Real Life, the debut, Booker Prize shortlisted novel from American writer Brandon Taylor is a triumph. Real Life is a campus novel which follows Wallace, a gay black protagonist as he navigates the academic institution, a burgeoning romance and the fallout of childhood trauma. The novel takes place in a Midwestern university where Wallace is often singled out. Taylor’s depiction of racism on campus is uncompromising, a dinner party scene, in particular, reaches a striking and uncomfortable crescendo.
While reading this novel I was struck, not just by the story, by Taylor’s immense technical skill. Taylor’s prose is unparalleled, spare and focused, yet at times dreamlike, reminiscent of Virginia Woolf or Henry James. A section where the book moves, cinematically, from the protagonists present to his childhood in Alabama, took my breath away. I highly recommend this book to fans of James Baldwin and Donna Tartt, and I will be eagerly awaiting Brandon Taylor’s collection of short stories, published in June.