Tag Archives: Carol Birch

The Lifeboat – Charlotte Rogan

If you are a long time follower of this blog, or listen to The Readers Podcast, then you will know that there is one thing in books I really don’t like, and that is boats. I don’t like them off the page, it’s all that expanse and silence – it irks me plus all the space below you fills me with a nervous dread, and in my head a book on a boat can’t really do very much. You sail along, possibly something awful happens and you sail on again till you sink, reach a shore or get saved. Boats to my mind equal boredom, and I don’t want that in a book. Yet occasionally a book comes along that completely flips your thoughts on your own book bias and you are enthralled. Charlotte Rogan’s debut novel ‘The Lifeboat’ is such a book and joins Carol Birch’s ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ as a book I utterly loved set on a boat, though they are quite different stories.

Virago Books, hardback, 2012, fiction, 288 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

In 1914 the Empress Alexandra, one of the world’s most desirable transatlantic liners suffers some kind of explosion and sinks. Somehow some of the passengers make it onto ‘Lifeboat 14’ and against all odds some of these people survive. Yet no sooner are they saved than they are put on trial for the culpability of the deaths of those passengers who didn’t make it. One such woman is recently married and now recently widowed Grace Winter, and through her trial, and her diary of the 21 days lost at sea, we are discover what really happened on that boat (so I haven’t given away any spoilers there), or at least we think we might.

The very things that I think make books set on boats a bore actually become some of the things that I liked so much about ‘The Lifeboat’. Grace and her fellow passengers, with so much expanse on the horizon and so much endless depth below them, are fearful, vulnerable, hungry and bored – this leads to an incredibly enclosed setting and as the hunger, fear and boredom rise so do the mental strains and characters change, or in some cases true characters show through. You start with unity, but then someone must divide and rule.

‘We were in similar circumstances, after all, and an unspoken etiquette was arising where we would not look the beast of physical necessity in the eye. We would ignore it, we would dare it to claw apart our sense of decorum, we would preserve civility even in the face of a disaster that had almost killed us and that might kill us yet.’

I think ‘The Lifeboat’ is one of the most brilliant fictional takes on ‘mental warfare’ and how people change under certain circumstances that I have come across in a very long time, especially from a modern writer. Dare I say there was something rather Daphne Du Maurier-like about the darkness that develops? What I won’t say is anything about the other characters (apart from the fact I was scared of Mrs Grant) because I don’t want to give anything away, but Rogan creates a fascinating psychological game with them all, and with Grace herself Rogan pulls the trump card.

One of the things that I most enjoyed about ‘The Lifeboat’ was Grace’s voice; she is at once incredibly innocent and yet will suddenly come out with statements that make you wonder if there is a much more cunning streak lying in the depths of her persona. Rogan uses this device masterfully, as we read on and see how Grace reacts to everything you start to wonder how responsible for all that follows she may or may not be. There is also the fact that as Rogan weaves some of Grace’s life before embarking on the Empress Alexandra but nothing really before her marriage, there is an ambiguity there. I like a good unreliable narrator and Grace is certainly up there with Harriet Baxter in ‘Gillespie and I’ by Jane Harris in terms of a character you like because she’s slightly barbed and yet you are never sure you really trust. A glimpse of something dark appears and yet is immediately erased and you question yourself as well as your protagonist. Just how did Grace survive, luck or something else?

‘I am trying to be honest. In memory, I can feel a tug at my heartstrings as I think of Mary Ann. She was frail and beautiful. Her engagement diamond slipped uselessly around on her thin finger. The indigo veins on her wrist looked like delicate calligraphy on the white parchment of her skin. In other circumstances we might have been real friends, but there in the boat, I had no sympathy for her. She was weak, unlikely to survive or to be of use in prolonging the lives of others.’

I was completely won over by ‘The Lifeboat’, enthralled in fact, so much so that would you believe it… I wanted more! At a deceptive 288 pages Rogan manages to pack in so much in terms of plot, back story, twists, turns and red herrings it is amazing that the book isn’t another few hundred pages long. Yet I think to be left wanting more of a book is always a good sign no matter what the length of it. If you are looking for a literary novel, because the prose is superb, that will have you utterly gripped and guessing along the way then I do urge you to give ‘The Lifeboat’ a whirl, I thought it was fantastic.

So I think you can tell that’s a rather hearty recommendation from me. Watch out for more Charlotte Rogan on the blog tomorrow. Until then… who else has read ‘The Lifeboat’ and what did you think? Any other recommendations for books set on boats I might be missing?

