Category Archives: Booker 2022 Longlist

Read 107 of 2022. After Sappho by Selby Wynn Schwartz

After Sappho

Title: After Sappho
Author: Selby Wynn Schwartz
Publisher: Galley Beggar Press
ISBN: 978-1913111243
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

After Sappho is a song that must be heard by all. It is a paean that generations of people must pay attention to. Of the struggles, the triumphs, the failures, & then of winning and the struggle to keep all of it sustained – Schwartz takes us through fragments of the lives of historical women, transporting us across time – from 1880s Italy to 1920s Paris and London. There are so many women we meet along the way, many kindred souls, many whose loves and lives we relate with, their broken dreams, hearts full of love, aspirations, yearning for independence, to be seen, to transform to Sappho.
As a queer person, this book spoke like no other title on the Longlist. With every reread my heart has been fuller, my mind freer, and my thoughts wilder. After Sappho is about women reading books in trees, of Virginia Woolf falling in love with Vita Sackville-West, it is about liberation, need to express oneself, about how Henrik Ibsen took a woman’s story and made it his, about men who do that on a daily basis, about spaces that are waiting to be reclaimed by women, about stories that end in the year 1928 in the book, but are still going on and on and on, encompassing the lives and loves of women.
The prose is not only compelling but gloriously touching. After Sappho is a story of collective voices, of individual laments, of voices that will not be subdued, of voices that have been told to shut up constantly, and of voices that belong to bodies that do, think, and act as they please. Schwartz writes with humour, writes about pain, what it is to be a woman (something which I will never know, though I am constantly torn about who I am and what is my identity), she writes about everyone who is on the periphery of society. She speaks of the past, merging it with the present, predicting the future. It is about learnings – what we understand from our ancestors, women who go back and forth to learn, to understand themselves, the world at large where they are concerned.

After Sappho is a testimony to those on the margins, the outsiders; to those women who don’t fit in and don’t want to. It is about anyone who has fought, and continues to do so. As a gay man I found myself in its pages. I was another Sappho, too.

Read 105 of 2022. The Trees by Percival Everett

The Trees by Percival Everett

Title: The Trees
Author: Percival Everett
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1644450642
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 312
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Trees is one of my most favourite reads of the year. It is mindful, self-aware, empathetic, brutal in its approach toward understanding a world of inequality, and the constant fight to find your place – only because you are the other – because of your skin colour, because of how you look, and how you are already perceived right from birth.

Percival Everett is a writer who also has a huge heart when it comes to using sense of humour as a device in a book about racial redemption, revenge, and then to use macabre humour, to even the slapstick, and to thread it all in with America’s long and horrifying history of lynching people of colour. Only Everett does what he does best and beyond.

There is a lot if intertextuality in Everett’s works – whether it is a writing of a novel in Erasure, or for that matter Everett’s insertion of himself in I am Not Sidney Poitier, this is how he satirizes.  In The Trees, the construction of the detective novel is used at large to drive the point home – to use the usual detective tropes to speak of justice and when do you truly feel it has been served.

I found myself mulling about the idea of vigilante justice and honestly, I didn’t find anything wrong with it – more so when the judicial system is so broken, who then do the “other”, the “discriminated against” rely on? Where does the idea of morality feature then? What can happen when things remain the same, even after decades? It takes a writer such as Everett then to show us the mirror. Of real racism that exists, of the brutality that takes place, of how lynching and shootings are treated by Americans, of how the collective White shame is not being discussed enough. The Trees is a book that will stay with me for a long time – it shows you what you do not want to see, will hold you and not let you go, and ultimately make you think or feel about the world at large.

Read 104 of 2022. Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan

Title: Small Things Like These
Author: Claire Keegan
Publisher: Faber & Faber Ltd
ISBN: 9780571368686
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 116
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

What a graceful, small novel is this! It is also full of profundity, wisdom, ideas that are constantly at war with each other, and sparse, yet telling what it must in the most succinct manner.

Small Things Like These is set in 1985 in a small Irish town, during Christmas time. It is the story of a man named Bill Furlong and his place in the world. A man who seems content with his life – his wife and five daughters, doing what he does (running a coal and timber business), and yet something is bothering him. His past doesn’t let go – his identity is being questioned by him at every step, and all he knows is that he is a man caught – between the ways of the world, and what he wants to do.

Claire Keegan brings up so much in this small book. So many issues – religion, motherhood, parenthood, of what it’s like to have children and then to worry about them, of a small town and its inhabitants – the way they live, and survive, and hope for more.

The tone of the book is simple – and covering each layer as we go along. The writing is sparse, says what it must – Keegan’s writing is both contemplative and a statement to how it is not only perhaps in a small town but also maybe universally.

The concept of being human is brought out beautifully in this small novel. Of what makes us – our honest, true selves, with all our hypocrisy, our hesitation, and most importantly about wanting to fit in at large with the people around us, often thereby overlooking who we really are.

Through Bill we are introduced to our own incapacities are humans, our own weaknesses, and our own shortcomings. Keegan made me see myself so closely – though the situation is far from similar, and yet seemed so personal on other levels.

Small Things Like These is a novel that is essential reading. Like I said, it says so much and makes you think and feel so much about the way we live, and how we grow to be who we are.

Books and Authors mentioned in Small Things Like These: 

  • Enid Blyton
  • A Christmas Carol
  • Five Go Down to the Sea
  • Five Run Away Together
  • Walter Macken
  • David Copperfield