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Who They Was
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Booker Prize for Fiction > 2020 Booker Longlist: Who They Was

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message 1: by Trevor (last edited Jul 27, 2020 04:35PM) (new)


Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10018 comments There are only 3 reviews on Goodreads - one by Neil, who used to be a frequent poster here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

This one looks a very good choice from that review


message 3: by Ella (new) - added it

Ella (ellamc) | 1018 comments Mod
Maybe they will move up the dates like has happened sometimes in the past. At least for the UK versions. A girl can dream...


John Banks | 164 comments hmm showing in my library catalogue but as "on Order", reserved it anyway and as you say Ella perhaps they will move up dates.


message 5: by Ella (new) - added it

Ella (ellamc) | 1018 comments Mod
John wrote: "hmm showing in my library catalogue but as "on Order", reserved it anyway and as you say Ella perhaps they will move up dates."

Clearly if we're ever allowed out of the country again, I should reconsider Argentina and think about Australia, given your library sounds fantastic!


Neil | 2032 comments Paul wrote: "There are only 3 reviews on Goodreads - one by Neil, who used to be a frequent poster here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

This one looks a very good choice from that review"


I have been away for a while, but I am back now. I thought this was an excellent novel: the language takes some getting used to as it is mostly London slang, but it is mixed with some beautiful language in more "standard" English. For some reason, it never occurred to me to mention it as an option for the Booker. Now that's it's on the list, I'm not surprised to see it there.


Neil | 2032 comments I'm not sure, however, that this is "fiction at its finest". Because it's not fiction - Krauze makes this very clear.


Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10018 comments Interesting - we're more in the MBI territory of non-fictional novels it seems.


Neil | 2032 comments From the author's note:

"Who They Was is based on a specific period in my life. It’s about a world many people can only imagine from what they see in the news and on TV. It’s a world full of untold stories. This one has never been told because it is my story."

And:

"Everything in this book, in this story, was experienced in one way or another - otherwise I wouldn’t be able to tell it".

I guess lots of books are based on actual events in the author's life.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6584 comments I think that's probably more like fictionalised part-autobiography - particularly common for first novels. Shuggie Bain tragically is another example.

Rainbow Milk (heavily tipped) is also like that. Also That Reminds Me.

It can make it hard to approach a book as a novel in some ways I find when the author effectively says "this is all true even if you can't relate to it/don't believe it" - I had that sense a little form your review of this book Neil and I had it with Rainbow Milk. It can also lead to too much information/detail being contained - I had that issues with Rainbow Milk.


message 11: by Neil (new) - rated it 4 stars

Neil | 2032 comments It wasn't so much that I didn't believe it: it was more that I DID believe it and I believed it was a real person who had experienced everything I read. I felt very constrained writing my review because I felt that the subject of the book was very likely to read the review: I was writing about a real person.

It's certainly true that I couldn't easily relate to the world of the book. I've never lived in a city and I've certainly never experienced the difficult world that Krauze describes. But he makes the point several times that he thinks his readers will not be able to relate to what he is talking about.


message 12: by Paul (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10018 comments Has he himself commented if he thinks it is a novel / fiction or not - I'm thinking of Ernaux, Cercas who would very much claim not to be writing fiction (although Cercas would very much claim to be writing novels).


message 13: by Neil (new) - rated it 4 stars

Neil | 2032 comments I've not seen interviews with Krauze himself. He has several shorter pieces published in magazines where it is nearly always introduced as "literary non-fiction", whatever that means.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6584 comments Looks like U.K. Kindle versions available from next Monday.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6584 comments I am seeing more what you mean now Neil and what the “literary non fiction” description might mean. This reads like a well written autobiography - well written in that it uses more poetic language than would be normal (or even appropriate) in a standard biography.

My comparisons to Shuggie Bain or Rainbow Milk do not really work - they drew heavily (very heavily at times) on the author’s experiences but are still clearly fiction. Shuggie is not Douglas at all.


WndyJW | 5928 comments This sounds interesting to me now that I read about the author life, but isn’t this a memoir?


message 17: by Dax (new)

Dax | 13 comments Has anyone seen anything about a US publication date?


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6584 comments Finished this last night. Wow - this is certainly a powerful and memorable book. I think it will cause some very strong divergence of views. More thoughts to follow.


