Tag Archives: Esi Edugyan

The Man Booker Prize 2018 Longlist

So the Man Booker Prize 2018 longlist has been announced. It has seemed strange in the last few years that I haven’t done a ‘guessing the longlist’ post or video, as since I started Savidge Reads in any form I have always followed the prize and then the Man Booker International Prize. When I first started reading again in my twenties (after the six years where I didn’t pick up a book, imagine) the Booker was a signpost for me of some great reads that I should really head to. Over the last few years however the love has waned somewhat. I’ve felt a little like it had lost its way somewhat. I actually talk about it in a video I will embed below, don’t worry I won’t be sharing all my videos, I know some people prefer one medium to the other, its just so I can add/be a little bit extra, ha.

So here is the longlist…

  • Snap by Belinda Bauer
  • Milkman by Anna Burns
  • Sabrina by Nick Drnaso
  • Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
  • In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne
  • Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
  • The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
  • The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh
  • Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
  • The Overstory by Richard Powers
  • The Long Take by Robin Robertson
  • Normal People by Sally Rooney
  • From A Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan

What do I think of the list? Well firstly I was shocked that I had read one (The Water Cure, review coming in due course) and had all of them on my  shelves with the exception of Warlight, The Long Take and Sabrina, the latter of which I have already bought and rectified. Secondly, I think this is a really fresh (and much needed) list. It is by no means the perfect list, but when are they? I would have liked some more books from other commonwealth areas like Africa, India and Australia etc. Yet at the same time I love the fact that the list has so many women on it, there is some younger and lesser known talent and with a crime novel and a graphic novel a slight feel of excitement and change. I talk more about that below.

So those are my initial thoughts. Am I going to read the whole longlist? Not intentionally, no. That said I am about to start The Mars Room as a buddy read with my pal Mercedes. I am super duper keen to read Washington Black, Everything Under, Snap and Milkman for definite. Then I think I will see what takes my whimish moods, which is the best way to read anything full stop. What are your thoughts? Do you like the list? What is missing, if anything? Let’s have a natter in the comments below.

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The Bailey’s Prize; Best of the Best from the Second Decade

Tonight in the Piccadilly Theatre in London, something very exciting is going to be happening… The folk behind the Bailey’s Prize will be announcing their Best of the Best from the second decade of the wonder that is the women’s prize for fiction. The question is of course which of these wonderful ten novels (if like me you thought they had chosen ten books from all time and were worried about some of the older ones not getting a shout fear not) will win the prize tonight?

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I will be there, so will be live tweeting over @SavidgeReads throughout and then filling you all in on the evening tomorrow, however in the interim the lovely team at the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction asked me if I would share with you which book I thought deserving of the title. This initially seemed like the most delightful thing to be asked, then when the selection above arrived I realised it was actually a potential nightmare. I have read nine of the books (sorry Barbara Kingsolver, I will get to you) and I can genuinely say that six of them have been absolute corkers (Homes, McBride, Tremain, Adichie, Miller, Smith) and out of those two of them have become some of my favourite books of all time. Step forward Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles (which I was sure I wouldn’t like after having a classicist mother who dragged me round Pompeii for 8 hours put me off all things Greek and Roman for quite some time, it’s okay Mum I forgive you) and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun (which I read for a book group knowing nothing about and completely blew me away) which are both corkers!

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But before I choose which of these would be my best of, and it changes minute by minute, I want to just take some time out to say how brilliant the prize is full stop and mention how much I wish they would let a male judge on the panel called Simon just once and all the brilliant fiction that it highlights be they longlisted, shortlisted or the final winners. Because it is brilliant! Without the prize I wouldn’t have read any of the above novels when I did, nor would I have known about Andrea Levy’s winning Small Island, or shortlisted titles like Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues, Kathleen Winter’s Annabel or Emma Henderson’s Grace Williams Says It Loud. I could go on, and I haven’t even started on the longlisted titles that I have read and loved each year, or the fun I have every spring trying to guess the twenty books that might make it on that list. It has really informed my reading, more than I realised until I looked at all the titles – which then set me off wanting to read all the short and long listed titles I haven’t got to yet. Blimey!

So which would be my overall winner for the book of the last decade? Well after much torment, wailing, hair pulling and other vexation I have to say for me it has to be Half of a Yellow Sun. It is a book that stole my heart, broke it a few times and has left me thinking about it (and all the characters) ever since. It is also a book that I have bought for all the important people in my life who haven’t read it yet – and they have all been blown away by it too.

