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Washington Black
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Booker Prize for Fiction > 2018 Booker Shortlist: Washington Black

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message 1: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1845 comments Mod
Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan


Carl (catamite) | 130 comments I've got a proof of this - might read it next. Anybody read it?


message 3: by B. H. (new) - added it

B. H. (barbara_63) | 62 comments I was just checking Amazon and I think they moved the release date for this by more than a month. When I first looked at the list, it said September 4. According to Amazon UK it is now being published August 2. In any case, this and "Normal People" are the two books in the longlist I am actually looking forward to reading.


Hugh (bodachliath) | 3481 comments Mod
I have pre-ordered copies of both this one and Normal People from Waterstones. Last year, when I did this for Home Fire, I was able to collect the book a few days before the official publication date, so I'll let you know when they tell me more.


Neil | 2039 comments I got a copy via NetGalley and I am about halfway through. It’s a rollicking 19th century adventure and for some reason I keep thinking of The Thousand Autumns Of Jacob de Zoet, although the story lines have very little in common.


message 6: by Ang (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ang | 1685 comments It appears that it is actually in the shops now, some Waterstones are showing up on Click and Collect (not mine, sadly!)

I might borrow it from the library when it comes in and wait for the US publication for purchase - deckled edges!!!!


message 7: by Ang (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ang | 1685 comments In at Foyles as well...


MisterHobgoblin Also reading this at the moment. Is there a set order we are all doing the books in? About 10% of the way in and thinking it could be a kind of Jango Unchained. Enjoying it very much.

But I am also starting to feel that since the Booker opened to US novelists, the token Indian book may have been replaced by the token slavery book.


Neil | 2039 comments I am reading NetGalley first, library books when they arrive and purchases in the gaps or when everything else is done. So, no set order for me.

This one isn’t a slave book for long, really. Although it sort of is because it has a slave in it.


message 10: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3481 comments Mod
MisterHobgoblin wrote: "Also reading this at the moment. Is there a set order we are all doing the books in? About 10% of the way in and thinking it could be a kind of Jango Unchained. Enjoying it very much.

But I am als..."

My intention was to start with the ones the least people have read, but I don't have a fixed plan. Currently reading The Long Take, and I am planning to read Daisy Johnson next, then Powers or Gunaratne, after that I haven't really decided yet, possibly this one unless my copy gets delayed.


message 11: by Meike (last edited Jul 27, 2018 11:49PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Meike (meikereads) Okay, just finished my Netgalley ARC!

The Booker judges seem to be eager to add quite some material that is highly accessible and easily readable this year, but while the inclusion of Snap seemed outrageous to me, this is a defendable choice. Edugyan writes about slavery, racism, and identity, but in the form of an adventure novel, told chronologically and in the first person. While this makes for a rather conservative narrative strategy, the author clearly knows how to compose an engaging and compelling story - and there is depth, too.

Sure, the novel partly comes close to a fairy tale and the narrative skeleton that carries the protagonist's travels (from Barbados to the US, the Arctic, Canada, London, Amsterdam and Marocco) always shines through - much of what happens is highly unlikely, or as the text itself puts it: "You are like an interruption in a novel, Wash. The agent that sets things off course." But realism is not the point here, Edugyan talks about history and human nature in the form of an allegory, and there are many smart ideas and strong images. This is an enjoyable, intelligent read that leaves room for interpretation and discussion.

Here's my review.


message 12: by Ang (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ang | 1685 comments I went to pick up an order at Waterstones and asked if they had Washington Black and they did! She had to check that it hadn't been embargoed, because they hadn't put it out yet. She said that they were going to put up a Booker longlist display but someone came in and bought all the books. It's not a very big Waterstones so they wouldn't have had more than one copy of each. I bet I beat that guy to Washington Black though!


message 13: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1845 comments Mod
This is one I'm excited about. I liked Edugyan's Half-Blood Blues, a bright spot on the otherwise much-maligned 2011 Booker Prize list (flash-backs of which highlight the fact that the inclusion of something like Snap on this list is not unprecedented). I'm glad to hear Meike's good opinion above! I think my copy is slated to arrive next Tuesday . . . more thoughts after that!


