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text 2017-09-13 03:41
Thoughts on the Eve of the 2017 Man Booker Shortlist
Home Fire: A Novel - Kamila Shamsie
Exit West - Mohsin Hamid
Days Without End - Sebastian Barry
Autumn: A Novel - Ali Smith
The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead
Solar Bones - Mike McCormack
History of Wolves - Emily Fridlund

The Man Booker Prize shortlist announcement is hours away and I've been working hard to read my way through the list. Despite my best intentions, I was only able to completely read seven of this year's nominees as well as three others in part. That leaves three novels that are at this point a complete mystery to me, so I cannot speak on them. Here are some thoughts on who might make the list tomorrow.

I think Home Fire, Exit West, and Days Without End are the three strongest contenders from the ten I've read. I will be surprised if these three do not make the shortlist. I'll be really surprised if none of the three do.

Personally, I didn't enjoy The Underground Railroad much, but I think it also stands a good chance of being shortlisted. I'll be annoyed if wins the Prize given how much attention it has garnered this year, but a shortlist nomination would be accepted.

Rounding out the list is difficult. Autumn and Solar Bones are possible contenders.

I'd love to see History of Wolves on the list as it has been a personal favorite, so far. I know many readers had a very different reaction to this novel, however, so it's a long shot to make the list. (And it has zero chance of winning the Prize.)

If I had to put money on six and only six titles, they'd be
1. Home Fire
2. Days Without End
3. Exit West
4. The Underground Railroad
5. Autumn

6. History of Wolves (anything's possible, right?)

Have you been reading the Man Booker nominees? Have any thoughts on who might be shortlisted?

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review 2017-08-31 21:06
Review: History of Wolves
History of Wolves - Emily Fridlund

I get why some readers do not like Emily Fridlund's History of Wolves. I totally do. There are two primary stories being told in this novel; the narrative jumps back and forth between the two and also fills the reader in on backstory. The connection between these various threads is vague. If you're not paying close attention, you may not see any connection at all. Even if you see how everything is related, you may not care. The thread that binds everything is a mental one, and those looking for a concrete link will be thoroughly disappointed. I recognize all that, so I'm not surprised that this novel has its fair share of haters.

I loved it. Early on, I could tell that this novel was going to require some thought. I don't recall what the clue was, but there was something off-kilter about the narrator and I suspected that close attention was needed. So I slowed my reading down. I listened to the nuances of the narrator's speech. I looked for clues in the text. A few times, I flipped back and compared. And while such functions should not be required of a reader, I'm glad I did, because I enjoyed the story immensely more as I took more time with it.

There's an atmospheric quality that is beautiful in History of Wolves. It's lyrical and thought-provoking, but it's dark and impossible to trust. You can feel the shadow of the forest, the creak of the trees, the crunch of snow beneath your soles and you want to stay here, but there's also a need to rush home and never look back. The same is true with the story's narrator. “Linda” is completely believable as a young teenage girl, charming as a storyteller, but you sense she is not a trustworthy person. Yet, I really liked her. She seemed so much more real than most of what I encounter in fiction.

The conclusion I'd been anticipating was not as big and dramatic as I'd work out it would be. I expected something really huge and the final acts were far from that, but they worked. The conclusion tied most of the threads together. I say most, because I'm not sure how some of the backstory with the cult fit in. Also, I didn't grasp how all this tied in with Madeline's wolf project. I suspect this is something I simply missed or was too daft to understand. A second read would probably clear these matters up, but it's rare that I ever return to a book, even when I have loved it.

I'm really glad History of Wolves was nominated for this year's Man Booker Prize. Prior to its nomination, I hadn't heard of the novel or its author; I doubt it ever would've crossed my path. It is such a gorgeous work in so many ways. It was difficult, you could say elusive, but part of what I liked most was the hunt for the heart of the story. It's in there and if you can put your finger on it, you'll feel the pulse that really brings this story to life.

Man Booker Prize 2017:
History of Wolves is this year's biggest underdog. Personally, I think it stands no chance of winning the prize. I'd venture to guess that it won't make the shortlist either, but it does share some of the gothic atmosphere of last year's Eileen—it made the shortlist. While I think History of Wolves is a stellar novel (and some of the judges must agree since it made the longlist), it does not strike me as a Man Booker winner (though of the five nominees I've read so far, it's easily myfavorite).

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review 2017-08-14 13:19
"History Of Wolves" by Emily Fridlund (on 2017 Mann Booker Longlist)
History of Wolves - Emily Fridlund

"History of Wolves" is easy to read but harder to understand.


I know how I feel about this book but I'm not sure what to think about it.


It's a beautiful piece of writing that uses language with relentless precision to climb inside the head of the main character.


Each page is watermarked with a profound sense of loneliness that the main character, our narrator, struggles with, denies, rails against, imagines gone and sometimes gives in to.


I felt fully present in each of the moments described in this book. So much so that, as we drifted between past, present, imagination, dream, memory and action, I found myself accepting what was going on rather than trying to make sense of it, much in the same way that the main character does.


