Our contributors review this year’s Booker Prize shortlist and find a daring and diverse list of authors from around the world who all deserve to be celebrated.
A little over a year ago, Bernardine Evaristo won the Booker Prize for her novel Girl, Woman, Other. And, a little over a year ago, Margaret Atwood did too. In what was one of the most controversial moments in the Booker’s (and quite possibly literary prize-giving) history, the award was split between two authors, immediately prompting a mixed response from those in and outside the publishing world. As a platform that consciously adopts an inclusive, collaborative, non-competitive attitude to the arts, journalism and writing, Lucy Writers would usually celebrate this multiplicity and what appeared an alternative approach to how prestigious literary awards operate. But the announcement felt, as Evaristo herself said after the ceremony, ‘bittersweet.’ That a Black British woman – the first to win one of the biggest literary awards in the English speaking world – had to share the prize with a white author who didn’t ‘need the attention’, to quote Atwood herself, was indeed bittersweet. Although the judges allegedly spent five hours discussing who should win and saw their decision as a ‘mutiny’ against the rules, when they announced the joint-winners, it felt like a cop-out; it felt as if the Booker foundation couldn’t resist aligning itself with an internationally known and bankable author (the writer of the moment, after a hotly anticipated launch of the sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale); it felt like they couldn’t allow a Black woman to enjoy the prize alone, in her own right, as she deserved to enjoy it. On the night, joy for Evaristo’s win felt capped by this pointed inability to let her receive the award without a famous white woman by her side.
But Evaristo didn’t allow it to diminish her joy. After the ceremony she proudly said of the joint win that she was ‘not thinking about sharing it’: ‘I am thinking about the fact that I am here and that’s an incredible thing…’ A year on from winning the prize and Evaristo has been included on bestseller lists, seen sales for her novel and back catalogue soar, created an incredible series, Black Britain: Writing Back, with Hannah Chukwu and Simon Prosser, written fantastic features and pieces for the BBC, Vogue, Stylist magazine and more, become one of the Judges for the 2021 Women’s Prize and continues to champion Black writers, especially Black womxn writers, around the UK. In short, she turned her award into a win for every womxn.
A year on and the controversy still plays out. This year’s Booker shortlist rocked the boat again – but for reasons we, as a platform, welcome. More conservative pundits lamented that fewer books by the Big 5 in publishing were shortlisted; many complained about Hilary Mantel – another double Booker Prize winner like Atwood – not making it onto the final list; some got worked up that five out of six authors were not from the UK. Lucy Writers, however, sees all the above as a welcome change, one indicative of the progressive thinking of the Booker panel of judges as led by Head Judge, Margaret Busby.
Too often literary prizes fail to do what they’re supposed to: champion and raise awareness about the best new writing and writers out there. Often prizes exclude those they were set up to include (see the Women’s Prize’s outrageous exclusion of Akwaeke Emezi from the shortlist when the author chose to identify as non-binary and read the prize’s recent contradictory and transphobic statement about applicants and gender identity here), reinforcing gender, class and racial biases already existent in the publishing industry. Too often literary awards go to those who look, read and sound like the esteemed and privileged panellists and prize founders themselves. But change is afoot; the tides are turning. New prizes like the Mo Siewcharran Prize, the Jhalak Prize, the Polari Prize and those continued by Spread the Word are evidence that diverse and inclusive publishing is possible – and at work.
The 2020 Booker shortlist also reflects something of this. It represents a more global outlook, one that sees the reading and literary community as wholly, inclusively and wonderfully international. It recognises the invaluable contribution independent presses and imprints bring to the literary landscape and larger publishing world. And, although the somewhat toxic and performative culture of prizes has a long way to go in terms of being truly diverse in its judging panels, shortlisted authors, works and publishers, this year’s Booker gives us some hope that awards are starting to champion books by lesser-known authors and imprints; they are starting to take note of books that contain different and rarely represented voices, experiences, perceptions and characters; they are starting to award writers who, like Evaristo, deserve to be read, heard and seen.
