Tag Archives: Bernard Beckett

August – Bernard Beckett

I first heard about Bernard Beckett’s first novel for adults (though some debate this is also a young adult novel I would disagree), he has written very successful young adult novels in Australia, ‘August’ on that wonderful TV show ‘The First Tuesday Book Club’ where Jennifer Byrne was enthusing about it as ‘one of the other books I have been reading this month’. I liked the sound of the plot, a very unusual thriller of two strangers ending up in a crashed car together, and by the cover. Yes, those two things made it sound like just the read for me and so I begged to review it for We Love This Book.

Quercus Publishing, paperback, 2011, fiction, 208 pages, sent by We Love This Book for review

The premise of ‘August’ sounds an unlikely one. How on earth might two strangers, Tristan and Grace, end up in a car that has crashed together if they didn’t know each other before hand? Well really to give too much away would be to spoil ‘August’ for anyone who is thinking of reading it, and that is part of the joy of this novel. I can say that as the story line develops it seems these two might not be quite the strangers to each other as we the reader, and indeed them as characters, believe.  

You might not think that two people stuck in a car, in agony battered and broken, would make for a thrilling read. This is where Beckett excels. Not only do we have the cleverly plotted slow reveal of their back stories as they try and keep each other awake, in case of death, as they await help, Beckett’s writing has a real pace to it and I was hooked from the opening paragraph as Tristan and Grace’s crash is described to us.  

“For a moment the balance was uncertain. The headlights stabbed at the thick night. A rock loomed, smooth and impassive, then swung out of the frame. A stunted tree rushed at him, gnarled and prickly. The seat pushed hard, resisting his momentum. Road, rock again, grass, gravel. The forces resolved their differences and he was gliding, a dance of sorts, but he was deaf to its rhythm, just as he was deaf to her screams. Instinct fought the wheel, but the future drew them in.”

There is a slight ‘but’ coming though. Again it’s hard not to give anything away but I became slightly disinterested in their past stories as I realised this was going to be one of those slightly philosophical and almost theological novels. Tristan is from ‘The City’ and a closed religious group where ‘The Rector’ has decided he is the perfect person to test his theories on, a human guinea pig if you will. Only these theories are all about things from guessing which direction a ball will roll, and if it as an inanimate object can choose where it goes, to being able to predict how all humans think, do we really have free will?  

Initially this was quite interesting but about a third in, after two pages discussing which way a ball might roll and why, I started to loose interest. The same applied when Tristan becomes embroiled in a real live test of wills the rector has set with two ‘children of the night’ to win their freedom with no rules. It should have been exciting, but it wasn’t quite. Bizarre then that I should say I wished this book was longer, though maybe with less of ‘life’s big questions’ in it. I would have loved to know much more about ‘The City’ and those who inhabited it, where it was and get deeper into the foreboding atmosphere it had that only remained on the periphery.

Beckett makes ‘August’ something more than a ‘self help/deep thought through fiction’ novel with its two protagonists in the car, these moments of fear trapped in their metal wreckage are interspersed between the back stories and add a huge amount of tension. As the novel progresses there are twists and turns in Tristan and Grace’s story which will have you hooked, including one or two shocks. You think you know why and how they got there and what might happen next only to have Beckett twists and turns the plot and you too are thrown off course yourself. It has certainly left me wanting to read much more of Beckett’s work.

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July’s Incomings…

I decided that after seeing all of your thoughts and responses on incoming posts, and discovering that you like them, I would carry on doing them monthly. However what has changed is the way I deal with books that have arrived. Id I have asked for them then they go straight on a special part of the TBR (which is getting a big update and cull this week), or they get read within a few days. If they are for The Green Carnation then they live with all the other (and it’s a vast amount) of submissions. As for the unsolicited ones… well… I decided instead of just piling them all up until then end of the month I would try and do ‘instant elimination’. So now I try and dip in and read a few pages here and there in the book, after reading the blurb, and decide if it’s a book for me, my Mum, Granny Savidge Reads or the charity shop. So far the system is working and so there are fewer books in this month’s incomings, let’s take a look at them.