Right I need to get ready for tonight’s event, which there are still some tickets for, so over to you? Who would be your best of the best from the second decade be and what about the first? Which short and longlisted books have you read and loved.

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

Savidge Reads Books of 2012 – Part One…

I was going to try and be really brave and break the habit of this blogs and just do a single top ten books of the year. I tried and tried and tried, and I failed. I simply couldn’t only have ten, in fact I actually had a top thirty roughly, but then I have read 167 books (Green Carnation submissions always bump this figure up, what will next year be like without them) this year so maybe that will make it slightly more understandable. So what I have done once again is have two top tens, one of the books published for the first time in the UK in 2012 and another with all the other books published before that – it is the latter we are focusing on today. For the full review click on the link, I have chosen a highlighting paragraph to tempt you for this post.

10. The Claude Glass by Tom Bullough

I really liked the fact Bullough creates this sense of place and people and wants you to work with him on building the bigger picture and using all the things unsaid along with tiny tensions to create the full narrative tale.  I think by now you will have probably guessed that I thought ‘The Claude Glass’ was an unusual and incredibly accomplished piece of writing, silently impressive and one that rewards you in many ways.

9. You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead by Marieke Hardy

‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ is one of those books which manages to make you laugh out loud, feel ever so uncomfortable at its honesty, possibly makes you want to cry and then makes you laugh all over again. When someone writes their memoirs it isn’t necessarily that the full truth doesn’t come out, just that the author tends to look at things in a rose tinted way, highlighting their best bits – not so in the case of Marieke.

8. Days of Grace by Catherine Hall

What I also really admired and loved about the book is that even though we have one narrator we have two stories. These are told in alternating chapters throughout the book. This device is one that is used often and normally I have to admit one story will overtake my interest as I read on. Not in the case of ‘Days of Grace’. I was desperate to know what was going to happen with Nora and Grace as the war went on both in idyllic Kent and the roughness and danger of London but I also wanted to know, just as much, what was going to happen with Nora in the present, her health and the relationship with Rose and her baby. Both stories had me intrigued and I think that was because Catherine Hall very cleverly has the stories mystery foreboding the past tense narrative and shadowing the present without us knowing what it is until the last minute.

7. The World That Was Ours – Hilda Bernstein

‘The World That Was Ours’ shows the power of books, writing, journalism and memoir. When it was published back in 1967 it was a dangerous book to release and there were many people who would have liked to see it destroyed. Thank goodness it found a publisher back then and thank goodness Persephone have chosen it as a book to reprint for us to discover because it is just the sort of book that everyone should read. I will be re-reading this again for definite.

6. Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

You can feel the sense of unease on almost every page, both in a combination of the mystery of Hiero unraveling and war drawing nearer does give the book a slight thriller twist. If you think that is a negative thing it is not I promise you because Edugyan merges the literary elements of the novel with the tension and pace perfectly… and it stays with you long after you read it.

5. The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge

There were so many things that I loved about Beryl Bainbridge’s writing that it might be hard to encompass them all, I will endeavour to try though. First of all is how much is in such a small book. At a mere 200 pages, and in fairly big print which could be devoured in a few hours, so much happens that when you have finished you find yourself recapping it all and thinking ‘did that all just happen in this book?’ There are funerals, hilarious seductions in cellars, hilarious seductions in a shared bedroom and a shared bathroom, a mother in law with a grudge to bear and a gun in her handbag, a fight in Windsor Castle, horse riding with the Queen’s funereal regiment, something awful on an outing which leads to a strange trip to a safari park, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

4. Never Mind by Edward St Aubyn

I always admire an author who can write beautifully and simply, an author who can create the most understated of melodramas will win me over. I also always admire an author who can write a passage that chills you before one that makes you laugh out loud and then another which horrifies you all over again. All these things are encompassed in Edward St Aubyn’s first Patrick Melrose novel ‘Never Mind’.

3. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I don’t think I have yet read a piece of fiction which seems to encapsulate the entire breadth in which cancer can affect people and not just those in the eye of the storm it creates. Ness looks at the full spectrum of emotions for all those involved, from Conor, his mother and grandmother to those on the periphery such as Conor’s teachers. He takes these feeling and reactions, condenses them and then makes them readable, effecting, emotional and compelling in just over 200 pages. The monster itself is also an incredible character being utterly evil in many ways and yet having hints of goodness amongst the chaos he creates so that you are never quite sure if he is friend or foe.

2. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I wouldn’t normally say that I was a reader who subscribes to adventure stories or love stories and yet Madeline Miller’s debut novel ‘The Song of Achilles’ is easily my favourite read of the year so far. The reason for this is simple, she’s a bloody good storyteller, a great writer and I think the enthusiasm she has for classics becomes contagious somewhere in the way she writes. Madeline Miller has made me want to run out and read more books with this book, what more can you ask from an author than that?

