The Man Booker 2017 shortlist has been announced. Here's a taster of all six books.
4321 by Paul Auster (Faber & Faber)
According to family legend, Ferguson’s grandfather departed on foot from his native city of Minsk with one hundred rubles sewn into the lining of his jacket, traveled west to Hamburg through Warsaw and Berlin, and then booked passage on a ship called the Empress of China, which crossed the Atlantic in rough winter storms and sailed into New York Harbor on the first day of the twentieth century. While waiting to be interviewed by an immigration official at Ellis Island, he struck up a conversation with a fellow Russian Jew. The man said to him: Forget the name Reznikoff. It won’t do you any good here. You need an American name for your new life in America, something with a good American ring to it. Since English was still an alien tongue to Isaac Reznikoff in 1900, he asked his older, more experienced compatriot for a suggestion. Tell them you’re Rockefeller, the man said. You can’t go wrong with that. An hour passed, then another hour, and by the time the nineteen-year-old Reznikoff sat down to be questioned by the immigration official, he had forgotten the name the man had told him to give. Your name? the official asked. Slapping his head in frustration, the weary immigrant blurted out in Yiddish, Ikh hob fargessen (I’ve forgotten)! And so it was that Isaac Reznikoff began his new life in America as Ichabod Ferguson.
He had a hard time of it, especially in the beginning, but even after it was no longer the beginning, nothing ever went as he had imagined it would in his adopted country. It was true that he managed to find a wife for himself just after his twenty-sixth birthday, and it was also true that this wife, Fanny, née Grossman, bore him three robust and healthy sons, but life in America remained a struggle for Ferguson’s grandfather from the day he walked off the boat until the night of March 7, 1923, when he met an early, unexpected death at the age of forty-two - gunned down in a holdup at the leather-goods warehouse in Chicago where he had been employed as a night watchman.
No photographs survive of him, but by all accounts he was a large man with a strong back and enormous hands, uneducated, unskilled, the quintessential greenhorn know-nothing. On his first afternoon in New York, he chanced upon a street peddler hawking the reddest, roundest, most perfect apples he had ever seen. Unable to resist, he bought one and eagerly bit into it. Instead of the sweetness he had been anticipating, the taste was bitter and strange. Even worse, the apple was sickeningly soft, and once his teeth had pierced the skin, the insides of the fruit came pouring down the front of his coat in a shower of pale red liquid dotted with scores of pellet-like seeds. Such was his first taste of the New World, his first, never-to-be-forgotten encounter with a Jersey tomato.
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund
But then, in the middle of March, the temperature shot up to fifty and miraculously stayed there. Within a couple of weeks, the south slope drifts had eroded to stalagmite pillars. A wet sheen appeared across the surface of the ice, and in the late afternoons you could hear the whole lake pop and zing. Cracks appeared. It was warm enough to gather wood from the pile without mittens, to unfreeze the latches on the dogs’ chains with the heat of your fingers. Across the lake, the family set up a telescope on their deck—long and spear-like, pointed to the heavens. Beneath the tripod was a footstool where the child sometimes stood in the evenings clasping the eyepiece to his face with two mittened hands. He wore a candy-cane scarf and a red pom-pom hat. Every time the wind started up, his pom bounced on the air like a bobber.
Sometimes his mother came out in a ski cap and readjusted the tripod, raising the tube and peering through it herself. She rested one gloved hand on the boy’s head. Then, as the evening turned its last shade, I watched them go inside again. I watched them unwind the scarves from their necks. I watched them cud- dle the cats, wash their fingers in the tap, heat water in a kettle. They didn’t seem to have blinds on their enormous triangular windows. I saw their dinner like it was done just for me. I sat on the roof of our shed with my dad’s Bushnell binoculars, turning the sticky barrels, warming my hands against my neck. The kid sat in his cushioned chair on his knees, rocking. The mother barely sat at all. She went to the counter and back, she sliced things on the boy’s plate. She made wedges of green, triangles of yellow, discs of something brown. She blew on his soup. She grinned when he grinned. I could see their teeth across the lake. The father seemed to have disappeared. Where had he gone?