We hope you enjoy the reviews from our incredible writers, whose experiences, perceptions and characters come to bear on their readings of these books. Some of the novels have been reviewed multiple times, because we believe that in offering a plurality of voices and views the dialogue in and around literature will expand, grow and reflect all readers.
Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou, Lucy Writers’ Founding Editor-in-Chief
Diane Cook, The New Wilderness (Oneworld Publications)
In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a stark warning: the world’s carbon polluters had 12 years to get their act together on lowering emissions or hundreds of millions of people would suffer from poverty, drought, and flood; plants and insects would lose half their habitat; 99 percent of tropical coral reefs would die. The news made me question whether I would even consider starting a family if that 12-year deadline could not be met. Why bring new life into a future overflowing with suffering and drained of beauty?
Diane Cook’s The New Wilderness doesn’t exactly answer that question, but it reads like a meditation on the anxiety behind it. In the novel, Cook tells a story of precarity and environmental degradation through the bond between a mother and child. In an even more polluted future, Bea has a fulfilling job and a loving partner in the densely populated City where almost all human life is confined. But the air is killing her young daughter, Agnes. So Bea makes a desperate gamble to save her life. She joins a group of 20 volunteers who will enter the Wilderness State, the last wild area left, and live a nomadic, sustainable existence as part of a scientific study. But while Agnes heals and then thrives in their new life, Bea must confront the fact that she has traded her old identity for her child’s survival. Was it worth it? ‘She loved Agnes fiercely,’ Cook writes, ‘though motherhood felt like a heavy coat she was compelled to put on each day no matter the weather’.
Cook’s novel asks important and timely questions about the ethics of survival, what parents and children can and should ask of each other, and the consequences of drawing hard borders between humanity and the natural world. Bea, Agnes and the rest of the study participants are policed by a team of rangers who drive up in trucks to lecture them about trampling the same grass too many times. The conflict between the Community, as they begin to call themselves, and the rangers evokes the real-world tension between a colonial model of wildlife conservation and the Indigenous communities that have been historically displaced from national parks in the name of preservation, despite having a different relationship to the land. ‘How can you have a Wilderness without any people?’ Agnes, who has spent most of her life there, asks towards the novel’s end.
Cook tells her story with clear, descriptive prose that paints vivid characters and evokes the wonder of her setting without sentimentalizing it. A ‘cyclone of buzzards’ lowers; dust storms on the horizon ‘curl out like snake tongues’. The book is also a page-turning adventure story. Cook’s characters cross mountains and rivers, traverse grassy prairies, sage-strewn deserts, and damp pine forests. But it is a melancholy one. The individual human characters are at the mercy of their wilderness surroundings, but the Wilderness State is still, like the wilderness of our world, at the mercy of extractive capitalism. The book feels like a field guide to a future landscape that is somehow already being lost.
Reviewed by Olivia Rosane, PhD student, writer and poet. Follow Olivia on Twitter @poems_un and @orosane
Tsitsi Dangarembga, This Mournable Body (Faber & Faber)
This Mournable Body is set at the end of the 20th Century in Zimbabwe – a country devastated by political turmoil and a declining economy at the hands of Western sanctions and governmental mismanagement. Against this backdrop of civil instability, Tsitsi Dangarembga presents the inner life of her protagonist, Tambudzai, a character who first appeared aged 14 in her 1988 novel, Nervous Conditions. For readers who have followed the acclaimed Nervous Conditions trilogy and grown with the series, it is interesting to meet Tambudzai again as she approaches middle age. Interesting, but also heart-breaking and deeply disappointing to see her continuously struggle to establish herself as an adult, form meaningful relationships and shake off the demons of her past.
