20 September 2018

Everything Under

By Daisy Johnson

The who

Daisy Johnson was born in 1990, and is the youngest author to ever be shortlisted for the prize.  A major new talent in literary fiction, her debut short story collection, Fen, was published in 2016. She is the winner of the Harper's Bazaar Short Story Prize, the A.M. Heath Prize and the Edge Hill Short Story Prize. She currently lives in Oxford by the river.

The what

Words are important to Gretel, always have been. As a child, she lived on a canal boat with her mother, and together they invented a language that was just their own. She hasn’t seen her mother since the age of sixteen, though – almost a lifetime ago – and those memories have faded. Now Gretel works as a lexicographer, updating dictionary entries, which suits her solitary nature.

A phone call from the hospital interrupts Gretel’s isolation and throws up questions from long ago. She begins to remember the private vocabulary of her childhood. She remembers other things, too: the wild years spent on the river; the strange, lonely boy who came to stay on the boat one winter; and the creature in the water – a canal thief? – swimming upstream, getting ever closer. In the end there will be nothing for Gretel to do but go back.

The why

Daisy’s debut novel turns classical myth on its head and takes readers to a modern-day England unfamiliar to most. As daring as it is moving, Everything Under is a story of family and identity, of fate, language, love and belonging that leaves you unsettled and unstrung.

Find out more on the VINTAGE Podcast in an in-depth interview with Daisy. Listen here.

The Mars Room

By Rachel Kushner

The who

Rachel Kushner’s debut novel, Telex from Cuba, was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award and a New York Times bestseller. Her follow-up novel, The Flamethrowers, was also a finalist for the National Book Award and received rave reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. Her fiction has appeared in the New Yorker, Harper’s and the Paris Review. She lives in Los Angeles.

The what

Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences, plus six years, at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility. Outside is the world from which she has been permanently severed: the San Francisco of her youth, changed almost beyond recognition. The Mars Room strip club where she once gave lap dances for a living. And her seven-year-old son, Jackson, now in the care of Romy’s estranged mother.

Inside is a new reality to adapt to: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive. The deadpan absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner details with humour and precision. Daily acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike. Allegiances formed over liquor brewed in socks, and stories shared through sewage pipes. 

Romy sees the future stretch out ahead of her in a long, unwavering line – until news from outside brings a ferocious urgency to her existence, challenging her to escape her own destiny and culminating in a climax of almost unbearable intensity.

The why

Through a cast of astonishing characters populating The Mars Room, Rachel Kushner presents not just a bold and unsentimental panorama of life on the margins of contemporary America, but an excoriating attack on the prison-industrial complex.

Find out more on the VINTAGE Podcast in this interview with Rachel.

Also on the shortlist, coming from Vintage in paperback next year...

The Overstory 

By Richard Powers

The who

Richard Powers is the author of twelve novels, including Orfeo (which was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize), The Echo MakerThe Time of Our SingingGalatea 2.2Plowing the Dark, and The Overstory. He is the recipient of a MacArthur grant and the National Book Award, and has been a Pulitzer Prize and four-time NBCC finalist. He lives in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

 

The what

The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond: An Air Force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. These four, and five other strangers – each summoned in different ways by trees – are brought together in a last and violent stand to save the continent’s few remaining acres of virgin forest. There is a world alongside ours – vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.

The why

 Powers’ ability to write with intricate beauty, insight and intelligence about people, nature and science, and to keep such a harmonious balance between all of these elements, is extraordinary. At the heart of The Overstory are nine characters, each so rounded and real that it is difficult not to become devastatingly invested in them. Powers allows you to watch their whole lives unfold, as they come together and move apart, never detracting from or shying away from a strong and emotional message about conservation, the natural world, and what neglecting that means and says about us as human beings. The Overstory is masterpiece. 

Not to be forgotten, Michael Ondaatje's longlisted Warlight

Once you've made it through The Mars Room and Everything Under, you might want to pick up Warlight, from acclaimed author of the Golden Man Booker winning The English Patient.

Warlight has a narrative as mysterious as memory itself – at once both shadowed and luminous – this is a vivid, thrilling novel of violence and love, intrigue and desire. Michael Ondaatje is the author of several novels, as well as a memoir, a nonfiction book on film, and several books of poetry. Among his many Canadian and international recognitions, his novel The English Patient won the Booker Prize, and was adapted into a multi-award winning Oscar movie; and Anil’s Ghost won the Giller Prize, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and the Prix Médicis. In 2018, Ondaatje won the Golden Man Booker Prize for The English Patient.

 

 

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