One of the most exciting book prizes around that truly celebrates “fiction at its most novel” is The Goldsmiths Prize. Since 2013 its celebrated fiction that “breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form.” Last year’s winner was Kevin Barry’s fantastic, funny and wild novel “Beatlebone”. The shortlist of six novels was announced yesterday and the winner will be announced on November 9th.

They’re a diverse and exciting group including Deborah Levy’s “Hot Milk” which was one of my early books of the year so far and it’s also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. It’s wonderful that people will see that this novel isn’t simply straightforward fiction, but Levy does something quite offbeat with both the characters and story.

I was also thrilled to see Mike McCormack’s “Solar Bones” on the list. There’s been a bit of controversy lately that this novel wasn’t considered for the Man Booker Prize because it’s by Tramp Press’ whose books only come out in Ireland. As I discussed in my post about it, the novel does something quite radical with form which perfectly suits the message that McCormack wants to convey.

Of course, Eimear McBride is famous for her highly unusual writing style after her first novel “A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing” won the Baileys Prize. Her most recent novel “The Lesser Bohemians” has also made the Goldsmiths Prize list and quite rightly because she continues working with an eccentric prose style, but with a different subject. Here she explores a first love in an entirely new and refreshing way.

I read Rachel Cusk’s novel “Outline” which is a prequel to her new novel “Transit” which has been listed for the prize. While I have a copy of this new book I’ve felt trepidation about starting it because of residual conflicted feelings I had about her novel. However, I’m curious to give it a try as “Outline” was a really enjoyable reading experience. I’ve also been meaning to read Anakana Schofield’s novel “Martin John” since early on this year when I read a story of hers in “The Long Gaze Back” anthology. Finally, I’ve heard great things about Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s novel “Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun” so I’m looking forward to reading it.

Are there any novels you’ve read this year which you feel really push the form of fiction?
Have you read any books on this shortlist and which novel do you think will win?

It’s been a busy month for me since the longlist for the 2016 Man Booker Prize was announced so I’ve only managed to read five of the novels on the list. However, since I did so badly at predicting the longlist, I hope to redeem myself by making a guess at the six books which will make the shortlist. The novel that has really stood out for me is Madeleline Thien’s “Do Not Say We Have Nothing” - a majestic sprawling saga about a family’s experiences in Mao’s China and a girl’s quest to understand her lost father’s past. I really hope this makes the list!

I also loved reading both Ian McGuire and Wyl Menmuir’s novels, but I don’t think they’ll make the cut. “The North Water” was such a fantastic adventure story filled with rich descriptions. And “The Many” is an intense, eerie read which eventually turns quite emotional.

I had previously read Deborah Levy’s novel “Hot Milk” and love the oddball perspective it gives on personal drive in life and relationships/sexuality. Elizabeth Strout’s “My Name is Lucy Barton” is a brilliantly pared down description of a life and how a woman has grown to create her own identity far from her upbringing.

I still haven’t read “The Sellout”, “The Schooldays of Jesus” or “Hystopia” but I’ve heard such high praise for all of them that I think they’ll be on the list. I figure that the judges will always want to have a famous, known name on the list so J.M. Coetzee is assured a place. Although I’ve heard some strong criticism of it, I’m also really eager to still read A.L. Kennedy’s “Serious Sweet” as I’ve loved her writing so much in the past.

Here are my six guesses for the shortlist. Click on the titles for my full reviews.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleline Thien
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
The Sellout by Paul Beatty
The Schooldays of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee
Hystopia by David Means

The official Man Booker Prize 2016 shortlist will be announced next Tuesday, September 13th at 10:30AM followed by a fabulous prize event being held at the Serpentine Pavilion in London which I’ve been invited to. So I’ll be very excited to see which books make the list and which authors/judges are in attendance. The winner will be announced on October 25th so I hope to read all of whatever books make the actual list by that time.

Have you read many/any on the longlist? Who do you hope will make the shortlist?

After the stunning novel “A Brief History of Seven Killings” won last year’s Man Booker Prize, I’m especially excited to see what takes this year's award. Again, we have a compelling longlist of 13 novels. I’m a big supporter of new authors so great to see 4 debut novels included. I suppose you could say the biggest name on the list is J.M. Coetzee who has won the prize twice before. More than anything, this list makes me want to lock myself inside for a week and get reading!

