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2017 Man Booker Longlist: 4321


Our final book is 4321. Because it’s such a monster of a book, only two panelists were able to finish the book although Book Worm is currently reading it too. Our panel 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. And with 4321, we now have our collective rankings of all 13 longlist books. Tomorrow we’ll also post our individual predictions and preferences (which will vary from judge to judge).

Here are our ratings for 4 3 2 1…

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
2017 Man Booker (longlist)
Published in: 2017
Judges: Jen, Anita
Find it/buy it here: 4 3 2 1

Synopsis (from Amazon): Nearly two weeks early, on March 3, 1947, in the maternity ward of Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the one and only child of Rose and Stanley Ferguson, is born. From that single beginning, Ferguson’s life will take four simultaneous and independent fictional paths. Four identical Fergusons made of the same DNA, four boys who are the same boy, go on to lead four parallel and entirely different lives. Family fortunes diverge. Athletic skills and sex lives and friendships and intellectual passions contrast. Each Ferguson falls under the spell of the magnificent Amy Schneiderman, yet each Amy and each Ferguson have a relationship like no other. Meanwhile, readers will take in each Ferguson’s pleasures and ache from each Ferguson’s pains, as the mortal plot of each Ferguson’s life rushes on.

As inventive and dexterously constructed as anything Paul Auster has ever written, yet with a passion for realism and a great tenderness and fierce attachment to history and to life itself that readers have never seen from Auster before. 4 3 2 1 is a marvelous and unforgettably affecting tour de force.

Jen’s Review: Auster is a literary genius and his sentences are so meticulously crafted that his books take me forever to read simply because I am often stopping to marvel at the perfect sentences. 4 3 2 1 is a pretty dense book and at close to 900 pages, I’m grateful for the fact that I had already read it prior to the list being announced.

The writing is perfection, the structure is complex (I can’t image the concentration and intellectual energy required to write such a book), and the concept is clever and original. I will say that this book is connected to time and place. This is a wholly American book and is rooted in a very specific time. There are a lot of historical details woven into the plot that some readers may find tedious. I really loved the stories but I tend to love sprawling sagas that capture a time and place. Freedom by Franzen is one of my favorite books and this is the same sort of book — thoroughly literary, sprawling, and flawlessly written. I enjoyed the idea of how fate or chance could so profoundly impact the course of our lives. I will say that one particular element (related to how fates may be changed by life events) bothered me a little because it concerned an element that I don’t think is fluid or impacted by environment. I’ve mentioned several times that I feel like books on this list attempt to pack too much into one novel (Swing Time and The Ministry of Utmost Happiness). This book is another example of sprawling and jam-packed contend but it’s the only one on the list that I thought managed to pack in a lot of content in a successful way. Overall I loved it and it was near perfection on my scorecard:

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: It’s pretty hard to be an unbiased reviewer on this one.  Protagonist is Jewish.  I’m Jewish.  Protagonist is coming of age in the New York metro area.  I came of age in the New York Metro area.  One version of the protagonist relocates to Rochester, NY.  I lived 20 years in Rochester.  So, I had a lot of familiarity with the place, the culture,and the historical context which probably made this book infinitely more intriguing to me than it might be to someone else.  And even with all these commonalities, I thought this book read long.  Very long.  And I’m a huge fan of James Michener, so it’s not like I can’t appreciate a long book, but this one might have just needed a tad more editing than it received.  All that being said, I found HUGE chunks of it to be tremendously engaging reading.  I really cared about Ferguson and his various family issues, his love interests, his struggles with writing, his education. . .it’s really the tale of a human being and all of the very many things a human being must cope with just to get through regular, daily life.  It was so true to life and to the human experience.  Stellar all the way through chapter 4 (of 7). After that, merely good.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality 3/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 16/20

Average score across all panelists: 17/20

Our Collective Ranking of Longlist books to date:
1.  Autumn by Ali Smith: 18.25/20
2. Exit West by Hamid: 17.4/20
3. 4321 by Paul Auster: 17/20
4. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: 16.8/20
5. Solar Bones by Mike McCormack: 16.67/20
6. Home Fire 16.33/20
7. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry: 16/20
8. History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund: 15.4/20
9. Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor: 14.87/20
10. Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead: 13.9/20
11. Swing Time by Zadie Smith: 13.7/20
12. Elmet by Fiona Mozley : 13.5/20
13. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: 12.67

Later today our panel will post their musings about the list and tomorrow we’ll post our final predictions.

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nicole R #

    Ugh, I just don’t know about this one! I absolutely love the premise, but it is such a beast of a commitment and I am still a little gun shy about this genre after my traumatic experience with Seveneves….

    Liked by 1 person

    September 11, 2017
    • I don’t think you will love it but I could be wrong


      September 11, 2017
    • Anita #

      When you say “this genre” what do you mean? To me, this book is mostly a coming of age story, and the four different Fergusons is more of creative flourish than anything else.


      September 11, 2017
  2. Another review post I’ve been avoiding because I love Auster and didn’t want to encounter disappointment. Mixed reactions from Jen and Anita. Jen’s review filled me with hope, Anita’s produced a tiny doubt. I will read it. I can’t not read Auster. I’m hoping it will arrive as a birthday gift, now it’s in paperback.

    Liked by 1 person

    October 15, 2017
  3. I am so glad I stumbled across your blog and these Man Booker Prize reviews (i came here via Litsy). It’s exciting to read other people’s thoughts on these books since I made it a goal to read through the longlist (which I didn’t get a chance to read them all). No one in my in person life has read these books. Anyway, what is great is that all of your thoughts have been pretty much how I havefelt anf that your collective ranking list match my top four too. I look forward to following this blog and all of your individual thoughts on books.

    Liked by 1 person

    October 17, 2017
    • Thank you! Do you have a blog? What’s you Litsy name? I’ll make sure to follow you back. Glad you enjoyed the feature. We love doing it every year


      October 17, 2017
    • Never mind. Found you and followed you on Litsy!


      October 17, 2017

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

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