Tambudzai feels younger than she is, in no small part because of the impact her formative years have had on her. Dangarembga presents her as a young Black woman who is almost suspended in time, psychologically restricted by her colonial past. We see this most in her internalised anti-Blackness, the deep-seated inferiority with which she views herself and the way she processes her interactions with others (for example, when the singular being used by a stranger who addresses her, instead of the plural, Tambudzai notes that this denotes her worthlessness in this woman’s eyes). This, undoubtedly, causes her to make a series of chaotic and impulsive decisions which are compounded by a carousel of bad luck.
This Mournable Body explores incredibly important subject matter but is cut through with a biting, almost satirical, wit that provides momentary respite from the novel’s darkness. It is written in the second person, which can make this a challenging narrative but also nudges the reader into Tambudzai’s shoes, forcing us to be complicit in her nonsense! Dangarembga’s turn of phrase, particularly when describing Tambudzai’s internal monologue, is both uncomfortable and hilarious. I often found myself squirming with shame at Tambudzai’s ridiculousness and laughing out loud at the author’s dark humour. This novel is punctuated by some truly relatable moments – especially Tambudzai’s WILD stint as a secondary school teacher – which both break-up and highlight the instability and deterioration of the protagonist.
The title of This Mournable Body was inspired by an essay by Teju Cole in which he asserts that some bodies are more “mournable” than others. Tsitsi Dangarembga uses this springboard to illuminate how Black lives, specifically the lives of Black women in Africa, are intensely mournable, despite the fact that they are often ignored by society. Through her anti-heroine, Tambudzai, Dangarembga clearly paints a life made mournable by tragic circumstance.
Reviewed by Samantha-Louise Hayden, teacher, MA student and writer. Follow Samantha-Louise on Instagram and Twitter @sammiisammii_
“In this here place, we flesh” Toni Morrison.
In This Mournable Body women’s flesh is narrated, beaten and beautified, fed and starved, bodies pummel the paths of hope and love. The novel opens in Harare, where unable to face her reflection in a hostel mirror, unemployed and homeless, Tambudzai is desperate to “get away from this nowhere.” Escape depends on Tambudzai’s past job as a copywriter, a convent education, one pair of good shoes and an “interview skirt” with a zip “that bites at her skin”. Aheroine reminiscent of Brecht’s Mother Courage, she is lucidly focused on survival, for “You have failed to make anything at all of yourself.” Her tenacity is relentless. In this frenetic, intricately painted, satirical tale, Tambudzai endures, rises and falls, juggling morality and survival in a violent, hybrid society inhabited by the wounds of colonialism and recent war, where “everything is on the move… momentum is dignity”.
Dangarembga’s novel vibrates with a thousand destinies spinning around the middle-aged Tambudzai.In uptown Harare, Shona villages and rondavels, female characters fight to overpower memories and reshape their bodies’ narratives. Women populate the pages, spilling out from a brilliantly depicted range of horizons, urban market traders with chic boutiques, office workers, suburban housewives, ghetto schoolgirls seeking sugar daddies, village dwellers, tourists guides, soldiers and the one that got away studying in Europe. Yet for each woman, the silenced violence of their past erupts, “words open up a void, out of which troop your own wounded and dead.” As Celine writes, “A body always tells the truth,”
This is the final book is in Dangarembga’s Zimbabwe trilogy which began with The Nervous Condition. The title comes from a Teju Cole essay ‘Unmournable Bodies‘ and in an interview in The Rumpus Dangarembga explains:
Basically I asked the question whether, if we could mourn the circumstance of certain living bodies we might not create a better world. At the same time those living bodies also need to mourn themselves in order to begin to heal and move forward …my observation has been that women often find it difficult to mourn themselves and their circumstances…
As reviewed by Susanna Crossman, writer, author of upcoming novel Dark Island and guest editor of our series The Dinner Party Reloaded. Follow Susanna on Twitter @crossmansusanna and visit her website here.