I only managed to correctly guess one book on the longlist and I’ve only read two of them: Deborah Levy’s wildly original novel on family/relationships “Hot Milk” and Elizabeth Strout’s short impactful “My Name is Lucy Barton”. However, I’m really happy about this because many of the books on the list I either have on my shelf or I’ve heard great things about such as Ian McGuire’s “The North Water”, David Szalay’s “All That Man Is”, Ottessa Moshfegh’s “Eileen”, Madeleine Thien’s “Do Not Say We Have Nothing”, David Means’ “Hystopia” and Paul Beatty’s “The Sellout”.

I’m a big fan of A.L. Kennedy and J.M. Coetzee so I’m also excited to read “Serious Sweet” and “The Schooldays of Jesus”. I don’t know anything about Graeme Magrae Burnet’s “His Bloody Project”, Wyl Menmuir’s “The Many” or Virginia Reeves’ “Work Like Any Other”. So I’m glad there are some real surprises there for me to discover.

A shortlist of six books will be announced on September 13th and the winner will be announced on October 25th.

What do you think of the list? Have you read any? What are you looking forward to reading first? I can’t quite decide what to start with.

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
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This year is racing by! There has been a lot of depressing news lately so it feels all the more necessary to take the time to celebrate great books that have been published this year and recall that 2016 isn’t all doom and gloom. Since we’re at the midpoint here are ten of my favourite books so far. It’s been very difficult to whittle down this list as I’ve read 57 books so far this year and many have been excellent. (I should note Garth Greenwell's "What Belongs to You" would be on this list but I actually first read it last year) Click on the titles at the bottom to read my full thoughts about each of these outstanding books. You can also watch a video of me briefly discussing each of these books here:

Last year I ran a competition and it worked so well I want to do it again.
Here’s how to enter:
-    Leave a comment letting me know the best book you’ve read so far this year (it doesn’t have to be a new book).
-    Leave some kind of contact info (email or Twitter/GoodReads handle).
-    At the end of July I’ll pick one of your suggestions and send that person one of my favourite books from the below list below.
-    Open to anywhere in the world.

I’ll also read your suggestion by the end of the year. Last year, Poppy recommended to me the fantastic novel “Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness”.

Even if you don’t want to enter, please let me know what great books you’ve been reading this year or if you’ve read any of my choices.

Dinosaurs on Other Planets by Danielle McLaughlin
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain
Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
The Lonely City by Olivia Laing
What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi
Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
The Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates
The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
A Quiet Life by Natasha Walter

To what degree do labels like mother, father, daughter or son define us? Ideally different relatives will take on different nurturing roles for their family members in times of need. Traditionally it's the mother who is expected to perpetually care and nourish her family. In Deborah Levy's novel “Hot Milk” the mother-daughter roles are reversed. Twenty-five year old Sofia moves with her mother Rose to the desert landscape and jellyfish-laden beaches of Andalucía in southern Spain. Rose has chronic problems with her feet and can barely walk, but these symptoms might be fantasized. Sofia takes out a substantial loan to get her mother treatment in the Gomez Clinic run by an exuberant doctor with questionable credentials and his artistic daughter who he calls Nurse Sunshine. While relations with her mother become strained, Sofia embarks on two separate affairs with an attractive man named Juan and a formidable German woman named Ingrid. She also travels to Greece to meet her estranged father who has married a woman forty years younger than him and given birth to her new baby sister. In this story Levy creates a challenging and fascinating view of families whose constantly shifting dynamics both support and destroy each other. 

Sofia's engaging, funny and perceptive voice brings this story to life. She trained as an anthropologist but her career has only consisted of working at a coffee house. The novel starts with her dropping her laptop. Now that the image of the universe used as the background on her screen has shattered, her view of her life and those around her becomes fragmented. The tone of her narrative fluctuates between comic moments such as when she contemplates a cartoon character's personality: “Is Donald Duck a child or a hormonal teenager or an immature adult? Or is he all of those things at the same time, like I probably am? Does he ever weep? What effect does rain have on his mood?” and deeply-moving starkly-metaphorical statements such as “My love for my mother is like an axe. It cuts very deep.” She sees the world from a really interesting point of view that made me think differently about ways in which we are perceived and how we perceive others.

