Slightly belated but still here! The final review in my Man Booker 2018 series.
Sadly we already know the winner (the fabulous Milkman by Anna Burns) so I’ll treat this as a general book review rather than an ‘is it a winner?!’ type thing.
The modern Odysseus
At its heart ‘The Long Take’ is a journey novel, but rather than working towards a destination, the protagonist (‘Walker’) is running away from the brutal experiences he had during World War II.
As we follow him around the USA, his wanderings through cities from New York to Los Angeles are interspersed with flashbacks to what he saw during the D-Day landings and the subsequent allied invasion of France.
These very brief sections read like a punch to the gut, with sudden brutal and graphic depictions of violence strewn between the more contemplative descriptions of the post-war American cityscape.
Ultimately it’s a story about redemption, too. Walker carries with him a huge level of survivor’s guilt, alongside a mysterious event which defines him in the post-war years.
The urge to confess and be absolved conflicts with Walker’s shame and regret looking back, creating a tension which drives the second part of the novel towards an ending which seems both fitting and terribly sad.
Is it even a novel?
That’s what everyone seemed to be saying when the shortlist was announced. ‘The Long Take’ was marketed as a novel but is written mostly in verse, with a few short prose sections (a paragraph here and there).
To me, though, it falls more comfortably into the category of ‘novel’ than ‘poetry’, although you could argue either way.
To me, the overall effect was that of reading a novel written in prose but with a huge number of line breaks. The form is very free; it’s not structured poetry. I suppose you’d have to call it a prose poem if you were being wishy-washy. My point is, if, like me, you don’t tend to like reading much poetry, don’t be put off ‘The Long Take’. It really is more of a novel.
‘The Long Take’ is desperately sad, but also strangely hopeful – or perhaps a better way of phrasing it would be ‘appreciative’.
Walker notices everything about his surroundings, and as time goes on the way he speaks about them becomes almost elegiac. At the height of the novel, the demolition of old hotels to make space for car parks is intertwined with the destruction of the war within Walker’s mind.
At every turn, there is a heavy sense of loss; of physical loss of a way of life, to the loss of innocence for a soldier caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, to the slightly misleading nostalgia of all-night cinemas and LA police car sirens.
The result is very moving, with Walker carving his nomadic path from one disintegrating history to another; the suggestion is that his only option is to succumb to the general collapse.
Buy a copy of The Long Take with my Amazon affiliate link.