Tag Archives: Hanya Yanagihara

What Belongs To You – Garth Greenwell

Since visiting America twice in as many years (I am feeling American trips might have to become an annual thing) I have been intrigued by the books that they have over there that we don’t, yet, in Britain. I have recently got quite the habit for ordering these from overseas. One such book I was incredibly tempted by was What Belongs To You by Garth Greenwell after seeing it discussed a lot over the water, particularly by Hanya Yanagihara, in January – it seems Camilla at Picador must be psychic for the UK proof arrived at just about that time and so I devoured it, in a single sitting, as I was completely spellbound by it…

9781447280514

Picador Books, 2016, hardback, fiction, 204 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

That my first encounter with Mitko B. ended in a betrayal, even a minor one, should have given me greater warning at the time, which should in turn have made my desire for him less, if not done away with completely.

I am a huge fan of characters who remain enigmas whilst telling their stories and with What Belongs To You Garth Greenwell has brought us not one but two characters who both remain mysterious yet compelling throughout his debut novel, which is in many ways ode to obsession. As the novel opens we follow our unnamed narrator, a middle aged American teacher now living in Bulgaria, as he goes cruising for sex in the toilets underneath the National Palace of Culture. It is here that he meets Mitko, a young rent boy who very quickly, through an act of temptation and then rejection, becomes like a drug for our protagonist. We then follow the two characters as their relationship, which twists, turns and redefines itself, develops and watch how it affects both men.

There is so much that is brilliant about this unflinching novel of lust, loneliness and desperation. Greenwell gives What Belongs To You a compelling thriller like feel as plays both with us and our perceptions making us constantly question if this is love, obsession, lust or something more sinister. What becomes all the more intriguing is  that as we read on, without giving away any spoilers, Greenwell flips the notion of who is the predator and who is the prey, is it the older man or the younger and why?

If this study of obsession and lust wasn’t enough there is also much more going on in the background behind what is in many ways a two man show, affair seemed too pun filled a term. There are also the stories of these two men and why they ended up in that restroom. The novel is set into three sections the first spiralling from that first meeting with Mitko and how sexual obsession and power begins. The second section then takes a very different turn as our protagonist gets a letter from home that takes him back to his youth and the relationship he has had with his family particularly with his father.

My father spoke in a different tone now, almost with a different voice, the voice of his own childhood, I thought, thick with the dirt he usually tried to conceal. So you like little boys, that voice said, the voice almost of instinct, the voice of the look he had given me once and of what had once fouled the air. As young as I was, I knew what he said was absurd, I was myself a little boy, what could he be accusing me of, though now I think it was his only understanding of what I could be, the person I was was lost in it. But it didn’t matter that it was absurd, I was already crying, I was a mess of tears, and when my mother started to come toward me I motioned her away, turning my back on her. I was ashamed of my tears, I would hardly breathe, and it was all I could do to say to him But I’m your son, which was my only appeal and the last thing I would say.

This section of the book proves incredibly emotive, it is also a fascinating portrayal and indeed insight into some of the thoughts, experiences and horrors that gay men often (not always, but often) go through at some point in their life. It is a time of judgement, rejection, fear, lack of hope and being seen as something other, something dangerous to be feared. No one likes to be different, or maybe I should say no one likes the repercussions of being different, yet when you are you have no choice but to go through whatever that difference throws at you. To steal from the title you have to own ‘what belongs to you’ though it isn’t always easy and it shapes you, as we see it does through our unnamed narrators eyes. You wonder if this is the reason he has left his life in America behind and start to look at how it forms his relationships in his present.

The same can be said for Mitko who returns, literally with a knock on the door on a random night, several years later, our narrator still under some kind of sexual spell and vice versa, though in this section we see it isn’t just the sexual power and side Mitko wants, there is more, both good and bad. For fear of spoilers, again, I will say no more other than that here is where Bulgaria’s history comes into play as we look at how it is not just a home but also class, chance, looks and money all have a bearing on what can make a god and what can also destroy one.

I was shocked by the difference between their faces, the man in the image and the man beside me; not only was his tooth unbroken, but also his head was unshaved, his hair full and light brown, conventionally cut. There was nothing rough or threatening about him at all; he looked like a nice kid, a kid I might have had in a class at the prestigious school where I teach. It was hardly possible that they could be the same person, this preposterous teenager and the man beside me, or that so short a time could have made such a difference, and I found myself looking repeatedly at the screen and then at Mitko, wondering which face was the truer face, and how it had been lost or gained.