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
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.
It might seem odd that in cities teetering at the edge of the abyss young people still go to class – in this case an evening class on corporate identity and product branding – but that is the way of things, with cities as with life, for one moment we are pottering about our errands as usual and the next we are dying, and our eternally impending ending does not put a stop to our transient beginnings and middles until the instant when it does.
Not long after noticing this, Saeed spoke to Nadia for the first time. Their city had yet to experience any major fighting, just some shootings and the odd car bombing, felt in one’s chest cavity as a subsonic vibration like those emitted by large loudspeakers at music concerts, and Saeed and Nadia had packed up their books and were leaving class.
In the stairwell he turned to her and said, ‘Listen, would you like to have a coffee,’ and after a brief pause added, to make it seem less forward, given her conservative attire, ‘in the cafeteria?’
Nadia looked him in the eye. ‘You don’t say your evening prayers?’ she asked.
Saeed conjured up his most endearing grin. ‘Not always. Sadly.’
Her expression did not change.
So he persevered, clinging to his grin with the mounting desperation of a doomed rock climber:
‘I think it’s personal. Each of us has his own way. Or . . . her own way. Nobody’s perfect. And, in any case –’
She interrupted him. ‘I don’t pray,’ she said.
She continued to gaze at him steadily.
Then she said, ‘Maybe another time.’
He watched as she walked out to the student parking area and there, instead of covering her head with a black cloth, as he expected, she donned a black motorcycle helmet that had been locked to a scuffed‑up hundred-ish cc trail bike, snapped down her visor, straddled her ride, and rode off, disappearing with a controlled rumble into the gathering dusk.
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 bony 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.
Farmers shot vermin and we trapped rabbits for food. But not the hare. Not my hare. A dam, she lived with her drove in a nest in the shadow of the tracks. She was hardened to the passing of the trains and when I saw her I saw her alone as if she had crept out of the nest unseen and unheard. It was a rare thing for creatures of her kind to leave their young in summer and run through the fields. She was searching. Searching for food or for a mate. She searched as if she were a hunting animal, as if she were a hare who had thought again and decided not to be prey but rather to run and to hunt, as if she were a hare who found herself chased one day by a fox and stopped suddenly and turned and chased back.
Whatever the reason, she was unlike any other. When she darted I could barely see her but when she stopped for a moment she was the stillest thing for miles around. Stiller than the oaks and pines. Stiller even than the rocks and pylons. Stiller than the railway tracks. It was as if she had grabbed hold of the earth and pinned it down with her at its centre, and even the quietest, most benign landmarks spun outrageously around, while all of it, the whole scene, was suckered in by her exaggerated, globular, amber eye.
And if the hare was made of myths then so too was the land at which she scratched. Now pocked with clutches of trees, once the whole county had been woodland and the ghosts of the ancient forest could be marked when the wind blew. The soil was alive with ruptured stories that cascaded and rotted then found form once more and pushed up through the undergrowth and back into our lives. Tales of green men peering from thickets with foliate faces and legs of gnarled timber. The calls of half-starved hounds rushing and panting as they snatched at charging quarry. Robyn Hode and his pack of scrawny vagrants, whistling and wrestling and feasting as freely as the birds whose plumes they stole. An ancient forest ran in a grand strip from north to south. Boars and bears and wolves. Does, harts, stags. Miles of underground fungi. Snowdrops, bluebells, primroses. The trees had long since given way to crops and pasture and roads and houses and railway tracks and little copses, like ours, were all that was left.
Daddy and Cathy and I lived in a small house that Daddy built with materials from the land here about. He chose for us a small ash copse two fields from the east coast main line, far enough not to be seen, close enough to know the trains well. We heard them often enough: the hum and ring of the passenger trains, the choke and gulp of the freight, passing by with their cargo tucked behind in painted metal tanks. They had timetables and intervals of their own, drawing growth rings around our house with each journey, ringing past us like prayer chimes. The long, indigo Adelantes and Pendolinos that streaked from London to Edinburgh. The smaller trains that bore more years, with rust on their rattling pantographs. Old carthorse-trains chugging up to the knacker, they moved too slowly for the younger tracks and slipped on the hot-rolled steel like old men on ice.
