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2018 Man Booker Longlist: Washington Black

washington black

We are coming up on the closing stretch with only three more reviews left which we will post over the next day and a half — blame that on my trying to cram 3 books in the final 4 days. We’ll also be posting our predictions and overall thoughts of the longlist in two days.

Next up for our panel is Washington Black. Two of our panelists (myself and Book Worm) read this book and I believe Anita is about halfway done so she may drop her comments in the comment section. Here are our reviews of Washington Black…Washington Black
2018 Man Booker (longlist)
Published in: 2018
Judges: Jen, Book Worm
Find it/buy it here: Washington Black

Synopsis (from Amazon): When two English brothers take the helm of a Barbados sugar plantation, Washington Black – an eleven year-old field slave – finds himself selected as personal servant to one of these men. The eccentric Christopher ‘Titch’ Wilde is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor and abolitionist, whose single-minded pursuit of the perfect aerial machine mystifies all around him.

Titch’s idealistic plans are soon shattered and Washington finds himself in mortal danger. They escape the island together, but then then Titch disappears and Washington must make his way alone, following the promise of freedom further than he ever dreamed possible.

From the blistering cane fields of Barbados to the icy wastes of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-drowned streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black teems with all the strangeness and mystery of life. Inspired by a true story, Washington Black is the extraordinary tale of a world destroyed and made whole again.

Book Worm’s Review:  The opening chapters of this book are sufficiently horrific that to say I enjoyed the novel seems wrong. What I appreciate about this story is the way the writing bought the places to life. While reading this I could feel the heat of Barbados and the fear of the slaves as one horror was replaced by another.

In terms of originality, I like the steampunk elements and the adventure side of things and I would say the situations Washington Black finds himself in are unique. My one issue with this was that some of it felt just too unbelievable, although this does claim to be based on real events.

For me the plot started out slowly and then moved at a fast pace as we watch Washington Black grow in character from scared slave boy to a man of industry and worth. I like the way the idea of freedom was explored and the way that Wash is viewed by some as a person, by some as property and by others as a cause. This  book has a lot to say about the horrors of slavery and the way humans treat each other.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Character Development: 3/4
Plot Development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 15/20

Jen’s Review: Washington Black is a fascinating and adventure-filled book that explores issues of identity and freedom. The plot reads like an adventure novel and is perhaps at time a tad overstuffed. Edugyan packs a lot into this book and behind the action-packed novel is a message about black identity and freedom. The story did feel a tad melodramatic to me, although it was inspired by a true story. I understand Book Worm’s comment above about certain plot elements seeming unbelievable. However, I did enjoy the ways in which identity was explored and the way the author examined the motivations of people involved in Black’s story.

The writing was beautiful and very descriptive. This at times made for hard reading, especially when reading about the brutality and violence on the plantation. But these graphically violent scenes.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 3/5
Character Development: 3/4
Plot Development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 15/20

Combined panel score: 15/20

Ranking of longlist books:
1. Overstory (18/20)
2. The Long Take (17.5/20) ** Based on only two reviews.
3. From a Low and Quiet Sea (17.2/20)
4. Warlight (15.56/20)
5. Everything Under (15.5/20) ** Based on only two reviews.
6. Washington  Black (15/20) ** Based on only two reviews.
7. Milkman (14.8/20)
8. The Water Cure by Mackintosh (14.2)
9. The Mars Room (14/20)
10. Snap (11.5/20)
11. Sabrina (9.5/20)

We want to hear from you. Have you read the book? What did you think? Does it deserve to make the shortlist? Why or why not?

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tracy S #

    Since it’s not quite available in the US, I decided to wait to see if it makes the shortlist. But now I’m thinking I’ll try to get to it anyway- it sounds pretty good!

    Liked by 1 person

    September 17, 2018
    • I’ll be curious to see what you think of it.


      September 17, 2018
  2. Susie #

    I’m about 40% of the way through the audio. I’m not sure if I’ll finish by the shortlist announcement, but I’ll give it a red hot go. I’m on the fence about how I feel about it. It certainly won’t be a five star, but I am settling in to the story. We’ll see.


    September 17, 2018
    • It was probably a 3.5 star book for me. I found it interesting but definitely not a 5-star for me either.


      September 17, 2018
  3. pbtanita #

    Well, this book took me longer to finish than I expected, but I actually loved it. It’s my favorite of the seven I’ve read so far.

    Writing quality: 5/5
    Originality: 4/5
    Character Development: 4/4
    Plot Development: 3/4
    Overall enjoyment: 2/2



    September 23, 2018

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