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Filed under Books of 2012, Charlotte Rogan, Review, Virago Books

Bookshops I Love; The Book Barge

As someone who doesn’t really like boats and really doesn’t like books set on them, you might be surprised that when I heard The Book Barge was coming to Manchester I was both excited and intrigued. I had heard about it on the Guardian book podcast a while back and thought the idea of having a book shop on a narrow boat that travelled around the country actually sounded like a rather lovely jaunt. I also love books and the idea of bartering for books intrigued me, so armed with a bag of M&S lunchtime treats I headed to the Quay to find out more.

Well, I was smitten. A moored boat that only wobbled slightly as I clambered, yes clambered – I don’t have naval ready legs, on and was decked out with lots and lots and lots and lots and lots (is that enough lots to tempt you?) of books was like a quiet and calm haven.

Then as I got to chat to Sarah (which you can hear on this week’s episode of The Readers podcast)who I became equally smitten with, as she is just lovely, I discovered it wasn’t quite the delight you might think. I doubly noticed this when I realised there was no toilet on board let alone a bathroom… or even a kitchen. Just lots and lots and lots (here come those ‘lots’ again) of books.

This is where the bartering comes in, as Sarah travels the country (at a ridiculously speedy 4 miles-per-hour) if she is in need of a shower, a meal, something fixed, or even a haircut, she will swap these for a book, or maybe two if it’s something specific or slightly more costly. This idea would fill me with dread; you could end up in a loonies house after all, but Sarah said she could spot them (I hope I imagined a small knowing squint aimed at me) a mile off and that most bookish people tend to be rather lovely.

Well one trip wasn’t enough and I ended popping abck a few times, including to one of Paul Magrs signings and also bringing Carol Birch and Jane Harris on board before Bookmarked, which Sarah then came to. In fact as the time went on I was even more thrilled with the Book Barge as not only did I leave with a wonderful old copy of ‘Trilby’ by George Du Maurier and ‘Fun Home’ by Alison Bechdel (which Rebecca Makkai had recommended we all read) but I have found a lovely new friend in the lovely Sarah and might just be spending a weekend on the Barge on its final voyage home after it visits Leeds and Nottingham. Do, if you can, pop and see Sarah (she is ace), preferably armed with an M&S picnic and grab a few books. She will be heading to Europe next year too.

Oh and before it combats the channel’s choppy waters, the Book Barge has quite a test coming… Polly of Novel Insights and I will be taking it over in the spring for a bit! How exciting is that? I am not sure Polly and Sarah are quite aware of what I have signed them both (and myself actually) up for!!

You can find out all about the Book Barge on it’s website here.

P.S I didn’t take either of these photo’s I will be replacing them later as mine are still on my phone. Oops.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Bookshops I Love, Random Savidgeness

And The Man Booker Winner 2011 is…

Today is of course Man Booker announcement day, by the end of this evening we will know just who has won one of the biggest book prizes in the UK. I have almost read the whole shortlist now. I admit I really struggled with Julian Barnes (loved ‘Arthur and George’ this seems to be aimed at a certain market, which isn’t me) which is everyone’s favourite and whilst I like Esi Edugyan as soon as I put it down I find I want to read something else (bet this goes and wins now). I haven’t reviewed all the books so far but I will (I am beyond behind with reviews apols), speaking of which here is the short list if you have been on mars for the last few months (or simply not interested – there is a review coming later if the latter is the case)…

So who do I want to win? To be honest it’s a real toss up between ‘The Sisters Brothers’ by Patrick de Witt and ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ by Carol Birch…

I have I placed a little bet on one. After meeting Carol Birch last week (along with Jane Harris for Bookmarked – see photo below) and spending a lovely evening with her because she is just so lovely (as was Jane) and the fact that I think the journey she sends us on is so vivid and wonderful during ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’, along with the fact (as I told her) that she has converted me to books based on boats which I never thought would happen, that is my favourite. I will have everything crossed. Oh and you can hear me interview Carol here on ‘The Readers’ website.

Carol Birch, Jane Harris, Adam Lowe and Me

What about you? Oh by the way, before I ask more, I know lots of you read this blog from outside of the UK, is the Man Booker as big a deal worldwide, do let me know. It is something I have pondered a few times. So who do you want to win the Man Booker 2011?

