Man Booker Prize 2016 - longlist extracts

Man Booker Prize 2016 - longlist extracts

The Man Booker 2016 longlist of 13 books comprises dytopia, crime, historical fiction and more.

Get a taste of each of the longlisted books from the extracts below.

  1. 1

    The Sellout by Paul Beatty (Oneworld)

    This may be hard to believe, coming from a black man, but I’ve never stolen anything. Never cheated on my taxes or at cards. Never snuck into the movies or failed to give back the extra change to a drugstore cashier indifferent to the ways of mercantilism and minimum-wage expectations. I’ve never burgled a house. Held up a liquor store. Never boarded a crowded bus or subway car, sat in a seat reserved for the elderly, pulled out my gigantic penis and masturbated to satisfaction with a perverted, yet somehow crestfallen, look on my face. But here I am, in the cavernous chambers of the Supreme Court of the United States of America, my car illegally and somewhat ironically parked on Constitution Avenue, my hands cuffed and crossed behind my back, my right to remain silent long since waived and said goodbye to as I sit in a thickly padded chair that, much like this country, isn’t quite as comfortable as it looks.

    Summoned here by an officious-looking envelope stamped important! in large, sweepstakes-red letters, I haven’t stopped squirming since I arrived in this city.

    "Dear Sir," the letter read.

    "Congratulations, you may already be a winner! Your case has been selected from hundreds of other appellate cases to be heard by the Supreme Court of the United States of America. What a glorious honor! It’s highly recommended that you arrive at least two hours early for your hearing scheduled for 10:00 a.m. on the morning of March 19, the year of our Lord..." The letter closed with directions to the Supreme Court building from the airport, the train station, I-95, and a set of clip-out coupons to various attractions, restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts, and the like. There was no signature. It simply ended…

    Sincerely yours,
    The People of the United States of America

  2. 2

    The School Days of Jesus by J M Coetzee (Harvill Secker)

    He was expecting Estrella to be bigger. On the map it shows up as a dot of the same size as Novilla. But whereas Novilla was a city, Estrella is no more than a sprawling provincial town set in a countryside of hills and fields and orchards, with a sluggish river meandering through it.

    Will a new life be possible in Estrella? In Novilla he had been able to rely on the Office of Relocations to arrange accommodation. Will he and Inés and the boy be able to find a home here? The Office of Relocations is beneficent, it is the very embodiment of beneficence of an impersonal variety; but will its beneficence extend to fugitives from the law?

    Juan, the hitchhiker who joined them on the road to Estrella, has suggested that they find work on one of the farms. Farmers always need farmhands, he says. The larger farms even have dormitories for seasonal workers. If it isn’t orange season it is apple season; if it isn’t apple season it is grape season. Estrella and its surrounds are a veritable cornucopia. He can direct them, if they wish, to a farm where friends of his once worked.

    He exchanges looks with Inés. Should they follow Juan’s advice? Money is not a consideration, he has plenty of money in his pocket, they could easily stay at a hotel. But if the authorities from Novilla are really pursuing them, then perhaps they would be better off among the nameless transients.

    "Yes,’ says Inés. ‘Let us go to this farm. We have been cooped up in the car long enough. Bolívar needs a run."

    "I feel the same way," says he, Simón. "However, a farm is not a holiday camp. Are you ready, Inés, to spend all day picking fruit under a hot sun?"

  3. 3

    Serious Sweet by A L Kennedy (Jonathan Cape)

    A family sits on a Tube train. They are all in a row and taking the Piccadilly Line. They have significant amounts of luggage. They seem tired and a little dishevelled, are clearly arriving from somewhere far away: a grandmother, a father, a mother and a daughter of about twelve months. The adults talk quietly in Arabic. The grandmother wears a headscarf, the wife does not.

    Although her adult companions are quite dowdy, the girl is immaculately flamboyant. She has spangles on her perfectly white shoes and wears hairclips adorned with the shapes of butterflies. She shows colours upon colours. There is a complicated pattern of embroidery across her cardigan, like flowers and like stars. She sits on her father’s lap, with her back to windows full of autumn and declining light and she faces out at the rest of the carriage, and is self-assured, interested, genuinely charismatic. She fixes passengers with a quietly adult gaze and grins.