First up the paperbacks…

  • August by Bernard Beckett – I saw this on The First Tuesday Book Club as Jennifer Byrne recommended it and it sounded intriguing, plus I loved the upside down title. When I saw I could bagsy it from We Love This Book HQ I did… obviously to review for them (and for you).
  • The Legacy by Kristen Tranter – unsolicited copy, this is a ‘9/11’ book I believe and whilst I am not sure how I feel about those, this one sounds like it might be from an angle you wouldn’t expect.
  • The Player’s Curse by Brian Thompson – unsolicited copy (but a very me one), this has reminded me I need to read the first in this series still, so I will be digging that out. I think this might be the third and I can’t read out of sync so will have to get the others if I like the first.
  •  Your Presence Is Requested At Suvanto by Maile Chapman – unsolicited copy, a tale set in a hospital deep in a wood, how can I not want to read this one?
  • Conference at Cold Comfort Farm/Westwood by Stella Gibbons – unsolicited copies, now I haven’t read Cold Comfort Farm yet so this is a timely reminder to, in fact these books set me off wondering if I am reading too much contemporary modern fiction currently.
  • The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman – I said yes to this one, not because I had read his previous novel, but because it was a novella and also one that sounded like a fairytale.
  • Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck – I asked for this one because I saw it somewhere and it sounded really spooky, so I cheekily asked when the publishers were sending me something else.
  • Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong – unsolicited copy, not sure why I fancied this one now, but I did.
  • No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod – unsolicited copy, this won awards in 1999 I believe, but seems to have been reissued. I want to know more.
  • Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam – unsolicited copy, I fancied this because of the cover (shameless) but sadly you can’t see how quirky it is.
  • Two Cures for Love by Wendy Cope – Cope was the cure for my poetry fears, I have this collection of Selected Poems awaiting me.
  • A Mind To Murder/Unnatural Causes by P.D. James – after having met her and then done an article about her I want to read more of her. I also got her ‘Talking About Detective Fiction’ which I couldn’t find to photograph. Oops.

The Hardbacks…

  • Everything That Began After by Simon Van Booy – this nearly went off to my Mum, as it’s set in Greece and she loves the country as she teaches classics, however I then looked him up and thought ‘I want to read this first’, I have and thoughts coming soon.
  • Bed by David Whitehouse – sounds like a really, really interesting and quirky debut novel about a bedridden boy.
  • East of the West by Miroslav Penkov – unsolicited copy, which came with a lovely hand written note from the publicist saying just why she loved it, you can’t not try a book when a publicist does that.
  • Rivers of London/Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch – I asked for these as I keep seeing them everywhere and when I read the blurbs I thought they sounded like a lot of fun, and a fun escapist read is what you need now and again.
  • Solace by Belinda McKenn – unsolicited copy, I am glad this turned up, there is a huge buzz about this book building so I want to read it before it all starts getting over hyped. Watch this space.
  • My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher – unsolicited copy, this sounds like a brilliant young adult novel and one I am going to read before passing onto my sister.
  • Pure by Andrew Miller – I resisted this book until I heard it was about cemeteries and I have a strange fascination with them, I do miss tour guiding at Highgate so much.
  • The Ascent of Isaac Steward by Mike French – I am trying to say yes to more independent publishers, I feel its something I am missing so am going to give this a whirl.
  • The Cold Eye of Heaven by Christine Dwyer Hickey – unsolicited copy, heard lots of praise about her last novel, and this one seems short-ish, so why not?
  • Jubilate by Michael Arditti – I read Arditti many years ago and it was quite an impressionable read for me in my late teens so I wanted to check in on him again with his latest.
  • The Picture Book by Jo Baker – Again this was all thanks to the publicist and the passion for the book in an email, I couldn’t say no.
  • You by Joanna Briscoe – I liked Joanna Briscoe’s debut Sleep With Me which I read before I blogged, I think, and it was a darkly delicious unnerving book. This one sounds very good indeed and also like it might have some interesting twists, its next to read.

Now before I go onto what I bought for myself I wanted to share two proof copies I got that are so simplistically stunning I couldn’t not show you…

I know nothing of Kevin Wilson, though I think ‘The Family Fang’ is a brilliant title, and have enjoyed a previous Ellen Feldman novel. But aren’t these so nice to look at? There’s no cover picture to judge, just the title, the author and the blurb. I really like it.

