Tag Archives: Deborah Kay Davies

The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2014

One of my favourite prizes of the bookish year is what we now know as the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. I have been a supporter of it for many a year now, trying to guess the longlist and then trying to read them. I normally stay up until the midnight announcement but as I appear to have aged by about 20 plus years in the last few weeks I couldn’t. I did wake up at about 5am, when Oscar decided to be sick behind the wardrobe, and then have a sneak peak and it’s a really interesting list…

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Before I go on to share the list can I just say there is so much that is brilliant about the above picture it is almost too much. Imagine being on a panel of judges with Mary Beard and Caitlin Moran, you’d just be in heaven. Anyway, the list of twenty books in full is as follows…

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood
The Dogs of Littlefield – Suzanne Berne
The Shadow of the Crescent Moon – Fatima Bhutto
The Bear – Claire Cameron
Eleven Days – Lea Carpenter
The Strangler Vine – M.J. Carter
The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton
Reasons She Goes to the Woods – Deborah Kay Davies
The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert
Burial Rites – Hannah Kent
The Flamethrowers – Rachel Kushner
The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri
The Undertaking – Audrey Magee
A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride
Almost English – Charlotte Mendelson
Still Life with Bread Crumbs – Anna Quindlen
The Burgess Boys – Elizabeth Strout
The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

Amazingly though I don’t have all of them I do happen to have thirteen (I am hoping this is not an omen) of them in the house 4.5 of which I have read.

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I didn’t try and guess the longlist this year (what a party pooper) because I didn’t feel after last year being my slowest and quietest year for reading what with Gran (who was a huge fan of the prize, I think it lead her to Rose Tremain, and would be happy I have posed the books on what were her sofa’s on which she did much reading and I will carry on the tradition of) and all that jazz I didn’t feel that I could give a good enough insight. Plus there is always the worry you look super smug, then the mild embarrassment when I am sooooo wrong and the invariable almost moan of ‘why wasn’t x and y book on the list?’ Speaking of which Naomi Wood, Fiona McFarlane? Moving swiftly on…

I would have stabbed a guess at All the Birds, Singing, A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, Burial Rites and Almost English being on the list as they were all highlights of my reading year last year, so naturally I am thrilled for those to be on the list. I may also have hazarded a guess at Americanah and MaddAddam being on the list as they are by two of my favourite authors though shockingly I didn’t read these upon release, strange. I also would have guessed The Luminaries, The Goldfinch and The Flamethrowers as they have been three of the most talked about books and also interestingly three books which seem to really divide people, interesting.

Berne, Bhutto, Cameron and Carter I am excited about because I have them on my shelves, The Bear was actually one of the books I mentioned in The Readers ‘Books To Be Excited About January to June’ show. Yet, as always with me, it is the books I know very little or nothing about that are the ones that I instantly go off and look up.  Deborah Kay Davies is an author I have already read and was equally impressed and disturbed with True Things About Me so I will have to get my mitts on her knew one, Elizabeth Strout I know through Olive Kitteridge which I still haven’t read but Gran raved about, Lea Carpenter and Audrey Magee are completely knew to me which is most exciting.

So it is a really interesting list, some big names with big books, some debuts, some lesser known authors all in the mix. Now I just have to choose which one to start with… I was umming and ahhing about doing a shadow jury of beardy blogging blokes but I think to try them out as and when the whim takes me might be a better plan of action. So while I decide which one gets read next (I am leaning towards The Bear) which of these books have you read and what did you make of them? Which books are you keen to read? And what do you make of the list overall?

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Filed under Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

True Things About Me – Deborah Kay Davies

Writing thoughts on ‘True Things About Me’ by Deborah Kay Davies brings up the interesting question of ‘how come if I managed to read a book in one sitting am I left feeling both impressed and appalled by it at the same time?’ In fact the more I have thought about it, the more I have wondered if that was just the author’s very aim.

One of Deborah Kay Davies most powerful tools in her debut novel is to have a nameless narrator. In fact the narrator of ‘True Things About Me’ isn’t just nameless; she is really a blank canvas. This means that whatever horrendous things befall her there is a distance between us and her, a space for us to put our own feelings and emotions. It’s a risky manoeuvre for an author; people might find the character cold or have to work a little bit harder rather than put themselves in that persons place. Add short chapters and sparse threatening prose and, like with this novel, the risk pays off – you have your reader hooked.