    The girl has extraordinarily lovely eyes.

    On her hands, her plump knuckles, the side of her throat and on her cheek and forehead there are recent injuries. Some are just scabbed abrasions, while others are more significant. Nothing has finished healing. It seems clear that something dreadful, perhaps explosive, has caught her – not badly, but badly enough. Some of the damage will make scars inevitable. The rest of her skin is as silk and downy and remarkable as any young child’s would be, but she has this persistence of wounds.

    She practises waves – sometimes shares them with her grandmother and mother, sometimes with strangers who cannot resist waving back. Her force of personality is considerable. And she plainly assumes she is special and a focus of attention for only good reasons. And it ought to be possible that she is right in her assumption, that she always will be right. It will take repeated outside interventions to remove her self-assurance and happiness.

  4. 4

    Hot Milk by Deborah Levy (Hamish Hamilton)

    2015. Almería. Southern Spain. August.

    Today I dropped my laptop on the concrete floor of a bar built on the beach. It was tucked under my arm and slid out of its black rubber sheath (designed like an envelope), landing screen side down. The digital page is now shattered but at least it still works. My laptop has all my life in it and knows more about me than anyone else.

    So what I am saying is that if it is broken, so am I.

    My screen saver is an image of a purple night sky crowded with stars, and constellations and the Milky Way, which takes its name from the classical Latin lactea. My mother told me years ago that I must write Milky Way like this - - and that Aristotle gazed up at the milky circle in Chalcidice, thirty-four miles east of modern-day Thessaloniki, where my father was born. The oldest star is about 13 billion years old but the stars on my screen saver are two years old and were made in China. All this universe is now shattered.

    There is nothing I can do about it. Apparently, there is a cybercafé in the next flyblown town and the man who owns it sometimes mends minor computer faults, but he’d have to send for a new screen and it will take a month to arrive. Will I still be here in a month? I don’t know. It depends on my sick mother, who is sleeping under a mosquito net in the next room. She will wake up and shout, ‘Get me water, Sofia,’ and I will get her water and it will always be the wrong sort of water. I am not sure what water means any more but I will get her water as I understand it: from a bottle in the fridge, from a bottle that is not in the fridge, from the kettle in which the water has been boiled and left to cool. When I gaze at the star fields on my screen saver I often float out of time in the most peculiar way.

  5. 5

    His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet (Contraband)

    I am writing this at the behest of my advocate, Mr Andrew Sinclair, who since my incarceration here in Inverness has treated me with a degree of civility I in no way deserve. My life has been short and of little consequence, and I have no wish to absolve myself of responsibility for the deeds which I have lately committed. It is thus for no other reason than to repay my advocate’s kindness towards me that I commit these words to paper.

    Mr Sinclair has instructed me to set out, with as much clarity as possible, the circumstances surrounding the murder of Lachlan Mackenzie and the others, and this I will do to the best of my ability, apologising in advance for the poverty of my vocabulary and rudeness of style.

    I shall begin by saying that I carried out these acts with the sole purpose of delivering my father from the tribulations he has lately suffered. The cause of these tribulations was our neighbour, Lachlan Mackenzie, and it was for the betterment of my family’s lot that I have removed him from this world. I should further state that since my own entry into the world, I have been nothing but a blight to my father and my departure from his household can only be a blessing to him.

    My name is Roderick John Macrae. I was born in 1852 and have lived all my days in the village of Culduie in Ross-shire. My father, John Macrae, is a crofter of good standing in the parish, who does not deserve to be tarnished with the ignominy of the actions for which I alone am responsible. My mother, Una, was born in 1832 in the township of Toscaig, some two miles south of Culduie. She died in the birthing of my brother, Iain, in 1868, and it is this event which, in my mind, marks the beginning of our troubles.

