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2017 Man Booker Longlist: Solar Bones

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Up next our panel reviews book #9: Solar Bones by Mike McCormack. Three panels reviewed the book on the following criteria: 1) writing quality; 2) originality; 3) character development; 4) plot development; and 5) overall enjoyment. We’ve each provided mini-reviews and ratings. We hope you add your thoughts, reviews, and/or comments. Here are our ratings…

Thank you to Soho Press for providing our panel with a review copy of this book in exchange for our honest reviews.

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack
2017 Man Booker (longlist)
Published in: 2017
Judges: Jen, Book Worm, Anita
Find it/buy it here: Solar Bones

Synopsis (from Amazon): A vital, tender, death-haunted work by one of Ireland’s most important contemporary writers, Solar Bones is a celebration of the unexpected beauty of life and of language, and our inescapable nearness to our last end. It is All Souls Day, and the spirit of Marcus Conway sits at his kitchen table and remembers. In flowing, relentless prose, Conway recalls his life in rural Ireland: as a boy and man, father, husband, citizen. His ruminations move from childhood memories of his father’s deftness with machines to his own work as a civil engineer, from transformations in the local economy to the tidal wave of global financial collapse. Conway’s thoughts go still further, outward to the vast systems of time and history that hold us all. He stares down through the “vortex of his being,” surveying all the linked circumstances that combined to bring him into this single moment, and he makes us feel, if only for an instant, all the terror and gratitude that existence inspires.

Book Worm’s Review:  The first thing to get out the way is the fact that this whole book is allegedly one sentence. Wrong! This book is multiple sentences and paragraphs. All that is missing are the full stops. It is even laid out as if in paragraphs, which is a sound decision as it allows the readers’ eyes points of rest. The whole one sentence thing is a gimmick pure and simple and because of this I have knocked writing quality down.

Now we have got past the one sentence problem, this is actually a good book, although it may not be to everyone’s taste. The book is basically the stream of consciousness recollections Marcus, a civil engineer. Through his seemingly random thoughts we learn about his childhood and his father. We learn about the issues he faces at work and we learn about his marriage and how much he loves his wife and their children.

The sections I enjoyed most related to Marcus’ work as a civil engineer and how he has to walk a delicate line between doing the moral, safe thing and avoid annoying the local politicians who all have their own agendas. I liked Marcus as a character, which is good as we are spend the whole book in his head and every other character is seen through his eyes. We learn a lot about Marcus, but not much of any real depth about the other characters.

I found originality really hard to rate because: 1) ghost narrators are not new 2) the one sentence thing is a gimmick, 3) the writing style reminded me of Diary of a Nobody, and 4) stream of consciousness writing is also not new. All that in mind I have not read anything from the point of view of a civil engineer before and I did enjoy the way the author builds up all the circumstances to the one inevitable point of no return.

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality 3/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 14/20

Jen’s Review: Solar Bones is a book that I thought I could very well hate. The idea of reading a a book written using only one sentence sounded intriguing but also with a potential of being quite unpleasant to read. And truthfully it was rough going for me at the beginning, but then I got used to the style and ultimately I loved it. This book is fantastic and has stood out among other books despite them all being quite strong this year.

I can see why some (including Book Worm) might see the use of one sentence as gimmicky and I went into it thinking it was gimmicky. But after reading it, I felt differently. This single sentence fits the plot of the novel which is stream-of-consciousness as the protagonist (who is dead) reflects on his entire life in the span of a few minutes while the Angelus bell tolls. One memory flows into another, the timeline is fluid, and the atmosphere is dreamlike. Some reviewers have described this novel as a work of art and I agree. The prose is breathtakingly beautiful and surprisingly readable considering there are no periods, although it is structured in a way to make it easy to pause).

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality 4/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 18/20

Anita’s Review: This book captivated me with its use of the language and its keen observations on life.  If you like traditional structure and can’t bear a punctuation mark to be missing, forget it; it’s one long sentence. One long surprisingly readable, poetic, long sentence that somehow manages to convey the intricacies, heartbreaks and humor of life with its look at everything from politics to economics to construction on the smallest of scales.  It’s definitely not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but honestly, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s going to win the Man Booker.  Given my feelings on Lincoln and the Bardo (love), that’s saying something.  If our enjoyment scale was more nuanced, it wouldn’t rank as highly as Lincoln, but on every other level, I think it holds its own.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 5/5
Character Development: 3/4
Plot Development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 18/20
Average score across all panelists: 16.67/20

We want to hear from you. Have you read this book? Do you think it deserves to make the shortlist? Why or why not?

    Our Collective Ranking of Longlist books to date:

1. Exit West by Hamid: 17.4/20
2. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: 16.8/20
3. Solar Bones by Mike McCormack
4. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry: 16/20
4. Home Fire 16/20
6. History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund: 15.4/20
7. Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor: 14.87/20
8. Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: 13.9/20
9. Swing Time by Zadie Smith: 13.7/20

Next up: Elmet

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Anita #

    I just wanted to make one further comment on the “one sentence” issue. To my mind, the one sentence truly fit the book and served a purpose. The book is, in many ways, about the ongoing minutiae of life and how it keeps coming at you – – the big issues and the small, all at once,overlapping, never really stopping. For me, the one sentence represented that “lack of pause” that is characteristic of our lives. The rhythm of the book reminded me of the rhythm of life, and I felt that was in great part, due to the one sentence. I also read the book differently because of it. There’s no place to stop, and I actually found myself reading more quickly as I felt sort of pulled through the book. That feeling also reminded me of how the everyday chores of real life sort of set the pace of life and any larger event sort of disrupts, but doesn’t stop this constant pace.

    I just felt the same way as when I read The Road. A lot of people didn’t like the lack of punctuation and the stylistic choices made for that book, but I thought it made the book by evoking the feeling of dystopia.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 5, 2017
    • I agree. I think it perfectly fit the purpose of the book so it wasn’t a gimmick for me


      September 5, 2017
  2. Interesting. I hadn’t heard about this book before, but since I’m definitely a reader for style (over plot), you all now have me intrigued. To Anita’s point above, I LOVED The Road and found that the stylistic choices evoked a sense of emptiness that added so much to the story.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 5, 2017
    • Anita #

      I LOVED The Road too, and definitely think you might appreciate this book . . .I think it is so interesting when the writing style matches the subject matter in the way these two books manage to do it.

      Liked by 1 person

      September 5, 2017
  3. Tracy S #

    Ok. It’s on the wishlist. This year’s nominees are all sounding amazing, and I’ve enjoyed every one I’ve read so far.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 5, 2017
    • It’s a really strong list this year


      September 5, 2017
    • Anita #

      I’m going to be surprised if you dislike this one, Tracy. Keep us posted.


      September 5, 2017
  4. I’m definitely going to attempt this – just don’t know how far I will make it

    Liked by 1 person

    September 5, 2017
  5. This is clearly one that will need me to overcome,e any preconceived ideas about the one sentence style and just try it. I must admit that when I hear about the style choices the author made I was turned off because it’s been done before and it doc feel like a gI,mock. But I’m willimg to be proved wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

    September 7, 2017
  6. Interesting to read your different perspectives on the single sentence thing. It put me off immediately and made me think that Joyce still has too firm a grip on the ambitions of Irish writers. The subject matter didn’t really grab me, either. I don’t feel compelled to read this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    October 15, 2017

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  1. 2017 Man Booker Shortlist Predictions | The Reader's Room

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