Choosing between these two novels served to remind me that book prizes are such artificial contests. They don’t pit like against like. The only meaningful way to judge writing of this quality is against the ambitions of the writerdid he achieve what he set out to achieve?
Philip Hensher’s state-of-the-nation novel, set in the northern town of Sheffield in the 1970s and in London a decade or more later, is a joy to read, written in fluid, supple prose, full of social insight and sharp humour. Through two interconnecting family histories he dissects the anatomy of domestic life, skilfully and delicately spreading it out against its cultural and political context. Having grown up in the north of England in the 1970s it is a book to which I could readily relate. Perhaps it is only to counter my fear of northern bias that I have selected The Lazarus Project
to go through to the next round.
Hemon’s double narrative, relating the 1908 killing of a young Jewish immigrant, Lazarus, by the Chicago chief of police and, a century later, the attempts by another Eastern European immigrant, a writer called Brik, to trace and understand Lazarus’s life and death, is endlessly inventive. Full of jokes, anecdotes, stories within stories, the narratives simultaneously unfolding and folding up on themselves, Hemon sets his ambitions high, reaches them and then some.
The Lazarus Project by Aleksandar Hemon