  6. 6

    The North Water by Ian McGuire (Scribner UK)

    Further on, he begins to smell the Queen’s Dock—its sour, bathetic pong, like meat about to turn. In the gaps between warehouses, between the piled-up planking of timber yards, he can see the tin-cut silhouetted line of whaling ships and sloops. It is past midnight now and the streets are quieter— some muted sounds of drinking from the dockside taverns, the Penny Bank, the Seaman’s Molly, now and then the noise of an empty hackney carriage or the grumble of a dustcart. The stars have swivelled, the swollen moon is half hidden behind a bank of nickel-plated cloud; Sumner can see the Volunteer, broad-waisted, dark and thick with rigging, a little further down the dock. There is no one walking about the deck, at least no one he can see, so the loading must be complete. They are only waiting for the tide now, and for the steam tug to pull them out into the Humber.

    His mind moves to the northern ice fields and the great wonders he will no doubt see there—the unicorn and sea leopard, the walrus and the albatross, the Arctic petrel and the polar bear. He thinks about the great right whales lying bunched in pods like leaden storm clouds beneath the silent sheets of ice. He will make charcoal sketches of them all, he decides, paint watercolour landscapes, keep a journal possibly. And why not? He will have plenty of time on his hands, Brownlee made that plain enough. He will read widely (he has brought his dog-eared Homer), he will practise his disused Greek. Why the fuck not? He will have precious little else to do—doling out purgatives now and then, occasionally certifying the dead, but apart from that it will be a kind of holiday. Baxter implied as much anyway. Implied that the surgeon’s job on a whaler was a legal nicety, a requirement to be met, but in practice there was bugger-all to do—hence the risible wages, of course. So yes, he thinks, he will read and write, he will sleep, he will make conversation with the captain when called upon. By and large it will be an easeful, perhaps a mildly tedious, sort of time, but God knows that is what he needs after the madness of India: the filthy heat, the barbarity, the stench. Whatever the Greenland whaling is like, he thinks, it will surely not be anything like that.

  7. 7

    Hystopia by David Means (Faber & Faber)

    A half hour later, there was nothing along the roadside to indicate they were in the Year of Hate, or that the riots had bled far out from the urban centers. This part of the state had been desolate to begin with, folks eking out a living from bad tillage, land overused, dejected-looking homesteads spaced far about, yards filled with trash. He wanted to tell her about the face in the file, but he was unsure how to proceed because she’d been quiet for miles, not moving, the veil resting in her lap, and he guessed that she was thinking about her mother, or her past history with the Zomboid. I’m the kind of man who doesn’t know how to respond to a woman’s deeper silences, at least in the car, he thought. There’s only so much you can do in a car. A car has its limits. Yes, he felt her emitting sadness when he glanced over, something in the position of her fingers resting on the faded tulle. Finally, he found a quiet, straight stretch of road and pulled over so they could get out and move their legs, get the blood flowing. They stepped out into the lingering smells of a hot day, tar and dust and a hint of something—lavender, bindweed? It was an inland smell, far away from the lake, although they were only ten or fifteen miles from shore. Together they walked a few yards from the car, keeping an eye out for movement, down a slight decline, through a gully, to a clear spot between two trees, hidden in shadow. He turned and gave her a kiss and felt destabilized, as if they might settle down at that spot, slide to the ground, two young pioneers staking a claim on a barren patch of land, full of hope, the wide expanse of emptiness quivering around them on all sides, full of portent and possibility in a land unsettled but waiting eagerly. Then he told her about the photo in the file, the face of the burned man, the termination stamp, and he watched as she turned away from him and took a few steps toward the field. Her body was tense and it seemed to him that at any moment she might bolt. Then she turned around and walked past him, up the verge, to the car. “Let’s get going,” she said.

  8. 8

    The Many by Wyl Menmuir (Salt)

    Timothy reaches Perran’s and falls into his bed fully clothed. He lies there for a while and a tiredness that is both physical and mental drapes itself over him like a thick blanket. He fights for a few minutes to stay awake and to recall all that has happened since he left the shore in the early morning, but it is like fighting an incoming tide and eventually he falls asleep and into a dream in which he is diving a long swan dive down from a high concrete platform into a clear sea. He passes down through the warm and cold streams of the sea’s subtle strata, until the light that floods the surface gives way to darkness, until the unbearable pressure crushing down on him collapses his lungs and arteries, and he swims down further into the depths. Until the unbearable cold of the deep becomes warm again at the openings in the deepest flooded valleys. He dreams of the vents where life still clings on to the hydrothermal streams that escape the earth’s core, of the shrimps, the crabs, the biosludge that survived the great oceanic apocalypse, and feels the heat of the vents sear the skin on his sunken face as he leans in closer to look. As he swims back towards the surface, his collapsed lungs burn and expand, and as the darkness and the pressure give way to light again, he swims through a lane of translucent fish, packed so close he has to fight his way through them, so close there is no longer water, just fish, packed closely, and he knows however hard he thrashes against them he will make no progress, and eventually, when his muscles give out, when his lungs stop their burning, he lets himself slip down into the mass of fish and the translucence becomes darkness and he dreams of nothing more until he wakes in a weak, fading afternoon light.