The set up of the book and its parts, which feel like acts on a stage, as well as Mitko’s story that made me wonder if Greenwell meant for this to me a modern Greek tragedy, only set in Bulgaria. Whatever the case it shows how Greenwell brings in so many brilliant tropes of literature; for there is a thriller like quality alongside a poetic sensibility too, all entwining to create something that feels unlike anything that you have read before. I also loved how Greenwell plays with expectations; making the ugly beautiful and the beautiful ugly, making sex completely unsexy and then making moments you wouldn’t expect seemingly drip with desire. You wouldn’t think you could describe an opening scene set in an underground toilet as evocative and sensual but with Garth’s prose it is just that. Add to this the compelling lead characters and their stories, underlying tensions and atmospheres and you have a heady concoction.

As you might have guessed I could rave to you all about Garth Greenwell’s debut novel for quite some time. What Belongs To You is concentrated brilliance, a short novel that packs an emotive and thought provoking punch. I urge you all to read it, I think it will prove to be one of many readers stand out books of the year, it will certainly be one of mine.

If you would like to hear more about the novel from the author, as well as discussion on unreliable narrators, queer literature and much, much more do hear over to the latest episode of You Wrote The Book where Garth kindly joins me in conversation, it’ll make you want to read the book if you haven’t or love it all the more if you have, even if I do say so myself. Who else has read What Belongs to You and what did you make of it?

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Books of 2016, Garth Greenwell, Picador Books, Review

The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist 2016

So after what feels like a few months, yet is actually mere weeks I have just been reading so much brilliant women’s writing, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist for 2016 was announced last night and here are the six shortlisted titles…

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 17.13.27

I have linked to those that I have reviewed, I still have three outstanding shortlist reviews (as well as five outstanding longlist reviews) because I have been reading so much, but they will be up on the blog in due course. What do I think of the shortlist, I think it packs a punch there is a mix of magical realism, comedy, grit, drama and most importantly some blooming great women’s writing and that is what this prize is all about after all.

That is also why I am not going to bemoan there not being X or Y author having gotten through to the shortlist, partly because it looks like sour grapes (and no one likes those), partly because there will only be one winner and also at the end of the day I am not a judge (and having judged prizes it is a tricky, yet brilliant, task) I would rather celebrate all the books that have been given the attention of the longlist and say congrats to the shortlisted authors. This is why I didn’t guess the shortlist publicly (though Eric of LonesomeReader has mine on his phone somewhere that he can use against me at some point, ha) I wanted to just enjoy the list and be Switzerland, neutral. Ha.

So before we focus on the shortlist over the next few months what would I like to say about the books that didn’t get shortlisted? Well since you all asked so nicely, bar Kate Atkinson and Melissa Harrison‘s novels I had not read any of them and I have been introduced to some cracking books. I wouldn’t have ended up whaling in 1908 with Shirley Barrett or being whisked away with the uber rich oligarchs with Vesna Goldsworthy. I wouldn’t have ended up being taken away with the circus by Clio Gray, in Nagazaki with Jackie Copleton or on a space ship with a Becky Chambers. I wouldn’t have discovered the tale of a recluse with Rachel Elliott or (on a polar oppsite scale) read a book about King David in 1000BC with Geraldine Brooks. I wouldn’t have got round to reading Elizabeth Strout so soon or getting back to Petina Gappah and joining Memory  in Chikurubi Maximum Prison in Harare trying to discover her story. I wouldn’t have found a new author who seems to combine everything about my favourite TV shows (The Good Wife, House of Cards, Damages) in the book form of a superb political thriller with Attica Locke. I wouldn’t have discovered two novels with will probably be two of my books of the year with Sara Novic’s gripping and heart breaking tale of war torn Croatia’s or Julia Rochester‘s family drama with sprinklings of ‘the other’. Myself and Eric will be recording a podcast about all the longlist in more detail soon. In short though, that is a lot to celebrate! And celebrate we did last night…

FullSizeRender

So commiserations to the authors who didn’t get shortlisted and congrats to those that did, what a corking list of books though either way – go and read lots of them. And a huge thank you to the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction which once again has highlighted some incredible women’s fiction this year, ans it always does, and let me be a part of it (and continue to be, there is some exciting stuff to come) and for scheduling my reading for the last five weeks which I have rather enjoyed. I now have to go and choose what to read next – possibly in a bookshop if I fall into one though I have packed three potentials in my case – and the limitless possibilities is quite daunting. I may need another coffee. What are your thoughts on the shortlisted titles?