Avni Doshi, Burnt Sugar (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House)
Burnt Sugar is a carefully layered and unflinching depiction of an unconventional mother-daughter relationship. Set in Pune, in the Maharashtra region of India, narrator Antara slips between tales of the past and present as she witnesses her mother’s cognitive decline and confronts her own future.
Doshi writes beautifully about the inadequacy of modern medicine in the face of dementia. The narrator is humiliated as she struggles to wrest the narrative of her mother’s illness from brusque neurologists, and takes refuge in the welcoming glow of online forums. The novel is a subtle portrait of loss: as we delve into the complex relationship between the two women, Antara struggles to come to terms with not only the declining capabilities of her mother, but the growing impossibility of resolving her own childhood trauma.
Tired tropes are skewered by Doshi’s incisive writing; the mother-daughter bond is not unconditional, cruelties are inherited as faithfully as traditional recipes, and parental illness can inspire suffocating awfulness as well as patience and compassion. Antara and Dilip’s marriage is part going to the gym together, and part tortuous miscommunication and manipulation, on both sides. The cultural rift between Antara and her Gujarati-American mother-in-law, and the latter’s casual racism, is deliciously rendered, as is the obnoxious husband of a friend whose boorishness makes dinner unbearable.
Written over seven years, Burnt Sugar is dense with gorgeously specific description; small details such as the greying lace of a favourite bra, and breathtakingly accurate depictions of the many ways that women can be with each other when no one else is around, situate this book in a firmly feminine imaginary. One broken clock is rendered so evocatively that you can be nowhere but with Antara and her mother in the doctor’s waiting room, and throughout the book Doshi deploys some fantastically uncompromising animal imagery. Artistic and historical references infuse the novel with meaning, and Pune culture is centred throughout, with sartorial and culinary references unapologetically unexplained.
Burnt Sugar has garnered many comparisons to Otessa Mosfegh’s bleak and dispassionate antiheroines, and Doshi herself has cited the author as an inspiration. However, despite the cruelty and overt hostility of its main characters, Doshi’s debut novel hums with obligation, familial ties, and suppressed love, even as the consequences of betrayal and duplicity echo through the protagonists’ lives.
This complex and exquisitely written book will leave its readers enthralled, and perhaps also liberated.
Reviewed by Clarissa Hjalmarsson, writer and Medical student at Cambridge University. Follow Clarissa on Twitter @clarryhj
The jacket copy calls Avni Doshi’s debut novel, Burnt Sugar, a love story, which feels true to an extent. I’ve long thought that English, so abundant with words, is not adequately equipped with ways of expressing love. There is no word for the feeling of need between a mother and a child, or that feeling of starvation when apart and suffocation when together, or a bond so strong that we can’t sever it even if it’s strangling us. So we use the catch-all word ‘love’ instead, and call Burnt Sugar a love story.
The novel is set in modern India. Tara lives in Pune, and rebels against her family, marriage and privilege and gives her daughter, Antara, a turbulent childhood. Years later Tara starts to forget small and large details of her life and her daughter finds herself in the role of caregiver, excavating her memories as her mother misplaces hers.
Nobody is ‘likeable’ here, but I had so much empathy for the pain of the characters. Inter-generational trauma links mother to daughter and mother-in-law to daughter-in-law like a chain. Each link on the chain rusts, cracks and fractures but still clings to what came before and what comes after.
The writing is taut and spiky, uncompromising in the way it portrays things we turn away from even in the privacy of our own minds: shame, maternal ambivalence, the tender ambition an artist holds for their work to be important and the fear it isn’t. Doshi never draws a sheet over these unsayable feelings, she dissects them all, leaving the sliced flesh out as carrion. Her writing about the body – the smells of the skin, the terrifying metamorphosis of puberty, the turmoil of pregnancy and childbirth – is especially powerful. I also loved the way she twists food and the act of cooking to show how care and nurture can become an intimate, savage weapon.