On the day we arrived an old squaddy drove up the hill in an articulated lorry filled with cracked and discarded stone from an abandoned builders’ yard. The squaddy let Daddy do most of the unloading while he sat on a freshly cut log and smoked cigarette after cigarette that Cathy rolled from her own tobacco and papers. He watched her closely as she spun them with her fingers and tipped tongue over teeth to lick the seal. He looked at her right thigh as she rested the tobacco pouch upon it and more than once leaned over to pick it up, brushing his hand against her as he did so, then pretending to read the text on the packet. He offered to light her cigarettes for her each time. He held out the flame eagerly and took offence, like a child, when she continued to light them herself. He could not see that she was scowling the whole time and frowning at her hands as she did his work. He was not a man who could look and see and under- stand faces well enough to tell. He was not one of those who know what eyes and lips mean or who can imagine that a pretty face might not be closed around pretty thoughts.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Bloomsbury)
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, car- riage 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.
Feeling nauseous at the quantity of blood and its sudden percussive redness against the whiteness of the tub, I settled myself woozily down on the floor, at which time I - well, it is a little embarrassing, but let me just say it: I changed my mind. Only then (nearly out the door, so to speak) did I realize how unspeakably beautiful all of this was, how precisely engineered for our pleasure, and saw that I was on the brink of squandering a wondrous gift, the gift of being allowed, every day, to wander this vast sensual paradise, this grand marketplace lovingly stocked with every sublime thing: swarms of insects dancing in slantrays of August sun; a trio of black horses standing hock-deep and head- to-head in a field of snow; a waft of beef broth arriving breeze-borne from an orange-hued window on a chill autumn-
roger bevins iii
Am I - am I doing it again?
roger bevins iii
Take a breath. All is well.
I believe you are somewhat alarming our new arrival.
Many apologies, young sir. I only meant, in my way, to welcome you.
roger bevins iii
Feeling “nauseous at the quantity of blood,” you “settled yourself woozily down on the floor” and “changed your mind.”
Feeling nauseous at the quantity of blood and its sudden percussive redness against the whiteness of the tub, I settled myself woozily down on the floor. At which time I changed my mind.
Knowing that my only hope was to be found by one of the servants, I stumbled to the stairs and threw myself down. From there, I managed to crawl into the kitchen-
Which is where I remain.
I am waiting to be discovered (having come to rest on the floor, head against the stove, upended chair nearby, sliver of an orange peel against my cheek), so that I may be revived, and rise, and clean up the awful mess I have made (Mother will not be pleased), and go outside, into that beautiful world, a new and more courageous man, and begin to live! Will I follow my predilection? I will! With gusto! Having come so close to losing everything, I am freed now of all fear, hesitation, and timidity, and, once revived, intend to devoutly wander the earth, imbibing, smell- ing, sampling, loving whomever I please; touching, tasting, standing very still among the beautiful things of this world, such as, for example: a sleeping dog dream-kicking in a tree-shade triangle; a sugar pyramid upon a blackwood tabletop being rearranged grain-by-grain by an indis- cernible draft; a cloud passing ship-like above a rounded green hill, atop which a line of colored shirts energetically dance in the wind, while down below in town, a purple-blue day unfolds (the muse of spring in- carnate), each moist-grassed, flower-pierced yard gone positively mad with-
roger bevins iii
“Bevins” had several sets of eyes All darting to and fro Several noses All sniffing His hands (he had multiple sets of hands, or else his hands were so quick they seemed to be many) struck this way and that, picking things up, bringing them to his face with a most inquisitive
Little bit scary
In telling his story he had grown so many extra eyes and noses and hands that his body all but vanished Eyes like grapes on a vine Hands feeling the eyes Noses smelling the hands
Slashes on every one of the wrists.
