In less than a fortnight, the shortlist will be announced. My progress? Slow. I've read four and none of them were long. I seem to be struggling with the contenders this year. Is it ennui? Or am I just not in tune with the judges' selections this time round?
Wyl Menmuir's "The Many" seems to be telling us the now familiar tale about the fate of incomers to small rural villages - in this case, Cornwall. Timothy is the "emmet" who's bought a long deserted house sight-unseen. The previous owner, Perran, drowned ten years previously, but no-one will talk about it, or him - for no good reason that I can tell. Timothy appears to have bought the house on a whim following a visit to the village some years previously with his not-yet-wife. Why he would choose to return is incomprehensible, as the visit seems to have been entirely unsatisfactory and demonstrated the nature of the locals.
But more than the local weirdness, there's something wrong with the water, something wrong with the fish, the fishermen are regulated inside a border of permanently parked container vessels and any catch is purchased by a shadowy woman with two goons in suits. Ethan, our secondary character, is one of four remaining fishermen. Taciturn and unable to keep crew, he and Timothy end up going out together and pass the container ship boundary.
Timothy has a lot of odd dreams and a string of flash-backs. Just as the book is coming to a close, one of those flash-backs tells of his still-born son, Perran, and the whole book changes. It seems, after all, to have been the a story of one man's grief - whether it's all a dream or whether the house is bought as an escape from grief - I've yet to decide.
Ottessa Moshfegh's "Eileen" is pretty much all character piece and minimum plot. A meticulously observed piece of writing, Eileen has a pretty disgusting upbringing which results in a pretty disgusting early adulthood. Her parents are both angry alcoholics, until her mother dies leaving Eileen to live with her ex-policeman father. Angry, drunk and self-absorbed, Eileen wallows in filth, whilst dreaming of escaping.
Working at a prison for young male offenders where the regime is harsh and driven more by religion and punishment rather than a desire to rehabilitate, Eileen has fantasies, even stalking a male guard. That is, until she meets Rebecca, a striking-looking, intellectual liberal. That meeting leads to an almost casually accidental murder and Eileen's escape from her old life.
Someone described this book as "self loathing as an art form" which is an excellent description that says - succinctly - why I simply couldn't like it.