It makes for uncomfortable reading. Often I wanted to look away from the page and go back to my own placid life. But Doshi dares you not to turn away, switching the narrative between the past and present, revealing layer after layer of secrets. You’re rewarded with a kind of delicious claustrophobia that is recognisable to anyone, everyone, who comes from a family and makes a family of their own.
As reviewed by Rym Kechacha, teacher, writer and author of Dark River. Follow Rym on Twitter @RymKechacha and visit her website here.
Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King (Canongate)
From its opening pages, as a heroine of the Italian-Ethiopian war of 1935-7 journeys back to Addis Ababa to meet a complex figure from her past, there is no question that this is an epic novel, in the hands of a master storyteller. The Shadow King is a rich and expansive reimagining of Italy’s second attempt to invade Ethiopia. It follows the journeys of key actors in the war, including emperor Haile Selassie departing to exile, Fucelli, the sadistic Italian military commander, Hirut, maid to the cruel and conflicted Ethiopian military leader Kidane, and the woman known only as ‘the cook’, to name but a few.
Violence, power and humiliation drive the narrative, and no one is free from the grim realities of negotiation and brutality that consist and continue a war – including the reader. Power, and the complexities of birth and circumstance that bestow and withhold it, underlie all interactions in this book.
And yet, this is most certainly not the novel you are expecting. Historical structures of power govern alongside the familiar poison of toxic masculinity. There is nothing as naïve as good or bad, but rather complex characters responding believably to the twists and turns of fate. The book subverts lazy assumptions about class and merit; all key players have complex motivations and inner lives that are never less rich for a lack of formal education. Indeed, some of the only moments of humour in this book come as powerful leaders wistfully envy the ‘simple’ existences of their subordinates. Women also resist attempts at relegation to the domestic or symbolic spheres, and exert dramatic influence as strategists and warriors. However, women are equally implicated, enacting some of the most vicious violence in the novel.
Readers with an eye for stylistic innovation will find much to appreciate. Mengiste intersperses the narrative with descriptions of photos taken by the Italian army for posterity, bridging the gap between archive and reality. There are also short chapters by an omniscient Chorus, which position the book firmly among modern descendants of Greek tragedy. History looms large, as characters fight their parents’ wars, and events are commemorated and forgotten as they unfold.
While sometimes relentless in its brutality and surfeit of visual imagery, this richly imagined and intricate book forces readers to reconsider this historical moment and its ties to the present in new and powerful ways.
Reviewed by Clarissa Hjalmarsson, writer and Medical student at Cambridge University. Follow Clarissa on Twitter @clarryhj
Within the broader topic of anti-racism, a conversation that has re-emerged in recent months is the valid critique of how we teach history in our schools. At best, history is a recount of what happened in the past, but overwhelmingly not the full story; as much as society likes to think of history as fact, it is merely a narrative coloured by the perception of those in power. The stories of the marginalised are frequently excluded from history and, alongside Black historians, Black writers use fiction as a space to fill in the gaps of “official” recorded history, writing back to address issues of exclusion and representation over time.
Maaza Mengiste’s novel, The Shadow King, is set during Mussolini’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia and tells the story of the first real conflict of the Second World War, highlighting the contributions of the women soldiers omitted from history. Mengiste grew up hearing this war described by her family as an epic series of events – the exile of Emperor Haile Selassie, the Italian invasion, and the Ethiopian anti-fascist resistance – and uses deliciously lyrical and heroic prose to depict it in her novel. There are moments when Mengiste conjures the essence of the Greek chorus and this Classical style converges beautifully with her distinctly Ethiopian storytelling. The author’s writing is simultaneously powerful and sensitive, evoking both the jeopardy of the battlefield and the internal lives of her characters.
