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The joy of multiple murders

The joy of multiple murders

Nice timing for Graeme Macrae Burnet. His Man Booker longlisting for His Bloody Project coincides usefully with the Edinburgh International Book Festival and he’s a Scot to boot. So readers alerted to his novel about a brutal triple murder in a 19th-century crofting community now have the chance to hear Macrae Burnet talk about his book and the inspiration behind it (and, no doubt, more) at a festival event on 23rd August. He will be sharing the stage with Cecilia Ekbäck, another author whose book (In The Month of the Midnight Sun) features a triple murder . . . there seems to be a lot of it about so spare a though for novelists foolish enough to have chosen only to deal with only single or double murders.


Macrae Burnet is just one of seven Man Booker longlistees appearing at the festival. Han Kang, the current Man Booker International winner also appeared, coming over from her native South Korea especially for the event. Kang admitted that her winning novel, The Vegetarian, had provoked a bizarrely extreme reaction among some Korean readers: some had written to her, she said, to express their upset at the novel in which a woman gives up meat and fantasises about becoming a plant. What so discombobulated them? It was ‘the extremity and bizarreness’, said Kang. ‘They promised never to read my books again.’ And what did she make of this? ‘I didn’t mind. It was a very interesting reception.’


A provocative thought from James Kelman, a controversial Man Booker winner in 1994 with his industrial-language novel How Late it Was, How Late. Kelman, now 70, is a committed technophile: ‘I started working on computers in 1988. I have five or six computers, much to my grandchildren’s amusement.’ He doesn’t, however, stretch as far as social media, although he feels the form might have an unexpected influence: ‘Less people read books although I have a suspicion we might see a rise in short stories’, he says. ‘The methods of communication and social media mean everyone is communicating with you. I think in order to get people to read, you have to make it more interesting. People might start writing stories.’ Please feel free to retweet his aperçu.


As if to confirm Kelman’s hypothesis, one of the current Man Booker longlistees, A.L. Kennedy (Serious Sweet), has just been named as a judge of Spread the Word's London Short Story Prize 2016. The prize, in its fourth year, is for an unpublished story and hopes to unearth new London writing talent. Kennedy, a short story writer herself, has high expectations. She hopes to find ‘Some kind of courage, an appetite for real engagement and either end of the equation. An understanding of the strengths and limitations of the form and how that relates to the story in hand and a real sense of voice and eye.’ For any writer who can manage live up to this fearsome injunction the £1,000 prize might not seem reward enough.


Another Man Booker longlistee, David Szalay (All That Man Is), has revealed his startling precocity. The book made him realise that he wanted to be a writer was, he said, George Orwell’s Animal Farm. And what age was he when this revelation struck? ‘About 10, I think.’ Now, 32 years later, he has different literary interests. Asked the rather good question, which literary character would you like to be seduced by?, Szalay came up with the Princesse des Laumes: ‘on the basis of her brief witty, glowing, jaded appearance’ in Proust’s Swann in Love. That’s an interesting trajectory, from pigs to princesses.