Man Booker 2018 – Belinda Bauer’s Snap #Review

51Yo-UQWXeL._SY346_If 2017 was the Man Booker year of debut authors (and I still maintain Fiona Mosley’s Elmet should have won), the notable feature of 2018’s longlist is the challenge to literary prize conventions – well, that’s how the narrative is playing out so far in certain circles. Nick Drnaso’s graphic novel, Sabrina, is certainly a first and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Bauer’s crime novel Snap is perhaps the first of its genre to make it onto the longlist – you could argue that the virtually unreadable A History of Seven Killings (I know I’m in the minority with this opinion) was also something of a crime novel in its central focus – and Snap pretty much deserves its place there. It is a classic crime novel, complete with a jaded DCI and an unsolved crime dating back three years. Bauer has taken the unsolved murder of pregnant Marie Wilks on the M50 in 1988 and spun a tale about the children left behind when another mother, heavily pregnant, breaks down on a motorway and disappears on her way to call for assistance. It is left to Jack, her eldest son, to look after his siblings. What unfolds is a story of revenge and a desperate need for justice.

Bauer is at her best when she shows us how a violent crime might blow a family apart, and her focus on the way a home might be infiltrated is an excellent way of  creeping her reader out – I felt myself go enjoyably cold at the lines

‘The bedside lamp was on.
It hadn’t been on. Her hand had stopped in mid air, remember? She knew she hadn’t turned it on.’

Yes, there are one or two character flaws – perhaps in Catherine While, a pregnant young wife who finds herself becoming involved Jack’s need for revenge – but I can’t help feeling that the critics are judging this novel on different grounds to those they might apply to novels written to fit more obvious ‘literary’ expectations. Goodness knows there have been plenty of longlisted novels with ropey elements – or they’ve been so dreary they’ve left little trace on my imagination (Vernon God Little, anyone?) And any weakness in her characterisation of Catherine is more than made up for in the construction of Reynolds, the ambitious and self-righteous young police officer, and the brilliantly depicted Smooth Louis Bridge, a dubious figure who comes to Jack’s aid on more than one occasion.

Bauer’s novel makes for a top read, and surely that should be part of any judging criteria. It’s certainly more enjoyable than some on the Man Booker list of 2016 (a set of novels I found very tedious… last year was much better). I haven’t yet read enough of the longlist to see how much of a chance Snap has, but I’m glad it’s there, and I hope its inclusion brings Bauer many new readers.

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