I admire the way Sofia's fluid sexuality plays out in the novel. She engages in passionate sexual relationships with a woman and man with equal force stating “Ingrid and Juan. He is masculine and she if feminine but, like a deep perfume, the notes cut into each other and mingle.” Her relationships with them are more determined by their personalities. Her affair with Juan is casual and comforting whereas she finds her affair with Ingrid (who is also in a relationship with a man named Matthew) to be more tumultuous and energizing. In a strikingly symbolic scene Ingrid kills a snake with an axe as if demolishing the need for any man's presence in their lives.  

Although many people find her beautiful and seductive, Sofia views herself as something of a monster who swims with jellyfish in the sea (locally known as medusas). At several points in the novel the narrative breaks from Sophia's point of view to short statements from someone who is persistently observing her from a distance. Sophia is conscious of steadily gaining weight and her mother makes her feel ashamed about this: “It is true that I have shape-shifted from thin to various other sizes all my life. My mother’s words are my mirror. My laptop is my veil of shame. I hide in it all the time.” Negative self-perception is also reflected back at her in how Ingrid views her “She wanted to behead her desire for me. Her own desire felt monstrous to her. She had made of me the monster she felt herself to be.” These relationships make a compelling view of the way that women can sometimes sadly demean each other. Also, by focusing on the importance and power of women's relationships to each other she annihilates the notion that a woman's most important relationships are with men: “Neither a god nor my father is the major plot in my own life. I am anti the major plots.”

Images of milk and motherhood abound throughout the novel which gives its title a steadily increasing power. It's suggested that she go to visit a statue of the Virgen del Rosario that “is made from a delicate marble that is the colour of mother’s milk.” At another point she contemplates “Is home where the raw milk is?” Dr Gomez has a cat named Jodo who gives birth to kittens which eagerly feed from their mother in a scene that makes powerful statements about the meaning of nurturing. Sophia watches her young step-mother feed her infant sister from her breast in a way that makes her emphatically stand apart from any traditional notion of engaging with motherhood herself. Instead, she defiantly declares her physical being as separate from that course in life: “I was flesh thirst desire dust blood lips cracking feet blistered knees skinned hips bruised, but I was so happy not to be napping on a sofa under a blanket with an older man by my side and a baby on my lap.”

One of the most powerful lines in the novel comes amidst Sophia's anthropological musings about the power of signs in our culture. She questions the degree to which individuals fit into the common symbols for male or female as seen in signs for public toilets. Subsequently she wonders about the labels in family life: “A wife can be a mother to her husband, and a son can be a husband or a mother to his mother, and a daughter can be a sister or a mother to her mother, who can be a father and a mother to her daughter, which is probably why we are all lurking in each other's sign.” There is something beautifully freeing in this statement that we don't need to feel trapped as any one kind of thing in how we relate to our family members. Our ways of being come out of how our unique familial situation exists at any one point, not out of predefined roles which we must play.

"the tentacles of the jellyfish resemble the hair of the Medusa, which in pictures is always a tangled mess of writhing snakes."

"the tentacles of the jellyfish resemble the hair of the Medusa, which in pictures is always a tangled mess of writhing snakes."

It's interesting thinking about “Hot Milk” in relation to Elizabeth McKenzie's recent novel “The Portable Veblen”. Both centre on women with distinctly original points of view who have difficult hypochondriac mothers that they feel compelled to care for. They each come from different story angles to show how we can grow into different relationships with our parents, that we can move freely between being nurtured and nurturing. However, McKenzie focuses more strongly on the development of a sustainable balanced romantic partnership where Levy's novel is concerned more with developing a substantial individual sense of self outside of society's expectations.

I think “Hot Milk” will continue to have a subconscious effect on me in the future. You know how sometimes you'll recall a scene or character or original point of view from a novel many years after you've read it? There are aspects of “Hot Milk” which I can already feel echoing through me. Deborah Levy has a powerful use of imagery which unsettles in a way that is welcome because it helps broaden my perspective. It's a fantastic, distinctly powerful novel.

AuthorEric Karl Anderson
CategoriesDeborah Levy
9 CommentsPost a comment