With ease, Mengiste manages to straddle the epic and the domestic in the structure of The Shadow King, situating intimate character interiors within the grand structure of this globally significant story. Understanding that the chaos of war has historically provided a chance for women to transform their position in society, Mengiste gives us her recently orphaned protagonist, Hirut, a ingenious and endearing young girl who begins as a household servant but rises to join the ranks of the narrative’s warrior women. Hirut is joined by a host of increasingly intricate and absorbing characters as the novel’s scope widens and I particularly loved the author’s majestic descriptions of women like Aster, a ‘glorious figure’ whose character arc is complex and compelling: ‘She is one woman. She is many women. She is all the sound that exists in the world.’ Ultimately, The Shadow King is an ode to womanhood in the truest Classical sense.
Reviewed by Samantha-Louise Hayden, teacher, MA student and writer. Follow Samantha-Louise on Instagram and Twitter @sammiisammii_
Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain (Picador)
I could not help but reluctantly resonate with Shuggie Bain’s experience of trying ‘not to listen as [a man] pissed and spat gobs of phlegm into the toilet at the same time.’ I, too, have had to cover my ears as someone I know would do the exact same thing. Quite possibly one of the most glaringly accurate sentences I have read in recent memory, I am in awe of Douglas Stuart’s heart-wrenching debut, which he describes as ‘written in truth’, although ‘not a word of it is true’.
This is a fluid book, in more ways than one: piss boils in a toilet bowl and seeps into shoes; a ‘wet draught’ strikes the ‘clammy’ body of Shuggie’s beleaguered mother, Agnes; rain provides a duality of comfort as ‘Glasgow’s natural state’ and a source of suffocating, mouldy dampness, mirroring Shuggie’s relationship with his mother. The next moment, Agnes is seen sobbing, but ‘it was the self-pitying kind that brought no tears.’ Such was how reading Shuggie Bain felt at every turn. Disgust at the literal grime and dirt narrated evocatively would turn into sadness, and sadness, into emptiness, upon witnessing the pain we see in how each character tries to make sense of a Thatcherite world that is against them. Shuggie’s sexuality, Leek’s performed heteronormativity, Shug’s abusive nature and Catherine’s escape from Glasgow to South Africa contribute the parts to a traumatised whole, in the form of Agnes.
Shuggie Bain is, above all, an earnest depiction of the complications that lie in loving those for whom love is difficult to accept. The weight of addiction can be difficult to bear, and I believe Douglas’ extensive prose – if not just a tad too long – contributes heavily to that emotional resonance. If I had to think of a description for the novel, it would be a blend of the grotesque and the sublime and the beautiful, a pastiche of elements that are almost perversely stunning when placed together. Written in Glaswegian dialect, I found that specificity a crucial touch to the novel. Although I would not put my money on Shuggie Bain as a winner, I don’t think that remotely matters and does not say anything about the merit of this wonderfully written narrative. It stands strong on its own, meant to be appreciated as such.
Reviewed by Shameera Nair Lin, writer, poet and playwright. Follow Shameera on Twitter @shameeranlin and Instagram @shamreads and @shameeralin
Brandon Taylor’s Real Life (Daunt Books Originals)
In 2020 Brandon Taylor published his debut novel Real Life, which has been acclaimed by peers and critiques alike. “Masterly”, “full of grace”, “powerful” were some of the most recurrent adjectives used to describe the narrative of Wallace, a Black gay grad student of a Midwestern university who is coming to terms with his father’s death, a contaminated experiment threatening his future in academia and his blooming romance with a fellow student (who is himself coming to terms with his brand new sexual orientation). Past, present and future intertwine in a novel set over a weekend. Three days during which we are forcefully imposing ourselves into Wallace’s considerations and tribulations amongst his group of friends, his anxieties and his haunting past. Brandon Taylor creates a claustrophobic atmosphere, a huis-clos where hell is not simply others, but “real life”.