WndyJW | 5928 comments I can’t find this anywhere earlier than Sept 3, fortunately Sept 2020, but still.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6584 comments What was interesting about this for me was that whereas another longlisted book explores the parallel world view in a philosophical sense, this for me is more clearly a world that operated in parallel and adjacent to mine, in that I was working only a few miles away from where this is set

It’s mad how you can live in a city and never see any of this. Or you just see faint smudges of it every now and again around the edges of your existence but even then you don’t fully believe in it, because even though we live in the same city, where I’m from and where you’re from could be two totally separate worlds.



message 22: by Paul (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10018 comments Neil wrote: "From the author's note:

"Everything in this book, in this story, was experienced in one way or another - otherwise I wouldn’t be able to tell it"


I am having to treat this as fiction while reading it. Because if it really is based on the author's life then I am a little unclear why a copy hasn't been passed to the Director of Public Prosecutions given, for example, on page 1 the narrator violently assaults a women at her doorstep, in front of her son, to steal her watch.


message 23: by Paul (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10018 comments TV interview with the author:

https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/detail/...


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6584 comments And a brief speech he gave on how it was the very act of writing the book that has enabled him to put his past behind him

http://www.blogs.sed.qmul.ac.uk


message 25: by Paul (last edited Aug 04, 2020 12:12PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10018 comments Where I struggle is how the act of him publishing the book enables those he stabbed, mugged, stole from and terrorised were also able to put their past trauma behind them. I can see it was a cathartic, even transformative, experience for him, but I found it a deeply unpleasant read.

But others have clearly appreciated it - I just suffered a massive empathy fail with this one.


message 26: by Ella (last edited Aug 06, 2020 08:48AM) (new) - added it

Ella (ellamc) | 1018 comments Mod
Paul wrote: "Where I struggle is how the act of him publishing the book enables those he stabbed, mugged, stole from and terrorised were also able to put their past trauma behind them. I can see it was a cathar..."

I haven't been able to get a copy of this one yet, but it does seem like this is not the only book to do this kind of thing. I always wonder "did the author contact the victims of these crimes?" As the widow of a crime victim, I would be beyond "upset" if the people who committed said crime wrote a book that landed on a prize list & they'd not contacted me in a meaningful way to get my "OK" first... ETA - if they had contacted me, I'd most certainly give my "OK" without reservations, if the person's goal was to change their life. It's just not a great feeling.


Suzanne Whatley | 144 comments I liked the poetic/philosophical elements and their contrast with the language of the rest of the book, but that’s about all I liked with this one I’m afraid. I’m not sure I would have finished this if it wasn’t on the longlist (to be fair I wouldn’t have probably picked it up in the first place).


WndyJW | 5928 comments I’m so sorry, Ella.


message 29: by Lascosas (new)

Lascosas | 450 comments I agree with Paul. The tone of the first scene was just off, and it never improved. On one level, the level I assume the publisher wants us to embrace, it is about someone improving their situation in life after several years of criminal behavior. The problem is a complete lack of empathy for the victims of his senseless, brutal crimes. If looking back at that earlier time in his life he is unable to repent for the lives he has hurt (if not ruined), then to me he is still the cold blooded thug who has simply picked up a new set of skills.


Jonathan Pool Lascosas wrote: "The tone of the first scene was just off, and it never improved. ..."
I have read three short stories on line by the author (one of which is an extract from the book and which forms its opening).
On the basis of what I have read my opinion is that the content, and not surprisingly the way it is conveyed, is unsuited to the Booker Prize which is geared up for mainstream, not niche, readers.
For the second time in half an hour I am in full agreement with your assessment on Booker 2020. Now that is a first!


message 31: by Lascosas (new)

Lascosas | 450 comments Jonathan-
You wrote "Booker Prize which is geared up for mainstream, not niche, readers." I am trying to figure out which niche that could be. Thugs?


message 32: by Paul (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10018 comments Interesting interview with the author

https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/88...

The interview does ask the question about regret/apology:

Q: Your character doesn’t apologise for the things he does. There’s a hint of redemption towards the end – shying away from the lifestyle, at least – but he never turns to the reader and says, “Sorry about all the stabbing.” Why?

