The Man Booker Prize is the leading literary award in the English speaking world, and has brought recognition, reward and readership to outstanding fiction for five decades. Each year, the prize is awarded to what is, in the opinion of the judges, the best novel of the year written in English and published in the UK. It is a prize that transforms the winner’s career.
The full shortlist of six titles can be found here, but in this series of articles we will look at each title in detail.
Escape is only the beginning. From the brutal cane plantations of Barbados to the icy wastes of the Canadian Arctic, from the mud-filled streets of London to the eerie deserts of Morocco, Washington Black is the tale – inspired by a true story – of a world destroyed and the search to make it whole again.
When two English brothers take the helm of a Barbados sugar plantation, Washington Black – an eleven year-old field slave – finds himself selected as personal servant to one of these men. The eccentric Christopher ‘Titch’ Wilde is a naturalist, explorer, scientist, inventor and abolitionist, whose single-minded pursuit of the perfect aerial machine mystifies all around him.
Titch’s idealistic plans are soon shattered and Washington finds himself in mortal danger. They escape the island together, but then Titch disappears and Washington must make his way alone, following the promise of freedom further than he ever dreamed possible.
Thoughts on the book
VicParkWalkers is one of the groups shadowing the Prize this year and have been reading Washington Black:
“Our Book group read Washington Black and loved it! Several were surprised at how readable and engaging it was, thinking that a Man Booker shortlisted book might be hard to get into. Not at all – Washington is a character who touches your soul the moment you encounter him. He is smart but hesitant, self-reliant but looking for connections, and brave despite all he knows about the brutality of life on a slave plantation in Barbados.
Esi writes with great care about her characters, nevertheless they are all flawed and we questioned their decisions and motivations at various points. The adventures of Wash and his master Titch take them across seas and continents, testing their trust and understanding of each other. Fear pervades the world of Washington and this restlessness powers the narrative forwards.
Washington Black is a novel about family, and how we make and re-make it; about memories, never solid or fixed; and about science which has the power to be both exciting and invigorating, and closed and exclusive.
The ending of a book is often controversial and this was certainly the case here. But it gave us much to talk about, and to think about. Washington Black will stay with you long after you finish the pages.”
Have you read Washington Black? Do you want to know what other readers thought? Leave your own review online.
What to know more? Download a Readers’ Guide for Washington Black, including information about the author, 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 Washington Black, including books with similar locations, writing styles or genres.
Find out about the other reading groups-
2018 shadowing the Man Booker Prize and take a look at their reviews of the shortlist.