When we meet this unnamed woman she is working as a benefits officer with a night out to the cinema with a colleague, and best friend, Alison later that evening. That is all we know about her before one of the claimants comes in, flirts with her, waits for her outside of work and drags her off for a quick risky sexual encounter in a car park before bundling her off into a taxi. It is this moment that she seems to have been waiting for, this is the moment of her undoing. Afterwards, even though she knows she shouldn’t, she searches him out and lets him into her life again, something she will regret as it only brings obsession and abuse.

“I’d put his address in a kitchen drawer. It was the one I kept my sharp knives in.”

There is a real sense of threat throughout the book from the moment that this blonde curly haired mystery man enters her life. We know as little about him as we do her, in fact weirdly as the book goes on you feel you know her parents, best friend Alison and Grandma better than you do the person telling you the story, but then they are the observers and the outsiders to her so they should be to us, especially as she goes on isolating them the further into a breakdown she goes.

“I looked at the sleeping tablets on the bedside table. I’d emptied them out of their plastic strips and put them in a little bowl. It was funny how they looked like the courtesy mints you get offered in some restaurants. I picked up the bowl and offered it to my reflection. Do have some, won’t you? I said in the voice of Judith Chalmers, my gran’s favourite travel presenter. Take a handful, feel free! I promised myself that after I’d looked at my poor coat properly I’d take some and sleep for days. I walked around the room, and read my magazine for a bit. I’d bought it because of the caption on the front cover, announcing and article about a woman who’d been knocked out by a frozen over chip.”

I realised I have made this book sound really, really dark and depressing. In many ways it is yet it’s the compelling nature of the story, her obsession becomes the reader’s addiction as she becomes more and more outlandish, that keeps you reading along. There are also some big scenes of humour which make you laugh out loud along with feeling rather mortified. For example there is a scene in a bakery when she is babysitting which made me laugh loudly and also a blind date which she is sent on by Alison and her husband which proves to be a drunken mortifying experience.

“I felt as if I were disintegrating. I struggled to dress but I was shaking too much to do it properly. My bare bottom squeaked like a frightened mouse against the car seat. I shoved my bra in my bag. I put my pants on back to front. My clothes had lost their magical properties. The lake was blank, its surface corrugated with little waves. No stars. Rain started to thump against the windshield. Then he drove me home. Once or twice he tried to make conversation. The windscreen wipers grated against the window. A snake of laughter kept wriggling in my throat but I swallowed it down.”

The only slight issue of ‘True Things About Me’ was the lack of background. I wondered just why she had randomly had sex with this man (I know it can just happen, I am no prude), the fact that I never quite got the answer did rather niggle at me I have to say. Maybe it was just one of those inexplicable moments of chemistry, maybe it was something she had been lacking in childhood something psychological, or maybe she was simply bored? I would have just liked that to have been a little clearer as with knowing her motivation would possibly have come more understanding.

‘True Things About Me’ isn’t a comfortable book, it is one that should you start will have you gripped to its inconclusive but very dramatic dénouement. It’s a book that leaves you with a real variety of emotions and possible endless questions. You will be angry, shocked and rather appalled – possibly because you laughed along the way on occasion. I am still not sure whether I liked the experience or not, but I feel that’s exactly what Deborah Kay Davies wanted to achieve, and indeed she has. 7.5/10

This book was kindly sent by the publisher.

This was one of the titles mentioned in the Culture Shows ’12 Debut Novelists’ which I mentioned here. So far, on the whole this list has been a great one. I have a few more reviews from these novels coming up soonish, have you read any of the others? Have you read this and if so what did you think? It’s definitely a book of questions (in fact Fleur Fishers review shows this perfectly) which was the last book that really made you think?