A: The book is meant to show the reality of a young man between 18 and 22 who is heavily involved in criminality, and when I was writing it I wanted to add a much wiser world view, but I had to stop myself and cross it out: “No, that’s how you think now._”

But I’m a grown man now, and I think completely differently. I don’t think it’s OK to rip people’s watches off, or stab them up, but that’s OK: that’s the world I came from, that’s the world I existed in, viscerally and intensively, so if I were to put in the book that I feel remorse and I feel regret, that would completely nullify the truth of that world. I wouldn’t want people to read it and think, ‘Oh, so all these characters are having redemptive thoughts, and the ones doing the stabbings are just pure psychos.’ No. They’re not. The ones doing the stabbings also have hopes and dreams, and have the potential to fall in love and feel loss and feel longing and have worries: they just hide it more deeply within them.


Although I don't sense still much empathy with the victims - the interview still seem more about the effect of the violence on him. Indeed at one point he rather justifies the behaviour (talking about the character Gotti):

The lifts are always broken, consistently broken, and the council doesn't come and fix them the same day – it can take a week, or two weeks. That’s just the standard of living. But then you can jump on a bus and, in 15 minutes, you can be on Oxford Street. Forget Oxford Street – you come out of South Kilburn estate, you bust left and you walk down the road for ten minutes and you're in Maida Vale – huge houses. And what you're going to feel at that point, if you're a certain type of person with a certain type of instinct, you're going to walk onto that street and start looking at the houses, and thinking, ‘Can I break into that house?’

It creates this sense of resentment towards wealth. And it creates a sense of: you don’t think about people – or potential victims of crime – as victims, because you already feel victimised in terms of how marginalised you are, and how you feel forgotten, and how you feel ignored.



WndyJW | 5928 comments Maybe he still carries that sense of deep injustice and resentment that some live in soul crushing deprivation while others have far more than they need and nothing is ever done to address these inequalities by the people in power, the people who benefit from this inequality, and, as he says at the end of the quote, there are two kinds of victims: the kind of victim of socio-economics that he was and many still are, and the kind of victim of crime which is rooted in the same socio-economics. No one regrets allowing entire neighborhoods to live in poverty with the myriad symptoms of great needs, feeling that’s just the way it is, so he doesn’t regret his violence and assault feeling that’s just the way it is.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6584 comments Generally I think that is correct but I don’t think he was a victim himself - he went to private school for example.


message 35: by Paul (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10018 comments Yes that is the worse part of it. From another interview this week:

One of the biggest things that is never touched upon is what is it that draws people towards this world? There is a lot of circumstantial shit, like if you grow up and your parents are crackheads and they neglect you, and you grow up surrounded by violence, then you are likely to be in that situation.

But there is a whole other group of young men who, like myself, don’t come from some mad fucked up background. We didn’t grow up with crazy disadvantages and everything stacked against us. But we had an instinct within us that was like fuck the law, fuck conforming, fuck what society thinks of us.


It really is a shame this book was published let alone featured on the Booker Prize.


message 36: by Paul (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10018 comments And unfortunately he has been clever enough not to self incriminate despite boasting about his and others crimes. From a conversation with an agent

She said, ‘so how much of it is true?’, and I said ‘all of it’, and as soon as I said that, she started backing out. She was like, ‘what happens if you get arrested for it?’, and I said ‘I am not going to get arrested, because I know that the way I have written it is protecting people and myself.


WndyJW | 5928 comments Did he go to private school because he was one of the fortunate kids from a poor, crime ridden neighborhood? I thought he grew up in poverty, that’s why I ordered the book.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6584 comments He had a bursary which would have paid a chunk of the fees (but not all) but it’s important to know (and by the way I am a fan of the book) that he is not from the estate where he gets into crime. He chose to move there. His brother by contrast trained as a violinist so the author can’t and doesn’t claim that alternative choices were not open to him.


Suzanne Whatley | 144 comments This was by far my least favourite read of the longlist. While I struggled to see how a few of the other choices were nominated, I at least enjoyed reading them. This one I just plain disliked! I do wonder how much knowing it was real influenced my reaction- I suspect quite a lot. Knowing he is profiting off what he did, coupled with his seemingly blasé attitude towards it is just not something I can get past.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6584 comments I liked this one but the author’s interviews which I had hoped would explain more about the book are over time putting me off it. I am also unimpressed by the publicity and marketing which it seems to me (although I might be being selective) is going very heavy on the gangster and crime element.


message 41: by WndyJW (last edited Sep 06, 2020 06:49PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

WndyJW | 5928 comments I just read a few articles and it sounds like he did grow up in a violent estate where most people live very difficult lives. That he had opportunities doesn’t negate the effects of living among marginalized people. He and his brother had opportunities to improve their life, but if they were two of a select few he would still have seen the world as a dangerous dog eat dog place.