  9. 9

    Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh (Jonathan Cape)

    I looked like a girl you’d expect to see on a city bus, reading some clothbound book from the library about plants or geography, perhaps wearing a net over my light brown hair. You might take me for a nursing student or a typist, note the nervous hands, a foot tapping, bitten lip. I looked like nothing special. It’s easy for me to imagine this girl, a strange, young and mousy version of me, carrying an anonymous leather purse or eating from a small package of peanuts, rolling each one between her gloved fingers, sucking in her cheeks, staring anxiously out the window. The sunlight in the morning illuminated the thin down on my face, which I tried to cover with pressed powder, a shade too pink for my wan complexion. I was thin, my figure was jagged, my movements pointy and hesitant, my posture stiff. The terrain of my face was heavy with soft, rumbling acne scars blurring whatever delight or madness lay beneath that cold and deadly New England exterior. If I’d worn glasses I could have passed for smart, but I was too impatient to be truly smart. You’d have expected me to enjoy the stillness of closed rooms, take comfort in dull silence, my gaze moving slowly across paper, walls, heavy curtains, thoughts never shifting from what my eyes identified— book, desk, tree, person. But I deplored silence. I deplored stillness. I hated almost everything. I was very unhappy and angry all the time. I tried to control myself, and that only made me more awkward, unhappier, and angrier. I was like Joan of Arc, or Hamlet, but born into the wrong life— the life of a nobody, a waif, invisible. There’s no better way to say it: I was not myself back then. I was someone else. I was Eileen.

  10. 10

    Work Like Any Other by Virginia Reeves (Scribner UK)

    A farm was no place for an electrician. He’d said it enough times, and he’d wallowed away the past year tinkering with an old mechanical thresher and reading in his late father-in-law’s library. Every day, Marie asked him what he was going to do, and every day, he said, “Anything but work this goddamned farm.”

    “You came,” she replied. “You didn’t have to.”

    Her resentment was as strong as his, stronger even, with what he’d just done. The boy’s arms would be bruised.

    Roscoe stood under the nearest of the power lines. The air was darkening around him, and the cicadas had started their crying, wiry and metallic. If Marie’s father hadn’t died, Roscoe would still be working in the powerhouse back at Lock 12. They’d be living in the village, and he would be doing the work he loved.

    Roscoe had a letter from his old foreman—his job was open for him should he wish to come back.

    He was considering exactly that option when the idea for the transformers came, a vision before him—two or three of them perched on a freshly raised pole, linked up to new lines he’d twist  himself. He saw light fixtures in the farmhouse, the kitchen appliances Marie had loved back in the village. And he saw the farm saved. Surely, electricity had the power to do that.

    Exhaustion finally sent him back toward the house, and in the midst of the cornfield he recognized exactly how electricity could save Marie’s land. He would electrify that damn thresher—wasn’t that what he was already trying to do?—and he’d have that great machine do the work of the men Marie hired every season with money they didn’t have. The thresher would run for free on their pirated power, and the farm would see a profit, as it had only in the legends of Marie’s childhood.

    He chewed on the idea for a month before taking it to Wilson.

  11. 11

    My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout (Viking)

    There was a time, and it was many years ago now, when I had to stay in a hospital for almost nine weeks. This was in New York City, and at night a view of the Chrysler Building, with its geometric brilliance of lights, was directly visible from my bed. During the day, the building’s beauty receded, and gradually it became simply one more large structure against a blue sky, and all the city’s buildings seemed remote, silent, far away. It was May, and then June, and I remember how I would stand and look out the window at the sidewalk below and watch the young women—my age—in their spring clothes, out on their lunch breaks; I could see their heads moving in conversation, their blouses rippling in the breeze. I thought how when I got out of the hospital I would never again walk down the sidewalk without giving thanks for being one of those people, and for many years I did that—I would remember the view from the hospital window and be glad for the sidewalk I was walking on.