Meike (meikereads) Get your hands on this book, people, I'd love to hear your opinions! :-)


message 15: by Roland (new) - added it

Roland Freisitzer (rolandf) | 68 comments I can't wait to this one. Have preordered it, unluckily there is no Waterstones Shop here in Vienna...


message 16: by Robert (last edited Jul 27, 2018 11:26AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Robert | 2181 comments Meike wrote: "Get your hands on this book, people, I'd love to hear your opinions! :-)"

I just have to wait til next month - Serpent's Tail have a strict 'no shipping books to overseas bloggers' policy and Netgalley isn't available in Malta - last time I checked, a month ago.


message 17: by Neil (new) - rated it 3 stars

Neil | 2039 comments Just finished. I agree wholeheartedly with Meike's comment about readability. This is a straightforward adventure story but with some depth to it. Thoroughly enjoyable (as long as you can get past the stomach-churning first few pages).


Meike (meikereads) Thank you, Neil (the NMT strikes again!)! And I also found the first few pages about life on the plantation extremely graphic and brutal.


WndyJW | 5971 comments Sunita, if we order from Book Depository it’s $17.90 USD with free shipping.


WndyJW | 5971 comments Meike wrote: "Thank you, Neil (the NMT strikes again!)! And I also found the first few pages about life on the plantation extremely graphic and brutal."

This is making me hesitate. There is a scene in Kindred that haunts me still.


Meike (meikereads) WndyJW wrote: "Meike wrote: "Thank you, Neil (the NMT strikes again!)! And I also found the first few pages about life on the plantation extremely graphic and brutal."
This is making me hesitate. There is a scen..."


WndyJW, it's just the beginning of the book though, and the violence is also not gratuitous, it's there to illustrate the situation - so it would be sad if this kept you from picking up the book!


message 22: by Neil (new) - rated it 3 stars

Neil | 2039 comments I agree with Meike. I made the comment because I wanted to encourage people to read the book. It is only a few pages and they are right at the start: I didn’t want people to stop reading because it is a really enjoyable book to read. I am sorry if you are hesitating as that’s exactly opposite to my reason for posting.


message 23: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3481 comments Mod
Just checked my email for the first time today and my copy is available to collect too, so I'll pick it up tomorrow or Monday


Robert | 2181 comments This one is available from Book Depo - my copy's on the way.


message 25: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3481 comments Mod
I picked up my copy last night, but I have yet to decide what order to read the six I have available in.


Robert | 2181 comments Hugh wrote: "I picked up my copy last night, but I have yet to decide what order to read the six I have available in."

I always find that fun - over the past two days I have received six as well - Snap will probably be the last one.


message 27: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10046 comments Seems evident to me, although I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere, that the author must have taken inspiration from the true life story of Henry Gosse who in 1853 opened the world's first aquarium in Regents Park. In the novel it is Washington Black and his white naturalist mentor who do that.

And from the 1890 life of Gosse written by his son, when Gosse was in Jamaica:

"He found himself unable to take the whole trouble of collecting without much loss of time, and therefore, on January i, 1845, he engaged a negro lad of eighteen, Samuel Campbell by baptism and Sam by name, to give him his entire services for a salary of four dollars a month. This arrangement continued until the naturalist returned to England, and proved eminently successful. He says : —

"Sam soon approved himself a most useful assistant by his faithfulness, his tact in learning, and then his skill in practising the art of preparing natural subjects, his patience in pursuing animals, his powers of observation of facts, and the truthfulness with which he reported them, as well as by the accuracy of his memory with respect to species. Often and often, when a thing has appeared to me new, I have appealed to Sam, who on a moment's examination would reply, ' No, we took this in such a' place, or on such a day,'and I invariably found on my return home that his memory was correct. I never knew him in the slightest degree attempt to embellish a fact, or report more than he had actually seen."


That last sentence finding an echo is the crucial exchange between Washington and his other white mentor which features at the beginning and also end of the book:

“You told me once, when I was drawing, ‘Be faithful to what you see, and not what you are supposed to see.’”


message 28: by MisterHobgoblin (last edited Aug 01, 2018 10:38PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

MisterHobgoblin When we first meet George Washington Black, he is a field slave at the Faith Plantation, Barbados. The Plantation is taken over by Erasmus Wilde, a cruel and vindictive master who treats his animals with more respect than his slaves. Thus begins a well-told but fairly routine slavery+cruelty story.