1.  Kiss Kiss by Roald Dahl

I think ‘Kiss Kiss’ will undoubtedly remain one of my favourite short story collections, and one that I will happily dip in and out of again and again in the future. It has that delightfully dark, yet awfully darkly funny, essence to it that I just really enjoy. It has made me want to go out and read all of Dahl’s other adult work (especially with the covers in this new series by Penguin) and also dig out my old childhood favourites which I am sure I will now see in a whole new light. I would definitely recommend that you read this collection if you haven’t, they are mini macabre masterpieces.

So that is my first top ten of 2012 and all the books I really, really loved published before this year that I read this year. Make sense? I do also want to mention ‘Now You See Me’ by S.J. Bolton, ‘Packing For Mars’ by Mary Roach (both of which I read for The Readers Summer Book Club and adored), ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen and ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens (both have been part of Classically Challenged and the latter of which I will be talking about tomorrow), all highly recommended.

So what about your what are your post-2012 books of 2012? Which of these have you read and what did you think? Any other books you would recommend you think I might like having loved the above? Do pop back for Part Two on Monday!

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Books of 2012

My Books of 2012, So Far…

I mentioned the other day that we were halfway through the year and how I was taking stock of what I had read so far and what I wanted to read over the next few months. Well in terms of what I have read I thought I would give you a list of my top ten books of the year so far, we all like a list of books don’t we, each comes with a brief quote from my review – you can click on the title and author for the full reviews.

Diving Belles – Lucy Wood

“I don’t think I have been this excited or captivated by a debut author, or indeed a well known one, in quite some time… It’s the sort of book that really makes reading come alive and re-ignites or invigorates the joy of reading to anyone no matter how little or how much you read. I should really stop enthusing now shouldn’t I? It might seem a little obvious to say that this is easily my book of the year and will be a collection I return to again and again but it’s true.”

The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller

“I wouldn’t normally say that I was a reader who subscribes to adventure stories or love stories and yet Madeline Miller’s debut novel ‘The Song of Achilles’ is easily my favourite read of the year so far. The reason for this is simple, she’s a bloody good storyteller, a great writer and I think the enthusiasm she has for classics becomes contagious somewhere in the way she writes.”

The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey

“I was enjoying ‘The Snow Child’ so much from the start that I did something I hardly ever do. Rather than read it in chunks when I could, I simply devoted almost a whole day to it. I could have saved it and made it last, but sometimes you have to think ‘stuff that’ and just get lost in it all. So I did and read the book in pretty much one go just gorging on it. Now that is the sign of a truly magical book, I was completely spellbound… apart from having to pop the heater on and making the occasional hot drink as the snow really does feel like it’s coming off the page.”

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

“I don’t think I have yet read a piece of fiction which seems to encapsulate the entire breadth in which cancer can affect people and not just those in the eye of the storm it creates. Ness looks at the full spectrum of emotions for all those involved, from Conor, his mother and grandmother to those on the periphery such as Conor’s teachers. He takes these feeling and reactions, condenses them and then makes them readable, effecting, emotional and compelling in just over 200 pages.”

You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead – Marieke Hardy

“‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ is one of those books which manages to make you laugh out loud, feel ever so uncomfortable at its honesty, possibly makes you want to cry and then makes you laugh all over again. When someone writes their memoirs it isn’t necessarily that the full truth doesn’t come out, just that the author tends to look at things in a rose tinted way, highlighting their best bits – not so in the case of Marieke.”

Now You See Me – S.J. Bolton

“It is hard to say too much about ‘Now You See Me’ without spoilers or sounding too sycophantic. It is really a book of layers, you have the layers of the atmosphere of London (though the book does travel to Cardiff), the multiple facets and layers of the characters from the killer to Lacey and all the cops in between and also it is a book which has more than just a layer of murder, you get to know the victims and those affected by the horrific events that unfold you also get to look at some of the social issues affecting our times.”

Down the Rabbit Hole – Juan Pablo Villalobos

“Child narrators are something which either work superbly in a novel and make it or can completely ruin it with a more saccharinely sweet, naive and possibly precociously irritating tone. It is a very fine line and one that an author has to get just right. When done well they can be used as a way of innocently describing much more adult themes in a book or for leaving gaps in which we as adults can put the blanks, this is the way that Juan Pablo Villalobos uses his narrator Tochtli. Tochtli is a wonderful narrator as he describes the strange circumstances, somewhere in Mexico, he finds himself in as the son of a drug lord – of course Tochtli doesn’t know this but through what he doesn’t say we put the pieces of the puzzle together.”