This is where the mastery appears. The minimalist writing, which closes in on Wallace’s perceptions (still mostly on the surface of things), is at first oppressive. We sense there is something deeper in the character’s social awkwardness, but it remains inaccessible. His rage, his grief, his fantasies form a whole that we cannot yet access. But they are gradually made clearer. The cloud of anxieties does not disperse; on the contrary, it is made denser by our understanding of what it’s created by. Even if the novel at times appears like a list of social issues (homophobia, racism, the impossible American dream, to quote only a few), it serves the overwhelming sense of confusion and anxiety. And we are trapped in this troubled mind; without even noticing, the cage door closes in on us: we become Wallace. We feel his entrapment and how he is both attracted and repelled by “real life”. In this entrapment and as events unfold and memories spurt out of incidents, we cannot avoid experiencing the whole of Wallace’s pain.
Real Life is a literary experiment in empathy: minimalist though it be, we go through everything Wallace goes through, if not more. We put into words matters Brandon Taylor skillfully keeps silent on. We fill in the blanks. And we feel.
Review by Marion Beauchamp-Levet, writer. Follow her on Twitter @MarionBeauchamp
I read this in a three-day daze, riding dizzyingly satisfying waves of beautifully honed scenes. This book borders perfection; it is as ‘real’ as life gets, a lived reality, and this feeling begins from the first paragraph, where the protagonist Wallace observes how ‘white people […] beamed their laughter into each other’s faces.’ Immediately, one gets the sense that Real Life isn’t meant for the white gaze – a crucial point the author Brandon Taylor has stressed in interviews – and personally, I felt immense delight at reading a novel aimed at someone like me, in spite of the crucial specificity of the narrative: a Black, queer man who conducts PhD research at a Midwestern, ‘small town’ institution, and faces nauseating degrees of discrimination amidst his white friendship group, and experiences a weekend of revelations after reaching his limits.
With an all-encompassing, undergirded ache that lasted throughout the reading period and still remains, I could not help but relate to a shocking amount of Wallace’s surfacing emotions and subsequent reactions. Anxiety manifests itself in Taylor’s writing, in an attention to Wallace’s emotional specificities that simply does not allow a reader to misconstrue the exact way(s) in which Wallace feels at any given moment. Much of the core strength of Real Life rests in its handling of a prescient, yet rarely fictionalised, combination of topics, especially within the campus novel genre: racism within the white academy; racialised anxiety; systemic injustice; microaggressions; eugenicist sentiments; white silence in the face of blatant racism; white ‘allyship’. Wallace’s anxieties fester in the academic setting, and these are issues I have similarly faced in academia as a woman of colour. There is no ‘language that robs the world of all its honesty’, when Wallace observes that he and his entire friendship group are ‘all fucking miserable in this place’. Fractures within this group of friends emerge, almost a given from the very first page. The aftermath is complex: there isn’t necessarily justice, but there is retribution. Anyone from a BIPOC background who’s attended a white-majority higher education institution will almost certainly resonate with the concretised melange of white solidarity that emerges as a result of ‘stepping out of your lane’ and having your academic achievements scrutinised sharply under the incessant imposition of the white gaze.
Above all, as a WoC, I felt wanted as a reader. That is the highest compliment I am able to offer Taylor’s stunning debut, which I will not hesitate to recommend to anyone wanting an unvarnished insight into academia and its less starry-eyed offerings.
Reviewed by Shameera Nair Lin, writer and playwright. Follow Shameera on Twitter @shameeranlin and Instagram @shamreads and @shameeralin
The winner of the Booker Prize will be announced at 7.15pm, Thursday 19 November. Watch live on BBC Arts Digital and follow on Twitter @TheBookerPrizes
Click the links in the body of the feature to follow many of the authors on Twitter.
Lucy Writers would like to thank all our writers: Clarissa Hjalmarsson, Marion Beauchamp-Levet, Olivia Rosane, Rym Kechacha, Samantha-Louise Hayden, Shameera Lin Nair and Susanna Crossman; Rolake Osabia for her editorial eye; the press teams at Faber and Faber, Marie-Louise Patton, and Daunt Books Originals, Jimena Gorraez, Oneworld Publications, Canongate, Picador and Hamish Hamilton.