Tag Archives: Joanna Kavenna

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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Oranges Are Not The Only Books…

I think I mentioned the other day that I was starting to feel the beginnings of Orange Overload. I am fully aware that I gave myself the challenge of reading every word of the longlist and so really I shouldn’t be moaning, and actually you will see once I get back on track and stop rambling that I am not. I love the Orange Prize, in fact I love book prizes in general, as it opens my eyes to lots of books and authors that I might not have come across before or maybe ones I have in the TBR and not yet got around to. I think though so far with the Orange Longlist 2011 reading I might have been at fault with the method I have used to attack the challenge (maybe the use of the word attack is a little strong but until earlier this week it was the way I felt) itself.

Rather than read the ones that I really, really fancy reading first, I have saved them up until the end. I do this with dinners too, eat all the bits I am less of a fan of and then reveal in all my favourite flavours at the end, this isn’t just something I am alone in doing I don’t think, or is it? Yet this isn’t working, instead I am finding that I have been looking longingly at the ones I really wanted to read instantly whilst reading the others I didn’t know of or, if I am honest, didnt really fancy that much. My head started to feel like exploding orange!


You might think this has made me harsher on the books that I have read so far (and I must change the currently reading image as I haven’t started ‘The Invisible Bridge’ by Julie Orringer yet because, despite how great everyone is telling me it is, the size of it intimidates me along with the subject of The Holocaust, I will read it in due course though) and actually its not been the case, I have found some absolute corkers so far I wasn’t expecting, such as ‘Great House’ by Nicole Krauss and ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’ by Lola Shoneyin a review of the latter is coming soon, and I think have enjoyed them all the more because they have surprised me.

In fact maybe this is time to let you know what I have read so far, I have linked the reviews already up though some are coming soon. I’m not putting the marks out of ten given to each one as I think I need a rethink as some have grown on me and some have faded faster overtime…

So only another nine to go, but this is where things have changed. After finishing of ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’ I thought to myself ‘hang on a minute, this is the fun you can have reading, stop reading the ones you don’t know or don’t fancy so much and just head to the ones you do, hence why ‘Annabel’ was next.  I also reminded myself that ‘oranges are not the only books’ and so I have been reading a random book I fancy between them, or even two if the mood takes me. This is working much better so far and gives me high hope I might just have read them all (especially with the third operation of four tomorrow and lots more recovery time after) by short listing day. Though if all the reviews of them haven’t quite gone up by then… so what? I have decided though, no more long list and short list challenges in the future though.

Have you read any of the Orange Longlist this year? Are trying to read them all? Are you just not bothered about The Orange Prize or longlist and if not why not (so sorry if you aren’t, normal service will be resummed soon)? What are your thoughts on reading challenges be they self set or a collective venture?

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The Birth of Love – Joanna Kavenna

Isn’t it funny how the title of a book can put your off it a little? I have to admit that when I saw that Joanna Kavenna, an author I had prior heard very little about, was on the Orange long list with her second novel ‘The Birth of Love’ its very title made me think ‘hmmm, maybe that one will be tricky’. Its not that I am squeamish about birth, in fact I have been a complete addict of ‘One Born Every Minute’, and find pregnancy rather fascinating. In fact whenever relatives (have I said I am soon to be an uncle of sorts?) and friends get pregnant I have endless questions and want to know all the ins and outs of it all. The title just sounded a little saccharine and so it was therefore one of the first books that I thought I should tackle as it would be a bit of a difficult read for me, oh how wrong I turned out to be.

It is four initially disparate stories which make up ‘The Birth of Love’. We first have the story, in forms of letters to a Dr Wilson, of the incarceration of Herr S in a Viennese asylum in the 1800’s. This is a man wracked with guilt over the amount of women he believes he has murdered and the never ending dreams and visions of blood that he is the subject to. Secondly is the tale of Brigid whose second child, she is what is now deemed as a mature mother, is overdue and we join her as her mother arrives and so it seems do her contractions. Thirdly is the narrative of Michael, and author whose works on a doctor from the 1800’s has just been published and on the day of release learns his mother is ill with dementia. Fourthly, and finally, we have the unnamed Prisoner 730004 in the year 2153 who has been captured after leaving the ‘safety’ (which we soon learn are confines) of Darwin C and has escaped to an island where the ‘Magna Mater’ Birgitta is rumoured to have given birth, a quite impossible act in the times of egg and sperm harvesting and offspring farming.

You might think that merely from its title this is a book solely about birth; in fact it’s also about the bonds of motherhood. Michael has a very distant and angry relationship with his mother and the news of her illness seems to completely pass him by, Brigid’s relationship with her overbearing mother leaves her to think about her future mothering of her own children, Prisoner 730004 feels she has lost something by being denied the right to be a mother and Herr S feels he has stolen mothers from there children.

It is a real cacophony of tales and one which could have seemed too far fetched and with too much scope yet Kavenna pulls these four strands together and creates four worlds which are all very real and tangible despite their vast differences. Whilst reading this, and I don’t think its because one of the strands is rather like ‘The Handmaids Tale’, I often found myself thinking of Margaret Atwood’s writing. You constantly feel that Kavenna has you following the exact path she wants you to, observing things and similarities as you go along, almost as if she is connecting with her reader as she writes. This is a quality you don’t find often in books and certainly not ones with so much scope which ask the reader to ‘hold on, it will all come together’ yet you never question that they won’t.