Oh and thanks to random.org I have picked a winner for the longlisted books giveaway, well done Cathling, you have been emailed.

3 Comments

Filed under Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, Baileys Bearded Book Club

Halfway Through The Baileys Women’s Prize Longlist, So Let’s Give Some Away…

Hoorah! I have just (within the last twenty minutes or so as I type this) got over half way through the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist, as I popped down my tenth read My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, which I am reading for the Bearded Bailey’s Book Club. Whilst I have a break to celebrate, then play catch up on reviews and start book ten, I thought it would be a nice idea to give some of the twenty books away…

IMG_4204

This isn’t because I don’t want them or don’t like them, not at all. Thanks to the kindness of the lovely team at the Bailey’s Prize (who sent me the whole longlist last week) aswell as the kindness of some publishers who before, and since, the list was announced have sent me additional copies I have some extra. I thought that one of you might like them. Here is the selection…

IMG_4205

I also have a slightly battered copy of Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies, so if you want that I can pop that in too. So what do you have to do to win this lovely selection of books? Simple, just tell me (in the comments below) what your favourite book is by a female writer and why. The competition is open worldwide, as I am still in the birthday spirit, you have until Monday April the 11th when the shortlist is announced. Good luck!

UPDATE – We have a winner chosen by random.org. Congratulations Cathling, you have been emailed for your details!

85 Comments

Filed under Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, Baileys Bearded Book Club, Give Away, Random Savidgeness

The Baileys Women’s Prize Longlist 2016

The clock has not long struck midnight (well GMT wise it has) and so it is officially International Women’s Day. What more apt a day could there be for the announcement of the Baileys Women’s Prize longlist than today? As some of you will have read the team at the Baileys Women’s Prize are very kindly letting myself and Eric, of LonesomeReader, become part of the family with the Baileys Bearded Book Club so we will be reading all the novels we haven’t, as well as doing some podcasts in the lead up to the shortlist in the next month and then a whole host of other things after that. But onto the longlist which is what you really want to see, the longlist of which I have read just the three, so someone is going to be a very busy bookish bearded bloke for the next five weeks. Here they are…

8th March 2016: The Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction announces its 2016 longlist, comprised of 20 books that celebrate the best of fiction written by women

8th March 2016: The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction announces its 2016 longlist, comprised of 20 books that celebrate the best of fiction written by women

So as I mentioned I have read three, those have links to them, and I guessed a whopping four. This happens every year and yet every year I feel more confident and look more foolish. I will type up some more thoughts on the list later today when I have let it settle with me a little more, it is just gone midnight after all. My initial thoughts are of excitement though, all those books I have yet to read, all those adventures I am yet to have.

In the meantime what are your thoughts on the 20 strong longlist? Which have you read and what did you make of them?

15 Comments

Filed under Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction

Guessing The Baileys Women’s Prize Longlist & Introducing The Bailey’s Bearded Book Club

A week today the longlist for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction will have been announced. This is something I get excited about every year, as I am a huge fan of the prize and the books it has listed in the past as well as its reason for being, however this year I am particularly excited as hopefully I am going to be doing some very exciting Bailey’s Prize based things alongside the lovely Eric of LonesomeReader. Over the next few weeks Eric and I will be the Bearded Bailey’s Book Club. Not only will be reading the entire longlist (all 20) we will be doing some podcasts on it and then, once the shortlist comes out in April, fingers crossed be doing some specific posts and podcasts (with the authors if all goes to plan, on The Readers Bailey’s Bonus Episodes) that you can all join in on, as well as hopefully some give aways and other random bits and bobs. What makes this all the more exciting is that both the lovely team and the board at the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction are all behind these bearded posts so we might be able to do even more. Hoorah. We would love you to join in with it, beard not required and we are not going to be ‘mansplaining’ just to nip that in the bud pronto.

So all that is all to come from next Tuesday onwards, so in the meantime we thought (and Eric’s will be on his blog) we would share the twenty books that we would like to see on the Bailey’s longlist. Now I have to say firstly that it has been an exceptional 12 months for women’s fiction, as I was doubly reminded looking up lots of eligible books, so this has been no easy task. Secondly I haven’t tried to second guess the judges (no one can do that), I have just gone on the books I have read and think should be on the list as well as some of the books I would really like to get around to reading, though I had to whittle this down from a very long list of books I would love to read. Thirdly, it will be wrong and that is good as it will introduce me to lots of great new books as Eric and I read the longlist over the following month, four a week if we have read zero of them – no pressure.

