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Excerpts: The Man Booker Prize 2017 longlist

Excerpts: The Man Booker Prize 2017 longlist

The countdown to the Man Booker Prize 2017 shortlist announcement on 13th September has begun and to help you choose which longlisted book to read next, we’ve got some excerpts from each novel…

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (Faber & Faber)

In his three years as a high school student in the New Jersey suburbs, the sixteen-, seventeen-, and eighteen-year-old Ferguson started twenty-seven short stories, finished nineteen of them, and spent no less than one hour every day with what he called his work notebooks, which he filled with various writing exercises he invented for himself in order to stay sharp, dig down, and try to get better (as he once put it to Amy): descriptions of physical objects, landscapes, morning skies, human faces, animals, the effect of light on snow, the sound of rain on glass…

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Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Faber & Faber)

The method of laying out a corpse in Missouri sure took the proverbial cake. Like decking out our poor lost troopers for marriage rather than death. All their uniforms brushed down with lamp-oil into a state never seen when they were alive. Their faces clean shaved, as if the embalmer sure didn’t like no whiskers showing. No one that knew him could have recognised Trooper Watchorn because those famous Dundrearies was gone. Anyway Death likes to make a stranger of your face. True enough their boxes weren’t but cheap wood but that was not the point. You lift one of those boxes and the body makes a big sag in it. Wood cut so thin at the mill it was more a wafer than a plank. But dead boys don’t mind things like that. The point was, we were glad to see them so well turned out, considering.

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History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)

Who’s watching who? I wondered, when I went out to the dogs one morning and saw the telescope across the lake aimed straight at my parents’ cabin. It was pointed like an arrow right into the cabin’s heart, into our one window with its rags in the casings. A mold-stained tarp flapped over our front door. I felt my scalp prickle.

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Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton)

In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, a young man met a young woman in a classroom and did not speak to her. For many days. His name was Saeed and her name was Nadia and he had a beard, not a full beard, more a studiously maintained stubble, and she was always clad from the tips of her toes to the bottom of her jugular notch in a flowing black robe. Back then people continued to enjoy the luxury of wearing more or less what they wanted to wear, clothing and hair wise, within certain bounds of course, and so these choices meant something.

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Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Canongate)

when the idea has come a patient arc through my life I now understood that if I saw the dismantled tractor as the beginning of the world, the chaotic genesis which drew it together and assembled it from disparate parts, then this wind turbine was its end, a destiny it had been forced to give up on, a dream of itself shelved or aborted or miscarried, an old idea which echoed

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Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (4th Estate)

They gathered at the car park in the hour before dawn and waited to be told what to do. It was cold and there was little conversation. There were questions that weren’t being asked. The missing girl’s name was Rebecca Shaw. When last seen she’d been wearing a white hooded top. A mist hung low across the moor and the ground was frozen hard. They were given instructions and then they moved off, their boots crunching on the stiffened ground and their tracks fading behind them as the heather sprang back into shape. She was five feet tall, with dark-blonde hair. She had been missing for hours…

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Elmet by Fiona Mozley (JM Originals)

We arrived in summer when the landscape was in full bloom and the days were long and hot and the light was soft. I roamed shirtless and sweated cleanly and enjoyed the hug of the thick air. In those months I picked up freckles on my boney shoulders and the sun set slowly and the evenings were pewter before they were black, before the mornings seeped through again. Rabbits gambolled in the fields and when we were lucky, when the wind was still and a veil settled on the hills, we saw a hare.

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The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (Hamish Hamilton)

She lived in the graveyard like a tree. At dawn she saw the crows off and welcomed the bats home. At dusk she did the opposite. Between shifts she conferred with the ghosts of vultures that loomed in her high branches. She felt the gentle grip of their talons like an ache in an amputated limb. She gathered they weren’t altogether unhappy at having excused themselves and exited from the story.