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What Do You Want In A Book Based Podcast… Because We’ve Gone & Made One…

I’ve talked to you about my love of book podcasts for a while now I am sure. Reading can be a rather solitary experience and so I like listening to people talking about books. I’m not so sure about talking books themselves, but there is something nice about walking to the shops, pottering round the supermarket trying not to go insane, cooking or doing the dreaded cleaning and having people nattering about books in your ears. They also have the added bonus of spreading book based banter everywhere worldwide.

In the UK the press, like the Guardian, do some great ones, there are a few publisher podcasts but my very favourite is Books on the Nightstand. This podcast has it spot on it’s a conversation between two US book lovers (and booksellers) Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness and they chat about books, the industry, what their listeners want to discuss. I could go on. But where is the UK equivalent (note – not rip off)? Well Gavin, of Gav Reads, and I are having a go and ‘The Readers’ is live!

We aren’t anywhere near the heights of BOTNS and we aren’t trying to tread on their toes (we love them). What we will be bringing you each week is comment on the latest news in the book world, author interviews, debate and recommendations from two very different perspectives, Gav is a big genre fan and I love my lit-fiction. We have already got episode one in the can with discussion on book awards and an interview with Carol Birch (no, seriously), there’s also a few mistakes (like me getting my words in a muddle and giving the wrong titles of books – this podcast was cut from 3 hours of chatter to 52mins brilliantly by Gav) so do bear with us.

What we want to know is what you would like to hear, what guests you would like on and some audience participation. So please have a listen and let us know what YOU think and what YOU want in the future!

To listen to Episode One of ‘The Readers’ you can visit our website here. We would love your feedback, be nice (we aren’t professionals) or constructive, we really do want to hear all your suggestions and feedback. You can also follow us on twitter @BookBasedBanter. Hope you enjoy it!

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness, The Readers Podcast

If You Love Jane Harris and Carol Birch…

Then you must come to Bookmarked at Manchesters Waterstones Deansgate tonight. As you can imagine I am sooooo excited, I loved both Jane’s ‘Gillespie and I’ (though how do you pronounce Gillespie?) and Carol’s ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’, and they are easily two of my favourite reads of the year. Let’s hope I don’t go all fan boy!! If you might be coming email me savidgereads@gmail.com and let me know and I will make sure to say hello. If you can’t then I will do a special report for you in due course. For more info the Bookmarked website is here.

 

I know that has randomly interupted Discovering Daphne (maybe I will ask the authors on their thoughts on Daphne?), but I wanted to mention it. I am being beyond tardy with my Daphne planned post today, I was planning on doing a post on her autobiography ‘Growing Pains’ but I am enjoying it too much to rush it. My partner in Daphne crime Polly of Novel Insights (who will be at Bookmarked tonight) has done a wonderful post of Daphne in Pictures that you should all check out. Stunning. Oh, if only we could have interviewed her!

Right I am off to calm down with some more Daphne before tonight’s delights. Let me know if you are coming!

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Bookmarked Crime Night… The Report

Last week was the second Bookmarked Literary Salon and what a criminally good night it was. You all know how much I love a good crime novel so to have the legendary Val McDermid and wonderful debut novelist M.J. McGrath (or Melanie as I’m now allowed to call her) was bliss for me. I went and did that silly getting nervous thing again, fortunately it didn’t last long and we were soon chatting away between having our photos taken together before it all started off.

After each author had done a reading it was time for a good old natter, you may notice we changed the seating from last time so it’s less authors vs. hosts. The conversation flowed and it all went far too quickly.

Val had some really interesting insights into how crime is changing through technological advances and not just in the case of solving crimes but in what you write. Her son has been reading some of her earlier novels and after reading about Kate Brannigan hunting down a phone box for a few pages asked why she didn’t just use her mobile phone? We also discussed social media, how psychopaths are using it to their advantage. Apparently there is now a twitter account called Vance On The Run which is apparently Jacko Vance, Val’s own creation, who is trying to follow her! How mad is that? Mind you I follow Jackson Brodie on twitter, erm let’s move on…

Melanie had tales to tell from quite another world, the arctic, and how her friends can Facebook her and tell her they have a dislocated shoulder but can’t get to a hospital or drugs delivered because they are so remote. As she spent lots of time in the arctic as a journalist (and wrote ‘The Long Exhile’ which I am now desperate to read) she also had wonderful tales to tell of the Inuit life and how she became a figure of fun after locking herself out her house, with only ten minutes till she would freeze to death, and getting to grips with peeing when it becomes an icicle mid-flow. Oh and a brilliant semi-tragic tale about a hunter who met his match with a polar bear he was after. It was utterly fascinating.

