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A Booker Prize singalong

A Booker Prize singalong

The association of words with music is as old as literature itself – after all, tales were sung many centuries before they were written down. The International Booker Prize has decided to return to pre-history and set its six shortlisted books to music. This doesn’t mean they are being repurposed as operas – though stranger things have happened – but that in association with the music streaming service Deezer each book has been given its own accompanying playlist. The music reflects the countries and times in which the novels are set. The shortlisted book in the spotlight this week is Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor, translated by Sophie Hughes: it describes the mythologies of a poor Mexican village in which a murder of a witch takes place and violence and superstition are rife. The 20 tracks on its playlist range from the soulful to the vibrant and will give the listener an entrée to Mexican music just as the novel gives an entrée to Mexican life. Of course Melchor can transport the reader to her world but a taste of the music builds up a sound picture to go with the word picture.


For good measure, Ted Hodgkinson, chair of the judges, has devised his own summer reading playlist. It is nothing if not wide-ranging – Texan, Brazilian, German, English, French – and offers a round-the-world tour in 40 tunes. The hip Hodgkinson, head of literature and the spoken word at the Southbank Centre in London, is clearly not just a well-read chap but a well-listened one too.


In this week’s International Booker watch-party, Toby Jones read from Hurricane Season and both Melchor and Hughes discussed the book. Melchor describes it as “sort of a crime novel” but one that also explores the connections between a crime of passion and “homophobia, machismo and misogyny”. Indeed, she reveals, the murder of the witch that drives the book actually happened and when she first came across the story in a newspaper she was tempted to write a non-fiction account of the story. It would have been hard then for the book to do what Hodgkinson says it does, which is to mirror extreme weather patterns: the deluge of words reflecting the hurricane of the title. The result being that the novel has, he says, “hellacious force” which might be thrilling for the reader but for the translator Hughes it set formidable challenges. Melchor’s language is not just Spanish but a specifically regional vernacular from Veracruz on the Gulf of Mexico. What’s more Hughes then had to subdivide further and give each character inflections and tones that appeared appropriate to the voices she heard inside her own head. As she says, “Mexican Veracruz English” doesn’t exist, so she had to invent it. The making of a story is a story in itself.


One of this year’s Booker Prize judges, Lee Child, has recently claimed that he doesn’t much care for Jack Reacher, the character that has made his name. Child has written 24 novels featuring the six-foot-plenty loner and action man but says he doesn’t “like Reacher that much”, a dislike that extends to planning to have him “bleed out on some filthy motel bathroom floor”. The trouble is, the Reacher books have sold more than 100 million copies so far, so his death might prove somewhat troublesome, for fans and publishers at least. Child’s solution is to keep his distance, devising a motto to help: “I need to like him less than you’re going to like him.” Not something he has much of a problem with and, as Child points out: “I’m in total control of him. I’m the only person in the world he’s scared of.”