My only small issue with the book was that whilst I liked the way it’s written, and Kavenna’s style of phrase and prose in short bursts with breaks between paragraphs, in the case of Michael’s narrative it seemed to distant me from him some what and on occasion his being an author almost preached as to how clever authors are. I am sure that wasn’t the intention, but something in his sections lost the flow of the novel as a whole for me a little now and again. This however is a small blip in a novel that I found rather exciting to read.

If you haven’t read ‘The Birth of Love’ yet or have been debating reading it then I would say delve in. It’s a fascinating book about child birth, motherhood and has a great humour just as it has a great darkness. It’s interesting that it’s a book that reflects the past, the now and the future as I think in time this could become a modern classic from an author that is certainly one to watch. 8/10

This book was kindly sent by the publishers.

So I am now a quarter of the way through The Orange Longlist 2011 (though of course these posts being scheduled I am possibly much further on that that now – I hope so) and they are all proving to be incredibly varied reads. It is making me think just how many books I miss out on each year, which then makes my head hurt, and shows just why prizes should be followed, we may not agree with the winner or the shortlists but how great is it that such an array of writing can be highlighted to us? Has anyone else read ‘The Birth of Love’? What about Kavenna’s debut novel ‘Inglorious’, which also won ‘The Orange Award for New Writers’? Have any of you read the any of the other Orange long listed books? Is anyone oranged out yet? Sorry if you are… just another 15 to go but fear not there are some non Orange book thoughts coming after tomorrow!

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The Orange Prize Longlist 2011

Even though there has yet to be an official announcement on their site it seems that The Guardian and The Independent have already announced, rather subtly, what the Orange Longlist 2011 is. I don’t think I am doing anything wrong in doing the same, though I also don’t think that Savidge Reads divulging what’s already out there in much wider read arenas already will make any difference. I tried guessing the Longlist yesterday (thought the post went up at silly o’clock this morning), do have a read, and you can see I did superbly badly in guessing only three (I will put stars next to those three, links to the ones I have read – all one of them – and italics under the ones I have in the TBR) of the titles, which are…

  • Lyrics Alley – Leila Aboulela (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
  • Jamrach’s Menagerie – Carol Birch (Canongate)
  • Room – Emma Donoghue (Picador)*
  • The Pleasure Seekers – Tishani Doshi (Bloomsbury)
  • Whatever You Love – Louise Doughty (Faber & Faber)
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan (Corsair)*
  • The Memory of Love – Aminatta Forna (Bloomsbury)
  • The London Train – Tessa Hadley (Jonathan Cape)
  • Grace Williams Says it Loud – Emma Henderson (Sceptre)
  • The Seas – Samantha Hunt (Corsair)
  • The Birth of Love – Joanna Kavenna (Faber & Faber)
  • Great House – Nicole Krauss (Viking)
  • The Road to Wanting – Wendy Law-Yone (Chatto & Windus)
  • The Tiger’s Wife – Téa Obreht (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)*
  • The Invisible Bridge – Julie Orringer (Viking)
  • Repeat it Today with Tears – Anne Peile (Serpent’s Tail)
  • Swamplandia! – Karen Russell (Chatto & Windus)
  • The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives – Lola Shoneyin (Serpent’s Tail)
  • The Swimmer – Roma Tearne (Harper Press)
  • Annabel – Kathleen Winter (Jonathan Cape)

I mentioned earlier that actually the less that I got right the happier I would be as it means a whole list of potential delights to discover. I am kicking myself for not going with my Emma Henderson guess and also did a real ‘doh!’ moment when I saw Louise Doughty as I have ‘Whatever You Love’ in my top 5 bedside TBR books. I could focus on the ‘grrr, why didn’t that one get on the list’ feeling a bout a few titles I had read but there are a lot of books to excite me on the list to.

The titles by Leila Aboulela, Carol Birch, Aminatta Forna, Tea Obreht, Karen Russell, Lola Shoneyin and Kathleen Winter are the instant standouts of the books I don’t own and would really like to read having just looked them all up very quickly on Waterstones website. There is a certain amount of ‘really?’ not because I think Tishani Doshi, Jennifer Egan, Samatha Hunt, Anne Peile and Roma Tearne deserve not to be on the list, they are just all books which have come through my doorway and then got lost in the only box that vanished on the move up north. Actually lets move on, I still can’t quite talk about that event as it gets to me a lot, though teaches me I should read faster maybe.

Will I be reading the longlist myself? No, because I don’t have them all, though there are a few I might see if the library has. For now though I will say I will try those titles that I have in the TBR and bring you my thoughts on them, and maybe any which arrive after, before the shortlist is announced on 12th of April. I don’t think I could read 19 books, remember I have only read one so far, in that time anyways, especially not the massive Orringer. Having said that though, I am going in for a big operation on my birthday next week, so there is lots of recovery time coming…

So what do you think of the list? Which ones have you read and are overjoyed to see on their? Any you have tried and didn’t quite get to grips with? Any books that you are rather miffed didn’t make it? What do you think about the official longlist compared to my rogue one? Any other Orange thoughts?

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