Booker Prize finalist list shows we all have mental trauma


Fince the first days of 2020, I have wondered how the pandemic would affect the literature. Writing about the pandemic itself seemed like a lawless – it was and still is, and it seemed impossible to weave a cohesive narrative around it. But it seemed inevitable that the chaos of 2020 would have an impact on our literary tastes. The sudden disruption, the bottomless uncertainty, the constant struggle between the unforeseen and the unpredictable – all of this was to lead us to certain narratives.

The shortlist for the Booker Prize 2021, unveiled on Tuesday, reflects the angst we have faced. If the six competing novels have anything in common, it’s the emphasis on trauma, on the absurd, on how we rely on love to give us hope in dark times. . This year’s list is existential, powerful, and a testament to the healing powers of literature.

There is that of Anuk Arudpragasam A passage to the north, which explores “life, memory and trauma in the devastating wake of the 30-year civil war in Sri Lanka”. that of Patricia Lockwood Nobody talks about it “Unmasks the absurdities of our relentless exposure to social media in the face of the reality of human loss.” (Anyone who’s spent even a minute scrolling through fate over the past year and a half will find it hard to think of a more prescient tale.) Men of fortune chronicles “a real battle against conspiracy, prejudice and wrongful murder conviction as Somali sailor hanged in Cardiff in the 1950s”. It is not for nothing that the novelist Pankaj Mishra called it “topical unsettling” in a blurb.

Maya Jasanoff, the 2021 judges chair, acknowledged in a statement that “the judges engaged in rich discussions not only about the qualities of a given title, but often about the purpose of the fiction itself” at the time of decide on the shortlist of a selection. of 158 novels.

“Perhaps appropriately for our time, these novels share an interest in how individuals are both animated and constrained by forces greater than themselves,” she said. “… While each book is immersive in itself, together they are an expansive demonstration of what fiction does today.”

Individuals constrained by forces greater than themselves? It rings a bell. And it certainly makes sense that we’re drawn to stories of people trying to exist while facing the uncontrollable.

The pandemic has seen other literary phenomena. that of Albert Camus Plague has experienced a resurgence, for obvious reasons. that of Stephen King The stall, his 1978 apocalyptic novel in which a “super flu” threatens mankind, was also ripped from the shelves. But it’s interesting how the past 18 months have led us to stories that echo our experiences without reflecting them.

Ruman Alam’s Leave the world behind, a 2020 National Book Award finalist on Two Families Facing Airbnb Apocalypse, was considered “a signature novel for this fucked up year” by NPR. Uncertainty, a central theme of the book, proved to be a particularly fruitful narrative anchor when the book was released in October 2020.

“When I was writing the book, I think the nature of that uncertainty was very much climate related,” Alam said. The independent at the time. “I think now a readership in 2020 will understand this uncertainty as more related to our electoral politics, or more to disease. But there is a way that the book’s operational metaphor is open enough for the reader to fill in the blank.

In other words: The uncertainty Alam felt while working on the novel was probably not the same as readers felt when they immersed themselves in his novel while the pandemic – and, in the States United, the 2020 presidential election – was taking place. But they still found comfort in Alam’s story. There is something deeply healing about seeing parts of yourself reflected in a story. The Booker Prize judges clearly know this.

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