Too soon and it was all over. Time to sign books for the wonderful audience who came along, including Polly of Novel Insights, and made it such a wonderful event we didn’t want to end.

In fact we loved it so much we might just be having another meeting of the same minds next year, we shall see. Val and Melanie have said they will and Melanie even wrote a contractually binding comment in my copy of her book, so I’ll be holding them to that!

Thanks again if you were in the audience, I did speak to some of you but not all. It was a wonderful evening and if you couldn’t make it I hope this post gives you a feel for the night. I’m loving this salon malarky, can you tell?

Bookmarked will be back in just under two weeks, time really flies, on Monday the 3rd of October for a Victorian themed evening (with two of my favourite books of 2011 and their authors) of ‘Sensational Stories’ as Jane Harris will be discussing ‘Gillespie and I’ and Carol Birch will be talking about ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’, as well as all things Victoriana based, to say I am excited would be an understatement. I hope to see you there (if not I will report back again)!

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Filed under Bookmarked Literary Salon, M.J. McGrath, Val McDermid

The Man Booker Shortlist 2011… Thoughts

With what I thought was a little lacklustre flare, but then again I was in a Museum taking my twin cousins for a morning out, the Man Booker Shortlist was announced earlier today and here it is…

  • The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
  • Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
  • The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
  • Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
  • Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
  • Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

I was really pleased to see Carol Birch (and doubly excited as she will be at Bookmarked in October with Jane Harris who a lot of people think was robbed a Man Booker long-listing, oops I might have let loose a secret there) on the list with ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’, delighted about ‘The Sisters Brothers’ too, happy to see ‘Snowdrops’, intrigued by Barnes and Edugyan which I will re-read and finish, and I did a chortle of glee that ‘Pigeon English’ was on the list – I almost cannot wait to see what all the book snobs are saying about that. I liked the book to a point though I didn’t love it, it’s not a typical ‘Booker’ book but hoorah for Kelman, it’s a bit of a fingers up at the vitriol that book has received.

So who do I want to win? Well there are two books it would make me happy to see take the crown, and those are Carol Birch and Patrick deWitt. Birch probably has the edge with me as I love the Victorian era, and this book really pleasantly surprised me. Expect a glowing review of deWitt in the next few days.

 

It could all change with a re-read and a finally finish reading though. We will see. What do you make of the list?

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The Man Booker Shortlist 2011

At some point today, probably this morning as apparently the judges decided it a week ago; the Man Booker Shortlist will be announced. I have to say when I first saw the longlist this year I was really, really excited. There were some debut novelists, an almost 50/50 ratio of male and female authors, and lots of independent publishers. In fact the list had a lot of people saying ‘what??!!’. I thought I would update you on what I have thought of the list so far, and what I think (or hope) will be on the list when it gets announced later today.

Thanks to TheLiteraryStew.Blogspot.com where I found all the covers in one image.

So I think the best place to start is looking at the longlist as a whole. I should say that there is a slight clause in this, I have read at least 100 pages of each of the books of the longlist, and I just haven’t finished all of them, or indeed reviewed all of the ones I have read. So I thought I would give you  a brief round up of the longlist reading experience. And if any of the ones I haven’t finished yet end up getting shortlisted then I will go back to them…

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes – The bookies favourite, but not actually mine personally. Whilst I agree it is beautifully written and emotive I personally didn’t ‘get it’. I think maybe, and this isn’t meant to sound as ageist as it will, I was too young for it, rather like last years winner. I didn’t think it was eligible being so small, but it did mean that I managed to read it in two naughty sittings at a Waterstones in town, but shhh don’t tell anyone. I wouldn’t be cross if this was on the shortlist, and think it probably will be, I just think there were more exciting rather than ‘literary’ reads. Oh, I know this is a ‘literary’ award in case you think I am being silly. I just think ‘literary’ is very subjective, shouldnt a ‘literary’ book be a work of literature accessible to all? Not that I am saying this book is being bandwagoned by critics… maybe I need to read it again, and not sneakily hidden away in a shop.

On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry – I will actually be rather cross if this book doesn’t make the shortlist. I had enjoyed Barry’s previous novel ‘The Secret Scripture’ but this one just blew me away. I was expecting another ‘Brooklyn’ (which is wonderful in itself) with the tale of a young Irish girl and her journey to America, I got something equally wonderful but utterly different and utterly devastating. I loved it.

Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch – Another favourite, I read this a while back and didn’t expect to like a book that was set so much on a boat (I have issues with books based on ships) I also loved this. It’s like a proper Victorian adventure, something that Conan Doyle would read and frankly he would have won a Booker prize, well he should have, if there had been such a prize then. I also found the emotional twist that develops in the second half of the novel was a pleasant surprise and one I wouldn’t have guessed.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt – Possibly my favourite ‘surprise find’ on the list. I don’t think that I would have read this if it hadn’t made the longlist (and there will be a very positive review coming soon) because it is by all sense and purposes a western, which I would normally avoid if I am really honest. I thought this was, excuse my French, bloody brilliant. There is something so fresh about this book that if you wouldn’t normally touch this genre then you really should try deWitt.

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan – A book I knew nothing about and I am still not too clear on. I started it, popped it down and haven’t gone back to it yet. That makes it sound like I didn’t like it, not so as I would like to return to it, I just wasn’t grabbed and I am not sure why. Well written, interesting subject, one to return to and think over more maybe?

A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards – Another novel that I would have heard nothing about had it not been for the Man Booker Longlist. I was intrigued from the title and the intrigue carried on in the pages as I started to read. It is in some ways a murder mystery, and yet not all at once. That makes it sound experimental and it isn’t a particularly experimental novel, it just has some good twists and turns both in terms of story and delivery. I hope that makes sense. Oh and I liked not liking anyone in it, how odd is that?

The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst – Oh, oh, oh… ‘The Strangers Child’. Hmmm. I have the same issue in a way that I have with the Barnes novel. It is beautifully written… but. Whilst Barnes is a short novel, Hollinghurst’s is almost never ending. I totally understand people who are saying ‘oh my goodness the prose alone…’, I just think you need to have a story. Hollinghurst’s has several stories and yet none all at once, it’s also got a middle that (oops, ouch) sags and drags, it’s about 200 pages too long. They are a beautiful 200 pages though. I have been mulling reviewing this book ever since its release but am still on the fence… or simply undecided.

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman – I want to start off by saying that this book doesn’t deserve the vitriol that it’s been hit with since getting long listed. Give the book a bloody break people. It’s immensely readable, which is a quality that I think every good book needs. Sadly the story, for me, of teenage gangs and crime including murder whilst being very timely looses something in being told by a child narrator. A shame as I loved the narrative voice, the two aims of this book just didn’t quite go hand in hand.

The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness – I am midway through reading this. I can’t say that I think it’s the best book ever written but it has a certain something about it. It’s one of those things that you can’t quite put your finger on. I think the fact it’s slightly thrilling, slightly surreal and yet seems based so much on fact all merges to work for me. In fact it is reading about something that I know so little about that I think I am currently really enjoying. I haven’t finished it yet though but might just go out on a limb, there’s books that could be deemed ‘better’ and yet…

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller – Another one I have finished and haven’t written about properly yet as I only finished it recently. I liked this one despite the fact it was nothing like I was expecting. There’s a slight black and white noir film aspect to it, which I think sets it apart from ‘The Last Hundred Days’ which actually thinking about it now it is quite similar too in its sense of Englishman thrown into the unknown (how have I only just thought about this, too close to them), and then develops and becomes more and more compelling.

Far to Go by Alison Pick – I have reviewed this for We Love This Book but not on here yet. The more time I have had away from it the more it has grown on me. It didn’t fully blow me away, but only three or four of this years longlist have, yet the story  of the Bauer’s and the Kindertransport has stayed with me more than I expected. It’s a WWII story with a twist and is a little bit different. The modern story just bothered me a little, it felt a tiny bit like a forced ‘see how the war keeps affecting people’ device, if one that leads to an interesting conclusion.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers – I wanted to like this one, I liked the idea of a dystopian novel on the list and a small publisher being on the list too. I just didn’t really think it was a great book and have stopped. I think anything can happen in fiction, no limits, if the author can take you with them and sadly I am not convinced. I gave up at page 105! I might try it again though as it does have promise, just not as much as I hoped.

Derby Day by D.J. Taylor – I was excited about this one, I love all things Victorian after all. It started off so well. I loved how dastardly all the characters were and how much planning and manipulation there was. Yes, there is a but coming… I sort of got confused and too much started to go on… and someone else ordered it from the library so I let them have it. If it gets shortlisted then I will order it again, but I would rather see Carol Birch on there if we have a Victorian novel on there.

