As I indicated in the post on Something to Answer For, that novel makes sense to me as the inaugural Booker Prize winner, though the field is certainly strong.
Mosley’s Impossible Object gives us a stylistic experiment, shifting angles of view and playing with chronology in his account of a love affair and its aftermath. Williams’s From Scenes Like These gives us a vision of lower-class Scottish life as the nation is transformed through increasing industrialism. Spark’s The Public Image gives us a cold, cinematic look into the lives behind movie-star glamour and public relations. England’s Figures in a Landscape gives us a deeply present account of contemporary war. Murdoch’s The Nice and the Good gives us a more traditional if philosophically sophisticated study of love and relationships.
All of the novels engage with if not the immediate present, then at least with the era in which their books are written—with attention to the morals and mores of the time—particularly in their attitudes toward love, relationships, and identity. All suggest a culture in flux, with old certainties—about national and personal identity, war, love, and ways of life--giving way to uncertainty and anxiety.
All of the works, with the exception of Murdoch’s, seem to me to be unsettled and unsettling in a variety of ways. And while I truly loved Figures in a Landscape, Something to Answer For tackles post-colonial themes through historically located action, tragic love, and experimentation. The main character’s cynicism and naivete speak to Britain’s place and identity in the world, while he deals with politics at the personal, national, and international level. The head injury he sustains gives the book the hallucinatory quality that underscores the uncertain present and future that the book's events describe while also making the past real and resonant. Plus—the novel is both readable and stylistically adventurous, not an easy combination to pull off.
Good inaugural choice, Booker committee. Let’s see if next year's committee can hold off the sophomore slump.