A deep dive into life | Review of Booker-longlisted ‘In Ascension’ by Martin MacInnes

‘In Ascension’ defies easy categorisation and therein lies its power

November 16, 2023 04:25 pm | Updated 04:26 pm IST

After Scottish author Martin MacInnes’ In Ascension was longlisted for the Booker Prize earlier this year, he was asked how he’d categorise the novel, his third. As “a sci-fi novel…, a climate-change novel, or a philosophical meditation on the meaning of life?”

Author Martin MacInnes

Author Martin MacInnes

It’s not a question of obsessive-compulsive categorisation, but one that remains at the back of your mind as you read this haunting story about family dysfunction, human curiosity, the fragility of the planet, the mysteries of our historical past and deep time, of our immediate circle and the vast expanse of the universe.

His answer, in extracted form: “I’m happy to call In Ascension SF (sci-fi), even if it risks disappointing some readers who might bring narrower expectations to the genre. I see it as an unlimited genre, a platform for going anywhere… I’m also ambivalent on ‘climate-change novel’. I don’t endorse the term, mainly because it suggests that other books written now aren’t climate-change novels, when they clearly are, even if through omission or sublimation. Everything now is a document of this event that we are rolling out and living through, and will be considered as such more broadly in the future.”

While the reviews it got in Britain were shot through with awe, it drew many receptive readers farther afield after making it to the Booker longlist.

It eventually did not make the final six on the shortlist, but that doesn’t detract from its power. The longlist served a purpose that is increasingly separating the Booker Prize from other literary awards, big and small: its juries are displaying a remarkable coherence in putting together lists that nudge readers, each year, to think deeply about the themes of our times instead of lazily corralling the big books of the year for the final fray.

The 2023 longlist has asked us to think about grief, resilience and connectedness.

In Ascension
Martin MacInnes
Atlantic Books

The reviewer is a Delhi-based journalist and critic.

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