So from that I have decided (and I swapped two titles on the Man Booker forum but this is my final guess) that these are the six novels that I most hope make the shortlist…

  • On Canaan’s Side – Sebastian Barry
  •  Jamrach’s Menagerie – Carol Birch
  •  The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt
  •  A Cupboard Full of Coats – Yvvette Edwards
  •  Snowdrops – A.D. Miller
  •  Far To Go – Alison Pick

What do you think? What would your short list be made of? Could you give a monkeys? I have to admit the reason so few of these novels have ended up on Savidge Reads yet in more detail was my initial excitement started to turn into Man Booker Boredom, let’s hope the shortlist excites me again. Which six books not listed would make your ideal Man Booker Shortlist this year? I need to think about mine actually, I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours. Oh, and I will report back once the announcement is made. Thoughts please.

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The Man Booker Longlist 2011… Thoughts

I do love the general buzz, most often in a form of outrage, that the Man Booker Longlist seems to bring out after its announcement and this years seems to be one of the strongest case of a ‘what?!!?’ moment I have seen in a while. People seem up in arms about how their favourite books are missing, there’s a lot of ‘what were the judges thinking’ being bandied about too. Personally after my initial ‘oh no, where are Jane Harris, Ali Smith, Kathleen Winter and Catherine Hall’ (possibly my favourite fiction reads of the year so far) moment I looked at the list and the more I think about it the more interesting in seems.

There is no using bemoaning the books I think should have made the cut, I don’t know why people go on about this so much. The thing with the Man Booker Longlist is that we don’t know if the publisher submitted our favourites, they have a small remit, or not do we? We also need to remember like reviews and book clubs every judging panel is subjective. Four of the five might have been passionate about my personal favourites, but all five of them might have been passionate about 13 more of them instead. Who knows, what can we do about it now? I think we should be focusing on what makes this list very exciting, and also what makes the list show publishing is far from dead. Which I actually wrote about in a piece for We Love This Book, feel free to have a look, on the Booker Longlist called ‘Big Guns and Bridesmaids’.

I won’t focus on the titles I am not fussed about on the list here, reviews are coming of some of them, but I will say a big hooray for Sebastian Barry and a bigger hooray (I know that’s a tiny bit of favouritism) for Carol Birch. If a Victorian adventure won the Man Booker this year I would be thrilled. However the list is made up of lots and lots of books I hadn’t heard of, and as time goes on its these I am getting more and more excited by. Patrick deWitt, Yvvette Edwards, Alison Pick and Esi Edugyan weren’t four names that were really bandied about in the lead up to and ‘guessing’ of the longlist. I hadn’t heard of the last three at all. Yet all of these novels look rather exciting and are interestingly the ones that I now want to get my hands on first, they feel like unchartered waters, annoyingly these are also the books that I don’t own. Typical. In fact I only have five of the titles, three of which I have read (wouldn’t it be off if these made the short list)…

What for me though is most exciting is not only the fact that almost a quarter of the titles are debut novels with Stephen Kelman, A.D. Miller, Yvvette Edwards and Patrick McGuinness all being long listed for their first novels – this is a continuation of a trend which was previously shown in the level of debuts in the Orange Prize lists earlier this year. The prize shows an almost landslide victory for independent publishers  with nine out of the thirteen titles not coming from the big gun publishing houses. This seems to be giving a very positive message to the state of fiction today and one that seems to fly in the face of the doubters who believe that the publishing industry is dying when so much new talent, along with independent publishers, that seem to be flourishing as far as the awards are concerned.

That to me is something to be celebrating with this list, along with the fact that some titles we might have missed have been brought to our attention. Is anyone going to try and read the whole lot? I’m not sure with my reading remit at the moment I could, which is annoying as it’s the year that I think I would most like to. Maybe I can sneak a few of them in?

P.S This is my last Man Booker Longlist discussion on Savidge Reads until I start popping up reviews of the titles, and speaking of reviews, get ready for a ‘review rush’ I have a backlog.

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The Man Booker Longlist 2011

Well here it is…

The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes (Jonathan Cape – Random House)
On Canaan’s Side – Sebastian Barry (Faber)
Jamrach’s Menagerie – Carol Birch (Canongate Books)
The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt (Granta)
Half Blood Blues – Esi Edugyan (Serpent’s Tail – Profile)
A Cupboard Full of Coats – Yvvette Edwards (Oneworld)
The Stranger’s Child – Alan Hollinghurst (Picador – Pan Macmillan)
Pigeon English – Stephen Kelman (Bloomsbury)
The Last Hundred Days – Patrick McGuinness (Seren Books)
Snowdrops – A.D. Miller (Atlantic)
Far to Go – Alison Pick (Headline Review)
The Testament of Jessie Lamb – Jane Rogers (Sandstone Press)
Derby Day – D.J. Taylor (Chatto & Windus – Random House)

I am thrilled to see Carol Birch and Sebastian Barry on there (I guessed 2/13 – I am officially rubbish) and also very excited about the fact that I don’t know a lot of the others. So am off to investigate before I do a round up post a little later. What do you think of the list?