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Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Bloomsbury Publishing)

Early in my youth I found I had a certain predilection which, to me, felt quite natural and even wonderful, but to others—my father, mother, brothers, friends, teachers, clergy, grandparents—my predilection did not seem natural or wonderful at all, but perverse and shameful, and hence I suffered: must I deny my predilection, and marry, and doom myself to a certain, shall we say, dearth of fulfillment? I wished to be happy (as I believe all wish to be happy), and so undertook an innocent— well, a rather innocent—friendship with a fellow in my school. But we soon saw that there was no hope for us, and so (to race past a few details, and stops-and-starts, and fresh beginnings, and heartfelt resolutions, and betrayals of those resolutions, there, in one corner of the, ah, carriage house, and so on), one afternoon, a day or so after a particularly frank talk, in which Gilbert stated his intention to henceforth “live correctly,” I took a butcher knife to my room and, after writing a note to my parents (I am sorry, was the gist), and another to him (I have loved, and therefore depart fulfilled), I slit my wrists rather savagely over a porcelain tub.

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Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury Circus)

Isma was going to miss her flight. The ticket wouldn’t be refunded because the airline took no responsibility for passengers who arrived at the airport three hours ahead of the departure time and were escorted to an interrogation room. She had expected the interrogation, but not the hours of waiting that would precede it, nor that it would feel so humiliating to have the contents of her suitcase inspected. She’d made sure not to pack anything that would invite comment or questions – no Quran, no family pictures, no books on her areas of academic interest – but, even so, the officer took hold of every item of Isma’s clothing and ran it between her thumb and fingers, not so much searching for hidden pockets as judging the quality of the material. Finally she reached for the designer-label down jacket Isma had folded over a chair back when she entered and held it up, one hand pinching each shoulder.

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Autumn by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)

It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times.

Again. That’s the thing about things. They fall apart, always have, always will, it’s in their nature. So an old old man washes up on a shore. He looks like a punctured football with its stitching split, the leather kind that people kicked a hundred years ago. The sea’s been rough. It has taken the shirt off his back; naked as the day I was born are the words in the head he moves on its neck, but it hurts to. So try not to move the head. What’s this in his mouth, grit? it’s sand, it’s under his tongue, he can feel it, he can hear it grinding when his teeth move against each other, singing its sand-song: I’m ground so small, but in the end I’m all, I’m softer if I’m underneath you when you fall, in sun I glitter, wind heaps me over litter, put a message in a bottle, throw the bottle in the sea, the bottle’s made of me, I’m the hardest grain to harvest to harvest…

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Swing Time by Zadie Smith (Hamish Hamilton)

It was the first day of my humiliation. Put on a plane, sent back home, to England, set up with a temporary rental in St John’s Wood. The flat was on the eighth floor, the windows looked over the cricket ground. It had been chosen, I think, because of the doorman, who blocked all enquiries. I stayed indoors. The phone on the kitchen wall rang and rang, but I was warned not to answer it and to keep my own phone switched off. I watched the cricket being played, a game I don’t understand, it offered no real distraction, but still it was better than looking at the interior of that apartment, a luxury condo, in which everything had been designed to be perfectly neutral, with all significant corners rounded, like an iPhone. When the cricket finished I stared at the sleek coffee machine embedded in the wall, and at two photos of the Buddha – one a brass Buddha, the other wood – and at a photo of an elephant kneeling next to a little Indian boy, who was also kneeling. The rooms were tasteful and grey, linked by a pristine hallway of tan wool cord. I stared at the ridges in the cord.

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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Fleet)

The first time Caesar approached Cora about running north, she said no.

This was her grandmother talking. Cora’s grandmother had never seen the ocean before that bright afternoon in the port of Ouidah and the water dazzled after her time in the fort’s dungeon. The dungeon stored them until the ships arrived. Dahomeyan raiders kidnapped the men first, then returned to her village the next moon for the women and children, marching them in chains to the sea two by two. As she stared into the black doorway, Ajarry thought she’d be reunited with her father, down there in the dark. The survivors from her village told her that when her father couldn’t keep the pace of the long march, the slavers stove in his head and left his body by the trail. Her mother had died years before.

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