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Booker Prize 2019 Longlist: The Wall by John Lanchester

thewall

Up Next for our panel is The Wall by John Lanchester. Seven of our panelists read and rated this book. Here are our reviews.

Synopsis from Booker Prize Website: The Wall is a thrilling and hypnotic work of fiction: a mystery story, a love story, a war story and a story about a voyage. Kavanagh begins his life patrolling the Wall. If he’s lucky, if nothing goes wrong, he has only two years of this: 729 more nights. The best thing that can happen is that he survives and gets off the Wall and never has to spend another day of his life anywhere near it. He longs for this to be over; longs to be somewhere else.

The Wall is a novel about why the young are right to distrust the old. It’s about a broken world you will recognise as your own – and about what might be found when all is lost.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: This book tackles important issues but I didn’t feel it was particularly ground breaking or original in the way that it does it. When the book started I couldn’t get the Nights Watch and their Wall out of my mind. In our normal rating system this would be a 3 star read for me.

What I did like was the use of language we have the Defenders (an honourable, noble title) we have the Others (dehumanising like the Nazi regimen did) and we have the Help (the modern term for slavery).

I also liked the way that a change in circumstances forces the Defenders to think about who they really are and what they are defending against. Which lead them to develop as human beings.

For me the ending felt that we had gone full circle.

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 13/20

Jen’s Thoughts: I loved the book from a pure enjoyment standpoint. For me it was a quick and easy read in terms of style yet also full of material for reflection and analysis. There is no question that this is political book with a strong political message and it will probably not appeal to a certain segment of the population who disagree with the messaging. The notion of the Wall didn’t really remind me of Game of Thrones (for more than 5 mins). If anything it reminded me of the rhetoric around Trump’s border wall although I don’t think it was a specific reference to that as much as it was symbolic of situations in many countries around border control and refugees but especially references the UK. I don’t this gives anything away, the point is made at the beginning of the book so its not really a spoiler.

Overall I thought the writing was brilliant. Beautiful sentences, some original structuring, and quite engaging. It also felt different and quite original to me. My primary criticism is around character development which I thought was pretty minimal but perhaps that is because the focus was around the larger political message rather than character driven development. Similarly, I felt that the plot development faltered at times. I liked the way it ended but felt some pieces were poorly explained or underdeveloped.

ps: (added after reading the other panelists’ reviews). I chuckled at how much some of our panelists hated the writing style. As you can see above, I thought it was quite brilliantly written. Some very simple sentences and repetitive phrased but I thought that was all intentionally done and contributed to the overall sense of the book.

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

Anita’s Thoughts: If I don’t over intellectualize to much, I have to say I quite enjoyed reading this dystopian survival story.  But, other than the fact it was topical (climate change, walls/border control, younger generation blaming the elder for the world’s woes), I am not really sure how this gets nominated for such a prominent literary prize.

But, I enjoyed the narrative voice of a young man serving his mandatory military service and I thought a lot of his emotions were artfully, if not beautifully, described.  The second half morphs a bit from a description of a dystopian world to more of a gripping survival adventure tale . . .and that generated more suspense for me.  Unfortunately, the ending felt a bit like the author got sick of his own tale and wasn’t quite sure how to deal with it.  Soooo many unanswered questions throughout meant I had to ding the plot more than I really wanted to.  Basically, I liked the storytelling, but not sure even the best edit would really make this a Booker prize winner . . .despite the fact I really enjoyed reading it.

Writing quality: 3/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 13/20

Nicole’s Thoughts:

When I first started reading this book I thought it was going to be “Dick and Jane Go the Wall”.  With cracking prose such as “It’s cold on the wall.” (repeat), and “Cold is cold is cold.” I didn’t think I’d make it through.  But it got better pretty quickly and pulled me in.

This is my jam.  I love dystopian fiction, particularly when current events (threats) are woven in.  The “Wall” notwithstanding,  without spoilers, I thought the author did this very well.  I was thoroughly engaged and entertained.

I’m not sure if I think this book should have made the longlist, but I liked it enough that I wouldn’t mind seeing it on the shortlist.  When I compare it to Frankissstein, I think Lanchester did a much better job getting his point across without bonking me over the head with it.  This book made me think a bit more.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 4/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 17/20

Tracy’s Thoughts: Did one of the judges lose a bet?

I’ve seen some reviews that say that the juvenile writing style is intentional, that the author is actually better than this. I’m not planning on seeing if that’s true.

The grammar, the style, the plot, the flat characters. There was nothing I liked about this book, and can’t believe that this was chosen over something so wonderful as On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, or The Tenth Muse.

Writing quality: 1/5
Originality: 1/5
Character development: 1/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 0.5/2
Total: 5.5/20

Susie’s Thoughts: If Lanchester, when writing The Wall, was trying to evoke the tedium and banality of life on his fictional wall, then he succeeded, because tedious and banal The Wall was. I understand what he was trying to do, and the idea has merit.  If we keep going like we are now, post Brexit, post Boris, post Trump, in a world where climate change is being denied and fear mongers and haters are being given a voice, then we could very well end up in a world similar to Lanchester’s vision.  I just don’t think it was well executed. The protagonist was flat, and the rest of the characters were flatter.  The prose was flat.  The plot was flat.  There was a complete absence of nuance.  Not for me at all, and I have no idea what it is doing on the list. I will eat my hat if it makes it to the shortlist. Full disclosure; I listened to the audiobook, which was a colossal mistake as the narrator was dreadful.  If the plot wasn’t already boring enough, he added a new layer of boring with his monotonous tone of voice and complete lack of emotional injection.

Writing quality: 2/5
Originality: 2/5
Character development: 1/4
Plot development: 1/4
Overall enjoyment: 0.5/2
Total: 6.5/20

Lisa’s Thoughts: I am a big fan of dystopian fiction. I like the creativity and imagination involved in choosing a way in which the world goes so wrong, and then exploring how that has an impact on human relationships and social structures.

The Wall takes place after an undescribed cataclysmic climate event, simply called The Change. In reaction, an island nation built a wall around their island in order to keep Others out. I appreciated the writing style, which, apart from some bizarre forays into poetry just in the beginning of the book, is crisp and clear. I liked the use of euphemisms such as the Help for people who were essentially slaves. However, I was disappointed that I never learned much else about how or why the world went wrong. This might be compensated for if the relationships between characters or the ways in which they reacted to the limits put on them turned out to be complex and interesting.

Unfortunately, the author does not delve deeply into these relationships either, and the ways in which characters react to difficult situations are fairly predictable. Thus, I won’t include The Wall in my predictions for the shortlist.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality:3/5
Character development: 1/4
Plot development: 2/4
Overall enjoyment:1 /2
Total: 11/20

Rankings
Frankissstein 15.2
My Sister, the Serial Killer 14.6
Lost Children Archive 13.3
The Wall 11.57

So what do you think? Have you read it? What did you think? Which panelist got it right? 

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. mootastic1 #

    Wow! I love reading such divided reviews. I’m currently reading List Children Archive, but The Wall is currently sitting next to me and now I really want to pick it up to see where I fall. Especially since I normally have very similar tastes to both Nicole and Susie and they had highly different reactions.

    Like

    August 12, 2019
  2. I know, it’s nuts! I keep thinking about it, it’s making it hard to give my full attention to 10 Minutes …

    Like

    August 12, 2019

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