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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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Filed under Book Thoughts, Man Booker

Recommended Reading, My Books of 2011 So Far…

Can you believe we are halfway through 2011 already? I have more thoughts on all that coming later on today. Why is it that knowing you are halfway through a year makes you think about everything more? Like I said, more on that later today. In the meantime I thought I would give you a list of my books of the year so far. There have been more than ten in my ‘Books of 2011’ category, some have grown on me, some faded over time and some like the marvellous new Ali Smith novel ‘There But For The’ still need a little time to settle on me as do about six books I have read recently and have still only done small notes on pre-review. Getting back to the point without further ado, here are my favourite reads of 2011 so far…

  1. The Proof of Love by Catherine Hall
  2. Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
  3. Annabel by Kathleen Winter
  4. Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood
  5. Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
  6. Grace Williams Says It Loud by Emma Henderson
  7. The Mermaid’s Singing by Val McDermid
  8. A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
  9. Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
  10. Before I Go To Sleep by  SJ Watson

I wonder if these will still be some of my favourites by the end of the year. There are a few contenders that I haven’t put reviews up on the blog, in fact ‘Swamplandia!’ by Karen Russell which I read ages ago, but haven’t reviewed yet could be a contender. Of course my end of year favourites allow me to cheat a little more, I have ten released in the year and ten released before, this mid-way post is more of a merge.

It is of course now pretty much summer time, and so you could really say that really this is my list of summer reading recommendations, should you be in the need of any. What are your favourite books of the year so far? What would you recommend I get reading over the summer months?

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Jamrach’s Menagerie – Carol Birch

Generally speaking any book that evokes the Victorian period is one that is going to win me over. Equally any book that is set one a boat is highly likely to be a complete failure with me. This therefore was an interesting dichotomy which faced me before I started reading ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ because I knew this book was a mixture of both my very favourite of settings in time and also one of my least favourites places to base a book. So before I had even turned a page of this book I knew that this was going to either be a book which I absolutely love or absolutely loathe.

‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ opens in 1857 as we meet Jaffy Brown aged eight years old as he gets born for the second time. Sounds odd, but when you have come close to death it is said you often feel reborn. You see Jaffy Brown is an inquisitive little fella, and on one of his wanderings through London’s streets he comes across ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ and a tiger, a creature he has never seen before and wants to befriend, only tiger’s don’t always want to be friends as he soon learns when it tries to eat him. This is the moment that Jaffy meets Jamrach himself (despite the title Jamrach is not really in the book much he is more a catalyst) and his life changes forever. He becomes one of the workers at the menagerie, an equally thrilling, surreal and slightly dark world filled with unknown creatures from all over the seven seas. It’s here he makes friends, and equal foes on occasion, with Tim Linver a friendship that is going to be tested and tried through their life time, especially when they both set sail on the hunt for a dragon for one of Jamrach’s wealthiest clients.

From here, as we set sail, I was expecting to either loath the book, or Carol Birch might do what several authors have failed to do before and have me captivated as we went to sea. I was hoping after such a stunning start to the book in the East End that Carol Birch would take me on an epic adventure, and guess what, she did. As Jaffy and Tim, alongside their new sea fairing friends including the wonderful but rather mad Skip whose story might just break your heart, start their three year voyage on The Lysander initially hunting for whales I was both thrilled at the chase and horrified at the event when it took place. The same applied as they then arrived in the Dutch East Indies and hunted the islands for dragons. I had thought that the book would lose its drive after this, but Birch has much more hidden up her sleeves, or should that be in the pages that follow, as the book continues.

There were two things that I would never initially have expected from a book like this. The first of which was to feel that I had actually lived the adventure and been with the crew on every step of the way. Can you say you felt camaraderie with a bunch of fictional sailors? If so then I did. The second was that I would find the book such an emotional one. Jaffy and Tim’s friendship which has turbulent times to begin with becomes one of equal comfort and malice a decade on as the wave’s crash around them. There is competition, one-upmanship and secrets. There is also one of the most heartbreaking twists when tragedy strikes, of course I am not sharing what the tragedies or twists are but never in a million years did I expect to be sat reading a book about a boat and being on the edge of tears for any reason other than boredom. Oh how wrong I was.