The Lifeboat – Charlotte Rogan

“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.”

Never Mind – Edward St Aubyn

“I always admire an author who can write beautifully and simply, an author who can create the most understated of melodramas will win me over. I also always admire an author who can write a passage that chills you before one that makes you laugh out loud and then another which horrifies you all over again. All these things are encompassed in Edward St Aubyn’s first Patrick Melrose novel ‘Never Mind’.”

Half Blood Blues – Esi Edugyan

“Edugyan delivers a novel that is brimming with atmosphere, is hauntingly written and will really move you (this book, clichéd as it sounds, really kicked me in the emotional guts) and it stays with you long after you read it. I am late to this book; don’t let yourself be though as it is a truly marvellous read and one I am glad I returned to at just the right time.”

So there we have it. Have you read any of these and what did you think? Will these books still be in my top books of the year at, well, the end of 2012? I guess we will have to see. I know some of you have already given me your favourite books of the year so far but do please keep those recommendations coming!

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Half Blood Blues – Esi Edugyan

Sometimes you try a book and it can seem a little too dense at the time, you know there is something marvellous in there but the timing isn’t right, so you put the read ‘on hold’. These aren’t books that you give up on and leave, you save them for some unknown time in the future. ‘Half Blood Blues’ by Esi Edugyan was one such book for me and so when we were choosing titles for The Readers Summer Book Club I pushed this title, not thinking that Esi (having won so many awards) would say yes, but she did, and so it was time to try it again.

Serpents Tail Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 256 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

What really happened to Hieronymus Falk, a young black jazz musician full of talent who was arrested by the Nazi’s in 1940? This is the question at the heart of Esi Edugyan’s second novel. Yet, told through the narrative of one of Hieronymus’ friends – or Hiero/’The Kid’ as we learn to call him – retired ex-jazz musician Sidney Griffiths (which rings all the more authentic by the style as you will see below) we also have a tale of friendship, jealousy, love, race and war – quite a powerful combination.

The mystery of what happened to Hiero is really only part of the driving force. As Sid tells us of his time in a jazz band with Hiero and Sid’s long term friend-cum- enemy, dependent on mood and situation, Chip, Paul and Fritz we realise that Sid has been living with the secret of his possible involvement in what happened to Hiero. We also watch as jealousies arise around talent and women, when the enigmatic and rather elusive Delilah comes upon the scene.

I thought that mixing the strands of tensions between Sid and Chip as well as Sid and Heiro was, for me, one of the greatest successes of the book. Be a friendship new or old, if you have it for a long time at close range, regardless of the brink of war at any point, tensions will arise and Edugyan creates these brilliantly, especially when a very famous musician comes to town. Being a group of black men there is also the tension outside of the group, the rise and fall of jazz also seems to occur with the rise of the Aryan ideal in Germany and the fall of the Jews.

“Jazz. Here in Germany it become something worse than a virus. We was all of us damned fleas, us Negroes and Jews and low-life hoodlums, set on playing the vulgar racket, seducing sweet blond kids into corruption and sex. It wasn’t a music, it wasn’t a fad. It was a plague sent out by the dread black hordes, engineered by the Jews. Us Negroes, see, we was only half to blame – we just can’t help it. Savages just got a natural feel for filthy rhythms, no self-control to speak of. But Jews, brother, now they cooked up this jungle music on purpose. All part of the master plan to weaken Aryan youth, corrupt its janes, dilute its bloodlines.”

I have to admit that I had no real knowledge of what happened to black people in either of the World Wars or the time between them. This sounds horribly ignorant I know yet at school we were very much taught about the Nazi and Jew divide and how Britain and France joined forces to combat it. Edugyan opened my eyes, through her fictional version of events, to some of the horrors that I had no clue of. I found this grimly fascinating and also extremely important. I have often said, and I don’t mean this in an offensive way, that I am bored of WWII books. Here with ‘Half Blood Blues’ Esi Edugyan gives us something really different and a completely new insight into that period in history.

The other successful part of the book are also the atmosphere of the book as we move from America in Chip and Sibs childhood to both Berlin and Paris in the 1930s/40s and even the recent past as the books shifts in chronological order. You can feel the sense of unease on almost every page, both in a combination of the mystery of Hiero unravelling and war drawing nearer does give the book a slight thriller twist. If you think that is a negative thing it is not I promise you because Edugyan merges the literary elements of the novel with the tension and pace perfectly.