    To begin with, it was a simple story: I had gone into the hospital to have my appendix out. After two days they gave me food, but I couldn’t keep it down. And then a fever arrived. No one could isolate any bacteria or figure out what had gone wrong. No one ever did. I took fluids through one IV, and antibiotics came through another. They were attached to a metal pole on wobbly wheels that I pushed around with me, but I got tired easily. Toward the beginning of July, whatever problem had taken hold of me went away. But until then I was in a very strange state—a literally feverish waiting—and I really agonized. I had a husband and two small daughters at home; I missed my girls terribly, and I worried about them so much I was afraid it was making me sicker.

  12. 12

    All That Man Is by David Szalay (Jonathan Cape)

    Seventeen, I fell in love . . .

    It is where the trains from Poland get in and the two young Englishmen are newly arrived from Kraków. They look terrible, these two teenagers, exhausted by the ordeal of the train, and thin and filthy from ten days of Inter Railing. One of them, Simon, stares listlessly at nothing.
    He is a handsome boy, high-cheekboned, with a solemn, inexpressive, nervous face. The station pub is noisy and smoky at seven in the morning, and he is listening, with disapproval, to the men at the next table – one of them American, it seems, the other German and older, who says, smiling, "You only lost four hundred thousand soldiers. We lost six million."

    The American says something which is lost in the din.

    "The Russians lost twelve million – we killed six million."

    Simon lights a Polish cigarette, sees the word ‘Spiegelei’ on a laminated menu, the money on the table, waiting for the waiter to take it – euros, nice-looking, modern-looking money. He likes the fonts the designers have used, plain, unornamented.

    "A million died just in Leningrad. A million!"

    People are drinking beer.     

    Outside, drizzle is starting to dampen the grey environs of the station. There was an altercation with the waiter – whether it would be possible to have two cups with a single Kaffeekänchen. It was not possible.

    They had to share one, Simon and his friend, who is now at the payphone– their mobiles don’t work here – half-hidden under its smoked plastic hood, trying to speak to Otto.

    The waiter, in his stained scarlet waistcoat, had been insolent with them, Simon thought. Obsequious to others, though – Simon’s wary eyes follow him as he moves around, moves through the smoke and noise – to men in suits with newspapers, like that one looking up with a sudden tight smile, looking at his watch as the waiter unloads the tray.

  13. 13

    Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien (Granta Books)

    It was 1949 and the civil war was staggering to its conclusion. They were in a town by a large river, and outside, the melting ice made a sound like all the bones in China cracking. At one point, between songs, Big Mother’s face appeared, upside down, wide and soft, peering under the table.

    She gave Sparrow a single pear syrup candy. "This will keep your voice sweet," she whispered. "Remember what I say: music is the great love of the People. If we sing a beautiful song, if we faithfully remember all the words, the People will never abandon us. Without the musician, all life would be loneliness."

    Sparrow knew what loneliness was. It was his cousin’s small corpse wrapped in a white sheet. It was the man on the sidewalk who was so old he couldn’t run away when the Reds came, it was the boy soldier whose decapitated head sat on the city gates, deforming and softening in the sun.

    Waiting, Sparrow perfected his library of songs, singing to himself, "My youth has gone like a departing bird..."

    Months later, when Chairman Mao stood atop the gate of Tiananmen Square, shouts of joy erupted through the airwaves. The radio carried the Chairman’s melodic voice into streets and homes, even under the tables where Sparrow felt he had waited forever, and proclaimed a new beginning, a Communist society, and the birth of the People’s Republic of China. The words wrapped like a filament around every chair, wrist and plate, every cart and person, pulling all their lives into a new order. The war was over. His mother dragged him into the open, embraced him so hard he couldn’t breathe, she wept and gave him so many candies his head spun. The very next morning, they took to the roads once more, walking home to Shanghai.