This is by no means ‘the’ perfect book, it could do with the tiniest of thinning out on the sea in between hunting for whales and the dragon, but it’s a gripping novel that is written utterly brilliantly. Birch never shows off how much research she has done, Jamrach was a real person and the event on The Lysander is based on a true life whale hunting boat in the early to mid 1800’s, but sometimes she does slightly over egg the Victorian descriptive pudding. For someone like me who loves that period too much is never enough, yet I did wonder if I wasn’t would I love how descriptive it was or feel the tiniest bit claustrophobic with the description? There were so many parts of the book I wanted to quote I have decided to quote none of them as this review would never end. It’s like a modern twist on the adventure stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and that to me is a great thing. I would heartily recommend everyone giving it ago.

Carol Birch’s ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ is a book that beguiles you with its cover (if awards for covers were being dished out on books published in 2011 then this one would have to win hands down in my personal opinion) and then leads you through the vivid city streets of Victorian London before taking you on an emotional adventure on the high seas. It’s an epic book, filled with surprises, twists and turns, and with characters you will route for. Yet it’s one which manages to achieve its status without having to be over 350 pages. I think this is an incredible achievement and one which should be widely read. 9/10

This book was kindly sent to me by the publisher.

I really enjoyed this book so was surprised that it didn’t make the Orange Prize Shortlist (I read it quite a while ago when I was reading the whole longlist). I was thrilled to learn that this was Carol Birch’s eleventh novel (after I went and did some research, I like to go into a book a little blindly and see what avenues I want to discover afterwards) so there are more for me to go and discover which I shall now be doing. Anyone got any recommendations of her earlier novels? Anyone else read ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ and what did you make of it?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Canongate Publishing, Carol Birch, Orange Prize, Review

My Orange Shortlist 2011…

Today will see the announcement of The Orange Prize Short List 2011 and I think it’s the most excited I have been about a prizes short list, other than The Green Carnation Prize of course, in quite some time. I was going to call this post ‘guessing the Orange short list 2011’ but I simply can’t second guess what the panel of judges will have chosen as the final six books, even if I have read the entire Orange long list for 2011 (and I did manage it, thanks to my latest stint in the hospital). I can only go on what I would put forward for my six personal choices after having read the lot. So before I make my guesses here are the 20 books long listed once more, all with my score out of ten and links to the ones have posted already, others are from posts pending which will be up over the next week or so (I’m spacing them out in case you are oranged out, as I almost was at one point)…

So like I said rather than guessing what the judges might or might not have in their short list, no one can do that as five individuals will all love very different books (a few of my favourite submissions for The Green Carnation Prize last year didn’t make the longlist as I was out voted, that’s the way it goes sometimes), I looked at my marks out of ten. Did I still rate those books as highly as I did at the time, how did they compare, had some favourites faded and some books stayed with me when I thought they wouldn’t? I then thought about which of the 20 books I would want to have to read again two or more times and which ones I really loved first time but I am not sure I could read again (something I will be discussing on the blog soon). I also ignored hype, and would hope the judges are too. These are the six that I would have chosen if I was a judge, in order of preference…

  

  

It was a really, really tough decision to make because this years twenty books, ok apart from two of them for me personally, were all really strong and reading them has been brilliant on the whole. You might be shocked as two of my favourite books from the list haven’t made my final six. ‘Room’ because though I loved it last year I feel like I have seen and heard too much about it since. ‘Great House’, which is a book that really surprised me with how much I loved it when I least expected it to, could I read it again though? Probably not, though I would be happy if both of these were on the shortlist too and have a feeling they both with be on the real one.I almost popped ‘Repeat It Today With Tears’ on there too as that has really grown on me, and I liked it a lot to start with, but I couldn’t choose seven titles so had to be tough!

The six I have chosen have stayed with me, I’ve connected with them all in some way and most of all really, really enjoyed them. Will I get it right? I am sure that I won’t, I was rubbish at guessing the long list and am sure it will be the same in this instance. It’s the taking part that’s the fun bit though isn’t it? Which books do you think will make the final six? Which ones have you read, or which ones are you really tempted to read? Will you be reading the short listed titles?

P.S This will be my last post on all things Orange for a while, apart from the actual long list of course which I will post later, I am aware Savidge Reads has been quite orangey in the last week or so, so my missing long list reviews will be sporadic over the next few weeks/months leading up to the winner being announced.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Orange Prize