Assorted literary grandees will squeeze into their tuxes this evening to compete for the Booker Prize. Of the debut novelists, one previous winner and a brace of old-timers, who stands the best chance of winning?
Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
This is a coiled, unsettling work. A group arrive at their French villa only to find a woman, Kitty Finch, swimming in the pool. Having nowhere to go, she is invited to stay. The book charts the way Kitty’s mental instability wriggles its way into the fabric of the group’s relations: the poet Joe, Isabel (his war-reporter wife), Nina (his teenage daughter) and tag along friends Mitchell and Laura. Written in taut prose, Levy wraps her world in claustrophobia, clinically detailing the depression and friction that ends in tragedy. While not exactly one for laughs, the 160-page length means it rarely drags and often surprises.
Verdict: Parallels with last year’s winner, Sense of an Ending: serious themes made accessible by brevity. Though judges might be shy for fear of it being too typical a ‘Booker’ winner.
The Lighthouse by Alison Moore
This joins Levy’s novel in the brevity stakes. During its 180 pages, the book charts the emotional fortunes of two leads: Futh, a curiously bloodless middle-aged man who arrives in Germany for a walking holiday; and Ester, a bored hotelier trapped in a loveless marriage. Moore’s surgical prose is the perfect medium through which to examine the turbulence of inertia. Any suggestion of action comes through trips down memory lane: Futh’s memories of an absentee mother, gruff father and his own failed marriage. Ester, too, spends most of the novel interrogating old events, picking over the causes of her present despair. Any longer and the largely eventless nature would grate; as it is, The Lighthouse proves beguiling, if unusual, company.