So here are my 20 (I got down to 31 titles that tore my mind, which I have saved in a document that I will send to Eric after this goes live, as we don’t know the others lists) so if those seven are on I have proof I loved them) guesses of books that might make the Bailey’s Prize for Women longlist next Tuesday…

9781474600095978055277664697817807492119780099592747

The Kindness of Enemies – Leila Aboulela (W&N)
A God in Ruins – Kate Atkinson (Transworld)
Devotion – Ros Barber (OneWorld)
Spill Simmer Falter Wither – Sara Baume (William Heinemann)

9780008132163978140885907097814721515999781910449066

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon (Borough Press)
At Hawthorne Time – Melissa Harrison (Bloomsbury)
Mr Splitfoot – Samantha Hunt (Corsair)
Fishnet – Kirstin Innes (Freight)

9781408866504978178211597797802411465529780224102551

The World Without Us – Mireille Juchau (Bloomsbury)
Things We Have in Common – Tasha Kavanagh (Canongate)
Hot Milk – Deborah Levy (Penguin)
Eileen – Ottessa Moshfegh (Vintage)

9781783781058978140870654197805713162819781847088369

Signs for Lost Children – Sarah Moss (Granta)
Girl at War – Sara Novic (Little Brown)
The Little Red Chairs – Edna O’Brien (Faber & Faber)
Under The Udala Trees – Chinelo Okparanta (Granta)

9781908276667978191042214497817842928679781447294818

Martin John – Anakana Schofield (And Other Stories)
If You Look For Me, I Am Not Here – Sarayu Srivatsa (Bluemoose Books)
Gold Flame Citrus – Claire Vaye Watkins (Quercus)
A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara (Picador)

So those are my guesses, I daren’t even call any of them predictions for fear of jinxing them. Any I have read are in italics and those I have reviewed have links to the review. Do go and have a look at Eric’s, I will be as I haven’t seen it yet, over on LonesomeReader and most importantly let me know what you think of this list and which books you are hoping will make the longlist when it is announced next week. After all the effort that has gone into that I need a Baileys, though as this goes live (thanks to the genius of scheduling) I will be sat at my desk, so best not.

21 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The Tournament of Books 2016

For the last few years I have heard the lovely Ann and Michael, of Books on the Nightstand, mention a mysterious thing called The Tournament of Books. Before many of you laugh or look at the screen and say ‘pah!’, we can’t know everything about books and this is something that happens in the states rather than over here, though admittedly thanks to the internet the world is a much smaller place. It happens every March and it is roughly around the end I finally remember to investigate by which time I have missed out on lots of the fun. Thankfully this year Frances from NonSuchBook reminded me on Twitter and so I have decided to try and read along as it sounds a) like it will introduce me to some new reads b) push some reads up my TBR c) be fun in the realm of the Guardian’s Not the Booker, so I am in.

If you haven’t followed the ToB before, here’s the summary: Starting in early March and proceeding each weekday, one of our judges—the full list is below—will read two books, choose one to advance, and explain how they reached their decision. The criteria is entirely personal; we merely ask for no basketball metaphors, and that the judge render their decision-making process in full transparency, and also tell you any connections they might have to the authors and/or books involved. Then our commentators, Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner, weigh in, followed by the wonderful community of readers that turn the comments section into one of the smarter, more interesting discussions of contemporary fiction that we know about. There. Simple-ish.

I think really the best way to go about it is to get reading (thankfully I have already read the longest one, can you guess which one it is?) and he is the list of books that have formed the Tournament of Books 2016 shortlist…

  • The New World by Chris Adrian and Eli Horowitz
  • The Sellout by Paul Beatty
  • Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson
  • The Turner House by Angela Flournoy
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
  • Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
  • Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving
  • Ban en Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil
  • The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli
  • The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • The Whites by Richard Price
  • Oreo by Fran Ross
  • The Book of Aron by Jim Shepard
  • A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
  • The Invaders by Karolina Waclawiak
  • A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

You can find out about each title here. Shock horror, I have only read one of these books (which I have added a link to) but I do own a few (which I have popped in italics) of them. Also having perused the list in full there are lots and lots of book there that I want to read both that I have heard of and some which I had no clue about but might have ordered copies of to come from the US of A – hey I am thinking of reads for my holiday in a few weeks, and as I cannot locate any of my own books what else was I to do? So which are these books, funny you should ask I thought I would share my thoughts.