“Anxiety hung over the streets like clothes on a line. When we walked them cobblestones, we seen families huddled in their apartments, crouched over the wireless. Waiters was bent over counters, listening to static. Hell, in those first tender days it seem like everyone was hunched on up over some radio somewhere, it ain’t mattered where, staying put, like if they moved they might miss the war.”

What really sold the book overall to me was the ending, which of course I won’t give away as you need to read this book if you haven’t already, and how we get to it. I cannot think of a recent book where the author has so firmly and rather alarmingly emotionally and just in terms of storyline, thrown me by pulling the rug from under my feet. Emotional twist after emotional twist comes and it is all the more powerful because the build up Edugyan has created has been so expertly drawn out, I did struggle in the middle a little with so much story and scene setting yet at the end I knew why. What connects all the most successful elements of the book is Esi Edugyan’s of course her prose which is wonderful. I don’t know if you can tell but I really thought this book was rather incredible in so many ways.

The premise of Esi Edugyan’s second novel ‘Half Blood Blues’ might not instantly sound like a book you might want to read being the tale of a group of jazz musicians in the days leading up, and indeed the start of, World War II. It was something that would have put me off if I hadn’t heard so many rave reviews about it here there and everywhere and seen it get listed for pretty much every award it is eligible for. However do believe the praise (which I am now happily adding to) as Edugyan delivers a novel that is brimming with atmosphere, is hauntingly written and will really move you (this book, clichéd as it sounds, really kicked me in the emotional guts) and it stays with you long after you read it. I am late to this book; don’t let yourself be though as it is a truly marvellous read and one I am glad I returned to at just the right time.

As I mentioned above, I read this finally because of The Readers Summer Book Club which it was the first of the selection of. You can hear myself and Gavin interviewing the author and discussing the book with special guests here.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Esi Edugyan, Review, Serpent's Tail, The Readers Summer Book Club

And The Winner of the Orange Prize 2012 is…

I meant to write something about the Orange Prize before the winning announcement, however the day seems to have somehow escaped me and so now the winner has been announced and it is… Madeline Miller with ‘The Song of Achilles’!

I am feeling rather ecstatic about this. Well beyond ecstatic, thrilled more like, as it is undoubtedly one of my favourites of the entire reading year (along with ‘Gillespie and I’ by Jane Harris which sadly didn’t get short listed, but am keeping this post positive). You can see my thoughts on ‘The Song of Achilles’ here and if that wasn’t enough you can see Madeline Miller getting a Savidge Reads Grills here.

So that’s all lovely isn’t it? Commiserations to all the other authors, especially Esi Edugyan which I have recently read and loved after finishing it second try, but a huge congrats to Madeline Miller. Have I said I am thrilled? What are your thoughts?

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(Some of My) Summer Reading…

As it is just two weeks away, I thought I would give you a reminder that The Readers Summer Book Club is just around the corner. I am not suggesting that you read every single one of the eight books on the list, though if you wanted to that would be lovely (and they are available in libraries here there and everywhere from what we gather, so we aren’t trying to flog books) as we would love to get as many of you, wherever in the world you are, taking part in what we hope is going to be a worldwide book club.

Here is a picture of all the books in the order we are reading them (I have read three now and liked every single one and I am not just saying that) with the dates below…

28th May – The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
4th June – Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
11th June – Packing for Mars by Mary Roach
18th June – Bleakley Hall by Elaine di Rollo
25th June – Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
2nd July – Now You See Me by S.J Bolton
9th July – Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
16th July – Pure by Andrew Miller

We are still looking for victims volunteers to join us on ‘the discussion panel’ part of the show, so if you have read any of these already, or you want to (and there is a free copy of the book if you do) and would like to speak to us on Skype with some other readers about them, love them or loathe them, then we would love to hear from you via bookbasedbanter@gmail.com you can find more out about the summer shows here too.

What has been lovely to learn is that people are meeting up to discuss the books in the flesh too, and there is proof if you look at one of our goodreads forum threads. I will be talking about how books bring people together tomorrow. Interestingly, and on a similar theme, Gavin and I (with our OH’s) will be meeting in Cardiff next week and actually spending time with him face to face rather than on Skype. I am so excited about it I could burst, and meeting Gavin too. Ha! And seriously, please do let us know if you would like to join in and your thoughts on the books.

P.S if you are a Readers listener the podcast will be up later today, there was a technical fault, oops (just as there was with a post saying The Green Carnation Prize would be relaunching today when it is in fact next Monday the 21st, dear oh dear).

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