Get a taster of this year's Man Booker Prize shortlist with extracts from each of the six books.
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…
The People of the United States of America
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.