Then Washington’s fortunes change when Erasmus’s brother Christopher comes to stay. He is an idealist and inventor; he needs an assistant to help him build a giant balloon in which he hoped to cross the Atlantic. He is invited to live with Christopher, to call him Titch, to eat fine food and speak his mind. Wash struggles to accept these freedoms, perhaps mindful that they only exist as long as Titch is prepared to let them exist.

Then a paradigm shift and we are with Titch and Wash aboard a trading ship plying its way to Virginia. The captain and medic seem somewhat nonplussed to have given refuge to an obvious runaway slave. We have a historic maritime novella, reminiscent of Joseph O’Connor’s Star of the Sea or Ian Maguire’s The North Water. It is well done and there is a sense of menace and tension.

Then we have a stay in Arctic Canada looking at marine life.

Then on to Nova Scotia where Wash finds romance but lives in fear of recapture.

Then to London, trying to engage with Titch’s aristocratic family.

Then to Amsterdam.

Then to Morocco.

This is a plot driven novel with vivid detail. Esi Edugyan evokes four different worlds in vivid colours. But, the story never quite convinces. The characters don’t have a great deal of depth despite having plenty of action. Even Wash, the narrator, really just feels like an everyman. The main characters all do things for no obvious reason. Why does Cousin Philip shoot himself? Why does he visit Erasmus at all when he has such an unhappy history with the man? Why does Mr Wilde pretend to be dead? Why did Titch walk away from Wash? Why did John Willard keep trying to track Wash when there was no longer a bounty to be had? Why would Erasmus place such a large bounty on a slave in the first place when he thought them no more and no less than livestock?

The shifting across different worlds also produced what felt like several different stories with several different atmospheres – almost like David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, with only the slenderest of threads to hold them together. And given the issues of character motivation, each subsequent section became slightly diminished. The final section, England (although much of it was in Morocco) felt confusing and didn’t really provide the resolutions it set out to achieve.

This doesn’t make Washington Black a bad book. Much of it is compelling, visceral. It is never less than readable and the progression from Barbados to the sea to Canada to England to Morocco is innovative for a 19th Century historical novel. There is something steampunk about the ballooning; the slave section is as good a slave narrative as any; the journey at sea is rollicking. There is an air of menace and tension through much of the novel - although this starts to dissipate in Nova Scotia and is gone by London. There is a sense of how a black person might have fitted in to various different communities. There are questions about the nature of freedom, particularly when bound by societal expectations, station of birth, and the threat that freedom might be taken away.

But there is an abiding sense that this has fizzled after a really stunning first half.

How does that all stack up? Being generous, perhaps four stars.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6609 comments From what I have seen above this feels like it might fit better on the Women’s Prize or Costa Prize, but as Meike says this fits an overall theme of accessibility on this year’s Booker.


message 30: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10046 comments All very well put MisterHobgoblin. I was feeling less generous and rounded it down. Fine with this on the longlist but not shortlist material for me. And also agree with GY's take.


MisterHobgoblin Gumble's Yard wrote: "From what I have seen above this feels like it might fit better on the Women’s Prize ..."
Because we have lower expectations of female writers?


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6609 comments No Mister Hobgoblin because one of the strengths of the Women's Prize (which I think year after year has proved to be the most consistently strong of the UK literary prizes) is a long longlist which combines a mix of readable almost populist novels with some cutting edge fiction, and which seems to succeed in drawing in a range of Bookgroups and readers to explore across its longlist as a result. In the UK although more people may have heard of the Booker, I know more readers who will draw from the Women's Prize longlist rather than the Booker.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6609 comments And just a further thought. One could argue perhaps that this year's Booker judges are attempting the same and may be even going further with graphic novels, free verse novels, genre fiction.

But one can easily imagine that next year's judges will take a different path.

My impression is that the Women's Prize manages much more consistency in approach over years and I suspect the WPF board and Kate Mosse, it's chair and co founder of the prize, play an important part here.


