June 3, 2009 · 11:00 am
So tonight is the ceremony which sees the winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction announced. I have to say I have it to thank for finding some wonderful books that I would have shamefully possibly missed out on and one particular author whose backlog of books I am getting very ‘Amazon Happy’ about. Sadly due to bloggers recent behaviour I haven’t been able to put the reviews for two of them up but I will and I can promise you that I have read them all and here, before it is announced (if blogger doesn’t go crazy) is who I think should win, I will admit it was almost a draw but my Orange Prize would go to…
…Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie! I know I have already waffled on about how wonderful I thought this book was but days on I am still talking to everyone about it and frankly I can’t be stopped. As soon as it comes out in paperback I have a list as long as my arm of people that I will have to send copies too. I think the one thing I wished that I had added in my review (which you can find here) is that it’s also very much a book for our times. We like so much to think that the human race has come such a long way forward and in reality I am not sure how true that is and in some ways (not all but some) Kamila Shamsie’s book captivates this and along with sadness and despair she brings hope in a wonderful, wonderful character such as Hiroko.
I did say that this could have easily been a drawer and the book that I would also be more than happy to see win has to be The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey (the review should be up on here on Friday) as the tale of a man and his developing Alzheimer’s and how he tries to remember his life story is another absolutely wonderful book. I would love it if one of them won the Orange and one of them won the Booker that would be quite fabulous wouldn’t it. If Ellen Feldmen or Samantha Hunt won I would be happy too (reviews are here and here), they were both very good books. I remain undecided on Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden possibly because I haven’t quite finished it (review will be up Monday when am back and have more time) but it’s left me luke warm for now. I won’t comment on Home, you can all read my struggle with that here.
Will I be right? I won’t actually know until Monday… how vexing! What are your thoughts?
Filed under Book Thoughts, Ellen Feldman, Kamila Shamsie, Marilynne Robinson, Orange Prize, Samantha Harvey, Samantha Hunt
Tagged as Book Thoughts, Deirdre Madden, Ellen Feldman, Kamila Shamsie, Marilynne Robinson, Orange Prize, Samantha Harvey, Samantha Hunt
May 31, 2009 · 10:04 am
I don’t feel that in all honesty I can review Marilynne Robinson’s Home as I didn’t finish it, in fact sadly I didn’t even get close. Now as I have said I don’t slag anyone’s books off on this blog as I think discouraging people to choose what they wish to read is wrong, encouraging on the other hand is quite a different story. I might hate a book (a very rare thing) and you might love it. If I don’t like a book, as I have said before, there is Rule 80 and sadly Home was one of the books that didn’t make it past Rule 80.
With prose as wonderful as the whole of the first 80 pages were, how could I not continue? This wasn’t a badly written book, quite the opposite, but for some reason it simply didn’t hold my attention. I think in my head there was also what I am naming ‘The Gilead Effect’. I read Gilead a few weeks ago and whilst by no means was I driven by the plot I couldn’t stop reading the absolutely stunning prose it kept me flowing through page after page. I liked the book, I didn’t love it but knowing Home was set in the same village over the same period of time as I picked up the book I found myself thinking ‘I should have given myself a bigger gap between these two’ but as I am reading the Orange list by Wednesday before the winners announced I needed to try and read it.
I don’t know if it was the fact that I read Home so soon after Gilead but I found myself forgetting how wonderful the prose was and thinking ‘this is a cop out, this is an author dishing us up almost the same story in the same village only with a female voice in the mix (which I was actually finding easier to read). I felt a bit like, and I am sure this isn’t true, that having taken 25 years to follow up Housekeeping with Gilead, Robinson had decided to take two yeas to edit re-tell and slightly twist in terms of situation her last book. Sadly this really influenced my reading experience.
I haven’t given up on Home. It has gone into one of my TBR boxes so that one day when Gilead seems to be more of a memory and less fresh in my mind I can read Home and take it as a stand alone book. I am sure the prose will then move me like Gilead’s did I just think sometimes authors and certain books need a big breathing space between them. Do any of you feel like that? What are your thoughts on Home if you have read it?
Note: If Marilynne Robinson’s next book is set in Gilead at the next neighbour’s house then I fear I may not be able to read anything else by her as that would prove a point in my head one that I am trying so hard to dispel.
May 19, 2009 · 6:41 am
So it starts, yes I am all finished with the utterly superb thriller/crime novel (which I will review later today – I know two blogs in one day I really am spoiling you) and now am all focused on the Orange Short List. I did actually really toy with the idea of reading the freshly arrived latest Sarah Waters novel ‘The Little Stranger’ but then thought “hang on I have already now got a backlog of six books that I need to read in just over two weeks… have I really got time? Actually I am still waiting on Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden and also The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey (which is all about Alzheimer’s a subject very close to my heart as I often go to an Alzheimer’s home to see my Great Uncle) but they are on their way and it give me a chance to get through the others. Maybe I can treat myself to Sarah Waters along the way, maybe at the midway point? I am interested with the selection as until the shortlist was announced I had only heard of two and had only wanted to read one of the books on the list which is Kamila Shamshie’s Burnt Shadows, purely down to a few rave reviews and a wonderful cover. I should really put down the entire list just in case any of you don’t know it (highly unlikely) so the contenders are…
Scottsboro – Ellen Feldman
The Wilderness – Samantha Harvey
The Invention of Everything Else – Samantha Hunt
Molly Fox’s Birthday – Deirdre Madden
Home – Marilynne Robinson
Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie
I am wondering if there will be some complete lemons in the mix of oranges, time will tell. I already have an inkling which one will win, but I am holding fire on saying in case it turns out to be a complete lemon. I also have two favourites in my head (neither which I think are the winner pre-reading them) just from the storyline’s alone. Isn’t it funny what judgements you can make on books without having read a single word!?! Will I be right? I am not sure to be honest as I have only read two of the winners the first was On Beauty by Zadie Smith which I think is possibly one of the most boring books I have ever read and on the complete opposite spectrum Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half A Yellow Sun which sits in my Top Ten Books of All Time. If I can I will try and fit in a few other winners along the journey but I do only have 15 days I must try and stay realistic. I shall announce who is my winner before 9am on Wednesday 3rd of June as it’s announced that evening. I can’t cheat as I will be on a plane to Switzerland at 7am that morning which also means you will all know the winner before I do! I don’t think it will make world news?