I hope my books arrives soon. I should have Wednesday according to tracking. I hope so.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6584 comments He didn’t Wendy. He moved to the estates at 17 both in teal life and the novel.

Example quote of the home life he left to go there.

A few days later, I have dinner with my parents. .... Dinner is roasted aubergines in olive oil and garlic, based on a new recipe my father picked up from one of his Italian friends, followed by mushroom tagliatelle. I’m chewing focaccia which is this banging salty white bread from Italy that reminds me of my childhood when I used to go with my parents to Tuscany every summer holiday.


message 43: by Paul (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 10018 comments His cousins and others grew up without his advantages. So he chose to go and live on their estate. To help people have the opportunities he had, and improve the quality of life there?

No - to help increase the level of gang violence, to help drag others into a life of crime and drugs. Most of his violence is actually directed at those less fortunate that himself. That's what I struggle with.


message 44: by Neil (new) - rated it 4 stars

Neil | 2032 comments Gumble's Yard wrote: "I liked this one but the author’s interviews which I had hoped would explain more about the book are over time putting me off it. I am also unimpressed by the publicity and marketing which it seems..."

I am in complete agreement with this. I thought the book was excellent when I read it and I wouldn't have expected the book itself to show any signs or regret or apology. But the publicity surrounding the book now it is out in the open (I read a NetGalley ARC) is not helping.


message 45: by Hugh (last edited Sep 07, 2020 03:46AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3475 comments Mod
I finished it earlier this morning, and I am struggling to decide what to think and how to review the book. I am not comfortable with the idea of Krauze profiting from these experiences, and this is why I have provisionally placed this book at the bottom of my rankings.


message 46: by Emily (new) - added it

Emily M | 572 comments I haven't read this and I was also put off by learning of his background, but at the same time, his background is irrelevant to his depiction of the world, don't you think?

If his aim is to show the context of violence, and he does that well, then that is something worth having as readers, I would have thought. I find his comment that some are born into violence whereas others go looking for it very interesting, and it certainly rings true. Do we have to like the author to recognize his achievement?

(Obviously I might read this later and hate it too)!


message 47: by WndyJW (last edited Sep 07, 2020 10:13AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

WndyJW | 5928 comments If I have this straight, he was a rebellious middle class teenager who thought his cousins were cool and tough so chose to move to a poor estate and act out his desire for violence and now, although he has no more desire to commit violence, he feels no remorse or regret for those he hurt and traumatized.

He sounds like a psychopath- he lacks empathy and his novel is a fraud in a way. I’m probably not the only one who thought he grew up on a violent estate and was lucky to get out and this is his story, an account of how his young adult life of crime was shaped by his difficult childhood. He isn’t telling the story of his hard life, he is telling the story of a thug and using his choices as an excuse. He will now make money and get positive attention for the crimes he committed and people he hurt get nothing.

Compare this to Douglas Stuart who really did grow up poor and lonely, who experienced hunger and a desperate need for loving parents, all while feeling like he didn’t belong anywhere. Douglas Stuart never hurt anyone and never used his deprivation as an excuse to harm others.

I’m a true bleeding heart and would have loads of compassion and empathy for Gabriel Krauze if he grew up witnessing violence at a young age, but that is not the case. He was just a wannabe tough guy.

I want to read the book, but I regret buying it new and lining his pocket.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 6584 comments The author’s father -a political cartoonist - profiled in the Guardian about two years before the book is set. The author (then 15) is briefly mentioned in the article as a cellist who wants to be a rap artist.

https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2...


message 49: by Emily (new) - added it

Emily M | 572 comments I guess it falls into that "do we have to like the author to appreciate the book?" category. And while we may not approve, he's describing an actual phenomenon, and fiction illuminates, and don't we all strive for understanding? And aren't there other characters in the book, who don't have all of his opportunities?

I can totally see how this could be an empathy-fail book, but I kind of like the way it sounds like it avoids falling into pat arguments.


message 50: by Erin (new) - added it

Erin Glover (erinxglover) | 134 comments This just came out in the US--for $30! And, the wait is ten days. So, my question is: Is it worth reading? Do you think it will make the shortlist?


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