Robert | 2181 comments Gumble's Yard wrote: "No Mister Hobgoblin because one of the strengths of the Women's Prize (which I think year after year has proved to be the most consistently strong of the UK literary prizes) is a long longlist whic..."

I agree - In fact I'll go as far to say that The Women's Prize winners are usually better than the Booker ones.


carissa | 98 comments Sunita wrote: "I am waiting impatiently but the US date is still September 18. *cries*"

Do you use Edelweiss? I got a download pre-release from them.


carissa | 98 comments For me this was a flat-out fun read. Not my personal idea of best, but I know a lot of readers will enjoy this. It's easy, straight-forward and full of all the stuff that makes reading fun. I can't wait to start telling customers about it.


message 37: by Maddie (last edited Aug 04, 2018 04:12PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Maddie (ashelfofonesown) | 113 comments Friends, excuse the question but I'm still a little confused on the publication date of this one: is it out already? The original publication date said August 31st (Hardback and Kindle), if I'm not mistaken, and that's still what it says on the GR page.


message 38: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10046 comments I would trust Amazon over their subsidiary Goodreads - one sells the book the other relies on a GR librarian to update it if the publication date is brought forward (as it seems this was). Amazon says 2nd August and has it in stock for same day delivery.


Maddie (ashelfofonesown) | 113 comments I thought that was the case considering I've seen a lot of people reading it already, but publishing dates are already so strange, between American and UK ones, I wasn't sure what had happened in regards to this one. Thank you, Paul!


message 40: by Hugh (last edited Aug 06, 2018 12:56AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3481 comments Mod
Just finished this one, and found it a very enjoyable read, but perhaps not quite shortlist material.

My review


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6609 comments A third of the way in and I am really struggling to see this as a literary novel.

I am impressed with Black’s speed of reading. One moment he is looking at the pictures in watercolour books as he falters at the difficulty of the words when he tries to read. Next chapter he takes in at a glance “Preliminary Remarks Regarding the Theory and Practice of Hydrogen-Powered Aerostation in the West Indies.”

He also has an impressive word for word recall of all his conversations with Titch even from say their first morning, despite understanding nothing he remembers “I had done much research about wind currents in the northwestern hemisphere, and it occurred to me that here might be the perfect place to launch the aerostat I’d half-heartedly designed”.


message 42: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10046 comments This was one of the books that prompted my view of this Booker list. By the time he is 16 he has journeyed to the Arctic and invented the aquarium.


message 43: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3481 comments Mod
It struck me as more of an old fashioned adventure story than anything else, with a few nice modern twists. As such you wouldn't expect the facts to stand much scrutiny. I agree that a longlisting is the best that this deserves, but unless both Powers and Kushner disappoint me I won't find it difficult to fill a personal shortlist.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6609 comments This quite amused me in the context of this thread.

“Some evenings I would take out my papers and leads and attempt to sketch the twins from memory, trying very hard to recall their differences so as to make them distinct. But at this I always failed. In life they were discrete as cane fields, each with his own character and history and way of talking. Yet when I sat down to draw them, they became one pale face, one beady, judging set of eyes.”


message 45: by Neil (new) - rated it 3 stars

Neil | 2039 comments I didn’t think of that - very funny/appropriate!

Hi I you are being a bit harsh further up thread though. Here are thousands of books out there where the narrator seems to remember conversations in great detail from decades before. Milkman, for example?


message 46: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3481 comments Mod
Warlight for another


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6609 comments My issue more is that the narrator did not understand a word of the conversation at the time. But I have given up writing down the various inconsistencies and illogicalities in the book, as I don’t think that reflects the spirit of it.


message 48: by Neil (new) - rated it 3 stars

Neil | 2039 comments I think Meike nailed it in her review - it's not realism but more like allegory.

Did anyone else see Who Do You Think You Are on UK TV last night. It was relevant to this book because Melvin Humes travelled to the Caribbean to see the sugar plantation on which his ancestors were slaves and where they became free people. It was interesting to see what the places looked like.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6609 comments I think that is very generous.


message 50: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10046 comments Milkman, Warlight and Washington Black. Hmmm what else do they have in common? Perhaps perfect recall of past conversations is the theme of this year's Booker.


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