What are your predictions? Have you read any so far (no plot spoilers please)? What has been your favourite of the Orange Winners so far? Oh and most controversially, do we still need the Orange Prize and is it sexist to have an award just for women?
Filed under Book Thoughts, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ellen Feldman, Kamila Shamsie, Marilynne Robinson, Orange Prize, Sarah Waters
Tagged as Book Thoughts, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Deirdre Madden, Ellen Feldman, Kamila Shamsie, Marilynne Robinson, Orange Prize, Samantha Harvey, Samantha Hunt, Sarah Waters, Zadie Smith
May 16, 2009 · 12:52 pm
I have had this book in my TBR pile for absolutely ages and though it has won awards such as the Pulitzer (which I prefer to the Man Booker in general) and been praised by family, friends and some bloggers it has never quite sold itself to me when it actually comes to starting a new book. There are a few reasons for this that I can think one was that it doesn’t have chapters (which really put me off The Road but actually didn’t matter) and I like a break now and again. The other, more important, reason was that I didn’t like the look of the subject matter. Firstly it’s the letter of a dying man, and secondly it’s got a very religious theme which always makes me wary. I have nothing against religion, I am not religious myself though and don’t like ‘preachy books’. I was beginning to think this might be much more for my catholic Non Reader.
However knowing that I am going to be reading the Orange Shortlist over the next two weeks in the lead up to the winner being announced and knowing that Marilynne’s nominated book Home is in there and is a sequel and prequel and companion (confused much – I am) to Gilead I thought I should give it a go. There of course a big worry for me which was ‘if Gilead is rubbish how on earth am I going to get on with Home’? I opened it admittedly with quite a lot of trepidation…
Gilead is a novel which is in fact the letter of dying Reverend John Ames to his son written in Gilead, Iowa in 1956. Knowing that he will not be around for much longer and will not be able to tell his son of his ‘begats’ and family history he decides that he will write it all down for him. It’s his final testament if you will for his son ‘who may not remember me in the future’. Now you would be thinking that with a novel like this there isn’t going to be much joy, however actually despite there being no particular storyline this is really a book filled with the celebration of life. As John Ames memoirs come in stops and starts and have no particular structure you are given insight into the memories of an everyday man as he makes his way in the world and the trials and tribulations along the way.
I admit I was worried for the first 40 or so pages that this was going to be a beautifully written but ultimately boring read. Indeed was almost certain my ‘if you don’t like it by page 80 put it down’ rule was going to come into play but it didn’t. Page 80 was suddenly 20, 40, 60 pages behind me and the prose was taking me along with it on its meandering delightful journey. Robinson’s prose is possibly some of the most beautifully written prose I have the pleasure of turning pages too and undoubtedly is what kept me going to what is quite an ending (that is all I will say about the ending) and the final page.
Now it’s rare that a book can make me emotional but this one did. I don’t know if it’s because I myself have looked after someone who is terminally ill or just the prose and the way Robinson puts you into the mind of a dying man but passages such as this set me off.
“Just now I was listening to a song on the radio, standing there swaying to it a little, I guess, because your mother saw me from the hallway and she said, ‘I could show you how to do that.’ She came and put her arms around me and put her head on my shoulder, and after a while she said, in the gentlest voice you could ever imagine, ‘Why’d you have to be so damn old?’
I ask myself the same question.”
Was the religion in the book preachy? No not at all I actually found it quite insightful and thought provoking. There is a lot of debate over religion and war and how each affects the other and how divided people of the same faith can be over religious involvement, backing or prohibiting war can be. If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea I would say give it a go and see how Robinson can change your mind with her prose. I will admit the book is slightly too long at 282 pages and occasionally I found that John Ames was repeating anecdotes or statements more than once. If stunning prose and subtle observations of life over none stop plot and all the fireworks is your thing then this is definitely the book for you. I am going to say I sit on the fence.
Having the knowledge that Home is now out you can see that the clues are very much there in Gilead that it was planned as Boughton is always being discussed mentioning his children are ‘home’ or are coming ‘home’. Part of me wonders if Robinson’s idea is to eventually write the life of all the inhabitants of Gilead. I would like to give Robinson’s Housekeeping a go as that sounds like it has a fascinating storyline. If Home has the prose of Gilead then I think that there isn’t really any competition in the Orange shortlist… I will be able to tell you within the next two weeks.
Do you prefer plot over prose? Have any of you read Housekeeping? I would ask you if you have read Home but as I haven’t yet I don’t want anyone giving anything away!