So what did I buy myself this month? Well there were the car boot bargain books but until Friday nothing else. I had to hunt out a copy of ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ by Walter Tevis for a project you will be hearing more about later today. I then accidentally walked into Fopp and it gained three new friends because they were only £1 each (some random one day offer)…

  • Easter Parade by Richard Yates – I was trying to remember which blogger specifically made me want to read this but then realised there was a whole host of them.
  • The Quarry by Damon Galgut – we long listed his ‘In A Strange Room’ for The Green Carnation Prize last year and I never reviewed it, which was silly, I liked it and wanted to try more. This isn’t his most famous by any stretch but it starts with a random murder that gets out of hand and I thought sounded worth a try. I have already polished it off.
  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan – an utterly random purchase where I thought ‘oh I will risk it’. I loved the title, the cover and the blurb, simple as that.

So what do you think of this month selection? Any you would recommend I race to read or would like me to read soonest? Also, what do you think of my new filtering regime for books. Do you have any system in place that you could recommend?

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Guessing The Man Booker Longlist 2011

It is the big day in publishing when the Man Booker Longlist is announced and I have to say I have been getting rather excited about it as it’s got nearer, which was not what I was expecting after the winner was announced. I seemed to have gotten into a state of mind that actually the Man Booker was a little out of touch. Why that is I can’t say now. Anyway, it’s great to play the guessing game before a longlist is announced and rather than just give you a list of the books I thought I would share with you a piece I did on the Man Booker Longlist 2011 for We Love This Book, let me know what you think of my choices and reasons…

“Predicting the Man Booker longlist is really an impossible mission—I mean, apart from the judges and a very select group, who really knows what on earth gets submitted and which novels make the grade? And yet we all love to do it. It’s like having a harmless little flutter without needing to spend any money placing a bet.

I am unusually excited about this year’s prize. I don’t know if it’s the panel (which includes ex-MI5 Stella Rimmington and the delightfully arch author Susan Hill) or if it’s because I have found the last year very exciting for fiction. Particularly in terms of d ébut authors and female writing—the Orange shortlist was stunning this year, and I am hoping for the same with the Booker and several other prizes as the year unfolds.

Already I have a feeling there is going to be a shock with the longlist. As with last year’s McEwan and Amis no shows, I think we could have the same with Adiga, Ghosh, Enright and Hollinghurst this year. All of these have fallen through my letterbox, all have been tried, and yet none really held me. I have only so far finished one of them, The Stranger’s Child, which, whilst being some of the most beautiful prose I have read all year, didn’t half sag in the middle. That, of course, is just my personal opinion. I can only base my guesses on the criteria that I would have should I be a judge on this year’s panel.

I would want books that are simply “great books”, beautifully written and addictively readable with characters who walk off the page, books that deal with subject matters, periods of time, events or places I know nothing about and books that touch me emotionally and “get me” in some way. With that in mind, these are the 13 eligible books (not all have been featured on my blog yet) that I would fight for…

On Canaan’s Side – Sebastian Barry
Jamrach’s Menagerie – Carol Birch
Everything Beautiful Began After – Simon Van Booy
 The Proof of Love – Catherine Hall
Gillespie and I – Jane Harris
King of the Badgers – Philip Hensher
Anatomy of a Disappearance – Hisham Matar
Ours are the Streets – Sunjeev Sahota
There but for the – Ali Smith
The Dubious Salvation of Jack V – Jaques Strauss
Go To Sleep – Helen Walsh
Bed – David Whitehouse
Annabel – Kathleen Winter

Those are, of course, in alphabetical order of authors’ surnames, so you can’t see which are my very favourites just yet. I haven’t managed to get my hands on a few of the “bigger” names I’d have liked to—in particular A L Kennedy and Michael Ondaatje (who might miss out with the previous winner curse that I think might be coming)—nor have I yet read some of the lesser-known books like The Sentamentalists, Bernard Beckett’s August or Gail Jones’ Five Bells—I am rather keen to spend a few hours with the latter three in particular. I also keep mulling over Then by Julie Myerson, which I am about to start. You see, this year is a really strong year—I could never possibly get it right.

In fact I would say I would be more than happy if I was completely wrong and the list was filled with what Susan Hill (on the Man Booker forum) has called “some splendid out of the way novels”. Whilst it would be quite something to have guessed the unguessable, I think in honesty I would rather see a list of 12 or 13 books I hadn’t heard of that really excite me. Even if it would add a whole heap of new reading material to my never-ending list.”

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