The newcomer sat on the roof of his sick-house, staring down in wonder at Mr. Bevins.
Occasionally stealing an amazed glance over at you, sir. At your considerable-
roger bevins iii
Come now, no need to speak of-
The other man (the one hit by a beam) Quite naked Member swollen to the size of Could not take my eyes off
It bounced as he
Body like a dumpling Broad flat nose like a sheep’s
Quite naked indeed
Awful dent in the head How could he walk around and talk withsuch a nasty-
Presently we found ourselves joined by the Reverend Everly Thomas.
Who arrived, as he always arrives, at a hobbling sprint, eyebrows arched high, looking behind himself anxiously, hair sticking straight up, mouth in a perfect O of terror. And yet spoke, as he always speaks, with the utmost calmness and good sense.
roger bevins iii
A newcomer? said the Reverend.
I believe we have the honor of addressing a Mr. Carroll, Mr. Bevins said.
The lad only looked at us blankly.
The newcomer was a boy of some ten or eleven years. A handsome little fellow, blinking and gazing cautiously about him.
the reverend everly thomas
Resembling a fish who, having washed ashore, lies immobile and alert, acutely aware of its vulnerability.
Putting me in mind of a nephew of mine who had once fallen through the ice of the river and come home chilled to the bone. Fearful of his punishment, he had not the nerve to step inside; I found him leaning against the door for what warmth he could gain in that way, stunned, guilty, nearly insensate with cold.
roger bevins iii
No doubt you are feeling a certain pull? Mr. Vollman said. An urge? To go? Somewhere? More comfortable?
I feel I am to wait, the boy said.
It speaks! said Mr. Bevins.
the reverend everly thomas
Wait for what? Mr. Sheep-Dumpling said.
My mother, I said. My father. They will come shortly. To collect me Mr. Sheep-Dumpling shook his head sadly His member also shook
They may come, said the many-eyed man. But I doubt they will collect you.
Then all three laughed With much clapping of the many-eyed man’s many hands And waggling of Mr. Sheep-Dumpling’s swollen member Even the Reverend laughed Though, laughing, he still looked frightened
In any event, they will not stay long, said Mr. Sheep-Dumpling.
All the while wishing themselves elsewhere, said the many-eyed man.
Thinking only of lunch, said the Reverend.
It is soon to be spring The Christmas toys barely played with I have a glass soldier whose head can turn The epaulettes interchangeable Soon flowers will bloom Lawrence from the garden shed will give us each a cup of seeds
I am to wait I said
Autumn by Ali Smith
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-
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
the words for the song trickle away. He is tired.
The sand in his mouth and his eyes is the last of the
grains in the neck of the sandglass.
Daniel Gluck, your luck’s run out at last.
He prises open one stuck eye. But –
Daniel sits up on the sand and the stones
– is this it? really? this? is death?
He shades his eyes. Very bright.
Sunlit. Terribly cold, though.
He is on a sandy stony strand, the wind distinctly
harsh, the sun out, yes, but no heat off it. Naked,
too. No wonder he’s cold. He looks down and
sees that his body’s still the old body, the ruined
He’d imagined death would distil a person, strip
the rotting rot away till everything was light as a
Seems the self you get left with on the shore, in
the end, is the self that you were when you went.
If I’d known, Daniel thinks, I’d have made sure to
go at twenty, twenty five.
Only the good.
Or perhaps (he thinks, one hand shielding his
face so if anyone can see him no one will be
offended by him picking out what’s in the lining of
his nose, or giving it a look to see what it is – it’s
sand, beautiful the detail, the different array of
colours of even the pulverized world, then he rubs it
away off his fingertips) this is my self distilled. If so
then death’s a sorry disappointment.
Thank you for having me, death. Please excuse
me, must get back to it, life.
He stands up. It doesn’t hurt, not so much, to.
Home. Which way?
He turns a half
Sea, shoreline, sand,
stones. Tall grass, dunes. Flatland behind the
dunes. Trees past the flatland, a line of woods, all
the way back round to the sea again.
The sea is strange and calm.