Novels amplify my desire for a narrative that makes sense, that tells me something, that gives me meaning. "History of Wolves" frustrates that expectation. Rather than leading me to a conclusion or a judgement and "making sense" of the main character's life for me, this novel invites me to reach my own conclusions and then to challenge them and then to wonder if conclusions are devised to be a source of spurious comfort in an ambiguous world.


The story is told by Madeline, now thirty-seven, revisiting the events of a summer when she was fourteen and the things that led up to it and followed on from it.


Madeline, who also goes by the name Linda at school and with the family she babysits for, is both the most unreliable of narrators and the most honest of narrators. She shares who she is by showing what she has done and what she was thinking and feeling at the time but she gives no direct lectures, even to herself, on what this means.


Her narrative is not linear. It follows her reflections, making connections between past and present and starting from different "nows" as she tells her tale.


Madeline/Linda both accepts and rejects the idea that she is broken, that her childhood made her into someone with one foot always reaching out into space at the edge of the cliff. She sees herself, or perhaps her idealised self, not as someone human but as a wild thing, at home in the woods and on the lake but who still sometimes succumb to the pull of a hearth and food and a pat behind the ear, like a wolf playing at being a domestic dog.


The book cover carries a Jodi Picoult style "How far would you go to belong?" tag line on the cover that seems to me to miss the meaning of this book entirely.


I don't think it's belonging that Madeline's looking for, or even love. I think she wants someone who needs her and depends on her and supports her in an identity she approves of.


Madeline can be cruel and fickle. She is aware of the power she has over others. She is also aware of her own insignificance. She seems to be trying to find people and a place where she can be what she is and still be needed by someone who sees her clearly.  Except that is too glib. It may be what she wants but  she would probably resist anyone who tried to give it to her.


"History of Wolves" walks around two ways of establishing identity: "We are what we do" and "We are what we think". Madeline, at least the thirty-seven year old Madeline, doesn't seem to find either argument persuasive. The way she reviews her own life suggests that she believes that we are who we are and it doesn't change much.  At one point she goes further and suggest that evil enters the world when we let our actions be driven by belief, a personal narrative that tells us what we want to be true and absolves us from dealing with reality.


I need to think about "History of Wolves" some more. I probably need to read it again. Not because it's a puzzle I haven't solved or because the writer's intention escapes me but because I think it has more to show me.


The book often refers to the difficulty of recognition, of seeing clearly, either through fog, or through the loss of light at dusk or the emerging glow at dawn, or even the struggle to recognise objects identified on the journey out but which look unfamiliar on the way home and can only be recognised in retrospect. I think there is something here that says we need to let our eyes adjust to shape our world and that we need a point of reference. In this book, I think I saw each moment clearly but I have not yet been able to map the journey. Which makes it feel pretty much like real life to me.

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review 2017-03-28 15:09
History of Wolves
History of Wolves - Emily Fridlund

If you were to tell me that you got lost in this novel, I would have to agree with you. If you were to tell me that, there were many good stories in this novel, I would agree with you. If you were to tell me that, you didn’t find this novel a bit strange or unusual, I would have to question you about this.


I think that this is one of those novels that what I acquire out of it, could be different than another individual reading it. It would all depend on the individual who read it. My premise of this whole novel, why I read so many interesting stories, each story cutting across each other, their beginnings coming and going without any notice, was that Linda was trying to fit into each one of them, somewhere. Throughout each story, the time period not a concern, she was trying to put herself in the picture. I found myself frustrated many times as I read. Deeply involved in the storyline, it suddenly would change and I would find myself adjusting to a new situation as Linda carried on in another time period in her life. I also was confused as I didn’t understand why the author chose to elaborate more on some stories and others I thought needed more attention. I felt cheated, I wanted more information and details on the stories which the author cut short. There were always talk about a trial scattered about in the novel and I wondered what happened that made her go to court and what was her position in the courtroom? Her life was far from boring and I think that was because she was adventurous, she was a seeker, always wanting to see what was outside her door.


This book was nothing like I expected or wanted it to be. I did enjoy the author’s stories and her writing definitely captivated me. It was an interesting and challenging read for me. I would like to read more by this author.

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review 2017-01-28 00:00
History of Wolves
History of Wolves - Emily Fridlund

Madeline (or Linda  or Mattie) remembers her childhood, the year she was 15 in particular, in 'A History of Wolves'. She's a lonely, insular girl. Set in the 1980s, Linda's parents are the last remaining members of a commune that was set up in rural Minnesota that fell apart before she started school. Most of the town keeps them at arms length and she has little contact with her classmates.

At the start of the novel, Linda remembers her 8th grade history teacher dying of a heart attack in class and the scandal surrounding his replacement. This is tied in with her relationship with the young family that moves into the house across the lake from her parents' and hires her as a babysitter for their son Paul.

The story is haunting. Linda is the narrator, but she doesn't give the reader a lot to work with, wandering around the central events of her story to talk about her parents, an old boyfriend, another child in the commune. There is pain and regret and love and jealousy and fondness in her memories and all of that comes through without really putting a name to her emotions. Linda is a complicated character, and like Lucy Snowe in 'Villette' doesn't trust even the reader with her full confession. Long before the full facts of the story emerge we know that something is terribly wrong, however, and we must wait for her to give us each horrible detail.

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