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Filed under Canongate Publishing, Deborah Kay Davies, Review

Do I Want To Read… Some Debut Novelists

I have been meaning to write about this particular thing since World Book Night a few weeks ago. There was a brilliant show on BBC2 on the night in question which looked at promising debut British authors and coming up with a shortlist of twelve that stood out. You may remember me writing about my thoughts on debut novels, and you helpfully gave yours, a while back and this seemed to fit in just so. A panel of judges including novelist Helen Oyeyemi (who I have been meaning to read for ages) and headed by John Mullan, who wrote about it in The Guardian, came up with a final list of twelve 12 and its these novels that I wanted to ask you about…

Now having said I wanted to ask you about all of them, I actually only want to ask about the ones in bold. The ones that aren’t I have already read. I know this list will have people saying ‘that one shouldnt be on there, this one should’ however it’s actually the fact that I have really loved three of the four I have actually read that made me want to ask you if I should give the other ones ago? I have linked back to two of them; sadly I didn’t love ‘Union Atlantic’ when I read it last year (sorry!!) so never reviewed it, the simply amazingly brilliant ‘Mr Chartwell’ is the book up for discussion tomorrow.

I am reading a corker of a debut novel by Naomi Wood at the moment which you can see a picture of  somewhere up there ——> so I am keen to read plenty more of them. I have a few of the list above already (in italics) one of which I struggled with but will head back to. I really like the fact the debut novelists are all of very diverse ages. I just wanted your thoughts on the ones I have not read whether I own them or not, should I indulge in them all?  That’s all… for now.

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Guessing The Orange Prize Longlist 2011…

It seems that the day when the Orange Longlist is announced for 2011, which is today and will be in a couple of hours of this post going live I am sure, has taken a really long time to come around and then has suddenly swooped down on us fast. In fact I commented pretty much that very thing on Dovegreyreader the other day. You see I always think it gets announced in February and then there is a big lead up to June. I do wonder how my head works sometimes. Anyway… soon we will know what the twenty books that make the Orange Prize Longlist for 2011 will be, and so it’s my annual Orange Prize guess also known as ‘Simon shows how wrong he can be about women’s writing in the last year’ (see my 2010 guesses for more)…

Initially I started off getting competitive with myself over trying to come up with a list which contained the winning lot. Then I sat back and thought that seriously who else apart from the judges would know what these might be as the options are endless as are the books that could have been put forward. This year I went through all the books eligible, books written in English in print in the UK between April 1st 2010 and March 31st 2011, and came up with my twenty based on what I had read (in blue as you can read my thoughts), what was on my TBR/on loan from the library (in italics) and books I have been wanting to get my mitts on and haven’t yet (in bold – as a birthday, which is 8 days away, hint). So without further waffle here is the Savidge Orange 20 in alphabetical surname order to make it fairer…

   
Started Early, Took My Dog – Kate Atkinson
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake – Aimee Bender
True Things About Me – Deborah Kay Davies

Scissors, Paper, Stone – Elizabeth Day

   
Room – Emma Donoghue
Theodora – Stella Duffy
The Cry of the Go-Away Bird – Andrea Eames
A Visit From The Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan (which I would have but it went missing in the move)

   
The Cookbook Collector – Allegra Goodman
We Had It So Good – Linda Grant
T
he History of History – Ida Hattemer-Higgins 
Mr Chartwell – Rebecca Hunt

   
The Report – Jessica Francis Kane

The Hand That First Held Mine – Maggie O’Farrell
The News Where You Are – Catherine O’Flynn
The Tigers Wife – Tea ObrehtDark Matter – Michelle Paver (which I would have but it went missing in the move)
The Fates Will Find Their Way – Hannah Pittard
Mr Rosenblum’s List – Natasha Solomons
When God Was A Rabbit – Sarah Winman

   

I did umm and ahhh about putting ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ by Emma Henderson on the list but I have seen that in the Orange Book Group displays in Waterstones (where I got the new Books Quarterly) so assumed that it would be off the list. I have it and will be reading it any way. I know that maybe Kate Atkinson is a random pick as its essentially a crime novel as I mentioned yesterday if Val McDermids latest is as good as ‘The Mermaids Singing’ that would be a welcome entry, I wondered also if Susan Hill’s ‘A Kind Man’ might be too short?

I wonder how I will do with this lot, can I bet my 8 out of 20 best from last year? In a weird way I hope I do the same as the last or a little worse, as one of the joys of a longlist is learning about the books you werent aware of. Which books would you bet on being in the list? Will anyone, sadly I don’t think I could, be trying to read them all?

I have of course updated the blog with the actual longlist now.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Orange Prize