Anne Tyler and Chris Adrian I have read before and loved, I had no idea the Adrian was already out in the UK so that pleased me. Kent Haruf I have meant to read since forever. When I was in America last year I very nearly bought both Oreo by Fran Ross and The Turner House by Angela Flournoy as they sounds like books I wanted, in fact it was Flournoy’s setting of Detroit after visiting it which I was fascinated by. The Whites had a rave review from Jason Steiger on my favourite book TV show, The ABC Book Club, so it’s been on my periphery. Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathiser made it onto my list of books of the first six months of 2016 (you can hear me talk about it and 12 others on The Readers here, a post of a full massive list will go live on the blog on Tuesday) so I will by that when it comes out next month. Then there are the unknowns of which Ban en Banlieue has me at hello, so much so I ordered it from the publisher. Erm, in hindsight I have pretty much mentioned the entire list so no wonder it has got my bookish bits excited. Mind you the longlist also had me very tempted too. Ha!

So which to read first? Anyone else joining in with this, done it before or are completely new to it like me? Have you read any of the books and what did you make of them?

30 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Farewell 2015, Hello 2016 (and Reading Resolutions)

I have to say both book wise and in the real world (notice how I put the real world second, it is so inferior to books, ha) I think that 2015 might have been one of the best years that I have had in a while. Yes okay, so I had the worst reading slump in the history of ever but there was so much else that was brilliant.

I got to judge Fiction Uncovered (one of my favourite prizes) with some wonderful people and found eight fabulous winners, and many more corkers along the way. I worked with New Writing North and took part in some great events in Newcastle and Ikley (meeting more wonderful people) and mentoring some brilliant young writers, bloggers and journalists before being the inaugural blogger for Durham Book Festival where I hung out with more lovely people. I left a job that was making me miserable with the worst boss in the world and moved to a lovely one where I am working on projects I love, two future and slightly secret ones will be VERY book based, with really lovely people. I stayed at the hotel in The Shard. I read some amazing books and one of the most affecting books of my reading life and then met the author, Hanya Yanagihara, afterwards. I worked on one of the Green Carnation Prize’s strongest years with the wonderful folk at Foyles and a corking judging panel AND got to meet (my future husband) Marlon James in the flesh. I got to chat to lots of authors and all of you lovely lot on here, twitter, podcasts etc about lots of brilliant books and made some wonderful new friends online and in real life. And then there was my road trip with Thomas around America and meeting, you guessed it, lots of wonderful people on that trip especially at Booktopia Petoskey, which was probably one of the highlights of the year. Blimey, that is quite a lot. Catches breath. It was a very good year. All this happened in some way or another thanks to this blog and thanks to books and lovely bookish folk.

IMG_1796

So 2016 has a lot to live up to doesn’t it? I have no real idea what it will hold, which I think it rather exciting. I do have some aims though and have fingers in lots of pies working on lots of projects and one huge one which I am hoping might come to fruition but who knows? I can say reading wise it has already started brilliantly and I am already on book two of the year. I guess I like the idea of the year being open to anything and everything and don’t want to put too much pressure (just the right amount) on myself, which leads to my reading resolutions.

Now my resolutions for 2016 off blog are ‘to do lots of different things and lots of things differently’ and ‘stop bloody procrastinating’. The latter is self explanatory and anyone who knows me will attest this is good self aware advice. The former is a bit vaguer, basically I think we all need to shake things up sometimes, so let us see how I get on. For the blog I have decided, it came to me whilst whatsapping Nina the other day (hairdresser to the literary greats, and me) and it is relatively simple, like me, It is this… 2016 is going to be the year of foraging for quirky books.

Yes, I am just going to see where reading, bookshops, bookish chat on social media and the like just takes me for a year. No pressure, just see where it all goes and what adventures I go on through the pages. The blog will reflect this, it will just carry on being a diary of sorts of my thoughts on books as I read them and other bookish musings that come up as I go along and talking with you lot about them. Okay, that is a second resolution – I will be much, much better at commenting.

So that is it. Simple. 2016 is going to be the year of foraging for quirky books. And I will comment much more. Nothing earth shattering, nothing too challenging or outrageous. Just reading, pondering and talking to you lot about it. Unless I end up judging another book prize in which case it might all go out the window, that isn’t currently on my horizon… Yet!

What about you all? What resolutions both bookish and not bookish have you made for 2016?

40 Comments

Filed under Random Savidgeness