Focus on The Unseen - Man Booker International 2017

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The Man Booker International Prize celebrates the finest works of translated fiction from around the world. The prize is awarded every year for a single book, which is translated into English and published in the UK. Both novels and short-story collections are eligible, and the writer and translator are rewarded equally for their contribution.

The full shortlist of six titles can be found here, but in this series of articles we will look at each title in detail.

The Unseen

Ingrid Barrøy is born on an island that bears her name – a holdfast for a single family, their livestock, their crops, their hopes and dreams.

Her father dreams of building a jetty that will connect them to the mainland, but closer ties to the wider world come at a price. Her mother has her own dreams – more children, a smaller island, a different life – and there is one question Ingrid must never ask her.

Island life is hard, a living scratched from the dirt or trawled from the sea, so when Ingrid comes of age, she is sent to the mainland to work for one of the wealthy families on the coast. But Norway too is waking up to a wider world, a modern world that is capricious and can be cruel. Tragedy strikes, and Ingrid must fight to protect the home she thought she had left behind.

Get involved

Have you read The Unseen? Do you want to know what other readers thought? You can leave a review, read a review or add the book to your group’s reading list.

Want to know more? Download a Readers’ Guide for The Unseen, including information about the author and translators, as well as some discussion notes and themed reading.

Want ideas on what to read next? We’ve created a supporting booklist with suggestions of other books that you might like to try if you enjoyed The Unseen, including books with similar settings or themes.

A word from The Society of Young Publishers London Book Club

The SYP London Book Club are one of the brilliant reading groups shadowing the prize this year, and have been reading The Unseen.

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“We had an absolutely fantastic turnout for the SYP London Book Club meeting, so much so that we had to split into two groups so everyone could discuss the book. The overall consensus was one of pleasant surprise; The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen proved to be a beautifully and lyrically written book. In particular we loved Jacobsen’s descriptions of the natural world, and found them to be a powerful and evocative backdrop to the narrative.

While we felt that the narrative was a little slow in places, we appreciated that this followed the Scandinavian style of a slow, evocative burn. We discussed the trends of Scandinavian crime dramas, and Slow TV (a Norwegian marathon of coverage where one can watch an event take place in real time), and how this style is expertly distilled into literary form. Although slow in some places, the narrative leads us along the life of a family living, isolated from the mainland and modern world, on the dramatic island of Barrøy. We discussed the characters and the sometime sparseness of their description, and came to the conclusion that the main focal point of the book was not a character, but the island itself. We loved the push and pull, and sense of encroachment of the outside world.

On the whole, we found The Unseen to be an enjoyable and engrossing read and generally enjoyed the second half of the novel more than the first. We felt the translation by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw was perfectly measured, keeping some of the more traditional terms in Norwegian to allow the reader to immerse themselves in the culture without it feeling too unfamiliar. The language is descriptive and powerful, and the dramatic and isolated setting made for an inspiring read.

We are really grateful to be given the opportunity to shadow the Man Booker International Prize, and have loved being part of the process."

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