boulder finds her way in time, though it may not be quite where she anticipated. To be with her on the journey is quite something.

Published by And Other Stories.

Click here to read my other posts on the 2023 International Booker Prize.

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