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The Last Two Days

With the announcement of this year’s Man Booker Prize only two days away, I’m down to my last two books: Patrick McGuinness’s tale of the last days of Ceausescu’s Romania, The Last Hundred Days, and D. J. Taylor‘s period drama Derby Day. (See how the title of the post works on multiple levels!)  There’s a good chance I’ll have one of them finished before Tuesday evening and an outside chance that I’ll finish both of them.

But the important thing for now is that I completed the shortlist.

Half Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan’s tale of jazz musicians in Europe at the outbreak of World War II is a rich and complex story of love, friendship and betrayal. The narrator, now an old man slowly reveals the secret he has kept for decades (the framing narrative is set in 1992). A competent musician, his uncontrollable jealousy of his bandmate’s superior talent has far-reaching consequences. It’s a good story and a good novel, although, like its narrator, it falls just short of greatness.

Having read and reflected on the entire shortlist I would rank them as follows (from best to worst, or more accurately, from most to least fulfilling):

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

My expectation is that Julian Barnes will win, but if there’s to be an upset it should be deWitt who takes it. If Kelman or Miller wins, I’ll be aghast. I’ll post my thoughts here sometime after the ceremony on Tuesday as well as reviews of the other also-rans.

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