Tag Archives: Julian Barnes

Other People’s Bookshelves #69 – Thom Cuell

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week we are in the wonderful town of Buxton to join blogger, writer, publisher, all round good guy and complete book addict Thom Cuell. If you don’t have the Workshy Fop bookmarked as a favourite then you should. Before we have a rummage through all of his shelves, lets all settle down on her lovely sofa’s, grab a glass of spa water and find out more about him.

(I hate writing bio’s in the third person, so here goes) – I’m a book reviewer and essay writer, and my writing has appeared on websites including 3am Magazine, The Weeklings and The Literateur, as well as the blog Workshy Fop, the website I began in 2007. I also co-host a literary salon in London, for authors, reviewers and publishers, and my latest venture is the indie press Dodo Ink, which will be publishing exciting and innovative new writing, launching in 2016. I have an MA in English and American Literature from the University of Manchester, and I live in Buxton with my daughter Gaia. My favourite novels include Great Apes by Will Self, American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis and Zone by Mathias Enard, and I’ve recently fallen for Nell Zink in a big way. I am also one of the founders of new imprint Dodo Ink which will be launching in 2016, with three original novels. You can be part of it by donating to The Grand Dodo Ink Kickstarter here.

IMG_0244

Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I’m a terrible hoarder, so yes, most books do end up on my shelves after I’ve read them! My main ambition for old age is to have a study lined with books from floor to ceiling, so I’m making a start already (I wish I had that sense of forward planning when it came to finances – maybe my collection can become my pension. Wishful thinking?). But space is quite limited, and the shelves are constantly overflowing, so I tend to do a monthly sweep where I try to find at least a bagful which can go to charity shops…

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

Before I give my answer, my favourite ever reply to that question was from someone on Twitter who said that they organised their books ‘in ascending order of threat to national security’. My shelves are colour coded – I think I first sorted them that way about 5 years ago, and have kept it in four different flats now. I’ve tried different things before, like by publisher or subject, but I prefer the look of colour coding. The main thing is that I’ve always been opposed to alphabetical order. Sam (Mills, author and co-director of Dodo Ink) has a habit of wandering off with my books, so I don’t want to make it any easier for her to find what she’s looking for…  The downside is that I have found myself thinking ‘I could do with more red books to fill a shelf’. And the ever-expanding TBR pile is currently on the floor, awaiting the arrival of more shelving.

IMG_0246

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I have no idea! I can tell you my first record (Mis-shapes by Pulp), but no memory of what the first book would have been. However, I do have a huge storage container full of books from when my parents moved house about 10 years ago, so it is almost certainly in there, going mouldy, whatever it was.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

No, no shame! At some point I might have to hide some of the Victorian filth away I suppose, for practical reasons. (One disclaimer – the Shirley Conran book is Sam’s!)

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

The piles of books probably make my flat a massive fire hazard, so this question is quite worrying… I don’t tend to get into big emotional connections with specific books – the words in them, yes, but not the physical entity. There are a few I’d be sad to lose though – a Left Book Club edition of The Road to Wigan Pier, which my dad bought me, and my paperback copy of The Quiddity of Will Self, which is full of crossings out and notes from when Sam used it in a reading. And there are two more, which I’ll talk about in the next question.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

I was always surrounded by books when I was growing up, and I was never told that any of them were off limits. I think the first ‘adult’ books might have been some of Roald Dahl’s horror stories, which I borrowed from my junior school library – I had a bash at A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovic when I was 10 or 11 as well. From my parents’ shelves, there are a few that stick in my mind: American Psycho and Trainspotting, both of which I read, and are now on my shelves (I got both copies signed by the authors too), and also A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters, which I never read at the time, but have bought and read since.

IMG_0248

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I do prefer to have my own copy, yes – just in case I ever have to refer to them for any reason (I’m always dreaming up elaborate research projects). I normally wait to see if I can find them in charity shops though.

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

I was in Southport this weekend, which turned out to be secondhand book heaven – especially Broadhurst Books (note – this was the book shop Granny Savidge used to spend her weekends reading in as a little girl). By the time I got to the third floor there, I was testing the patience of a six year old who had been promised a trip to the beach, so I didn’t get to explore as much as I’d have liked, but I did come away with Murder in the Collective by Barbara Wilson – a 1980s crime novel involving anarcho-feminist communes. I’ve been getting very into The Women’s Press recently – they published some stunning novels which are often out of print now – so I’m really excited about this one.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Ah, there are always more books! One that I’ve always wanted, but which comes with a hefty price tag, is Il Settimo Splendore by Girogio Cortenova, the catalogue from an exhibition I went to see in Verona in 2004. And there are loads which I do own, but are buried in storage when they should be on my shelves – In Search of the Pleasure Palace by Marc Almond is one, and my collection of Attack! books, a short-lived imprint created by sadly deceased NME journalist Steven Wells, which specialised in highly offensive gonzo thrillers.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

Probably that I am a mad pervert! I’d like to think that it shows a wide-ranging set of interests…

IMG_0245

*********************************************************************

A huge thanks to Thom for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Don’t forget if you would like to be part of helping set up an new publishing imprint, you can help kickstart Dodo Ink here – backers can receive rewards including bookmarks, signed books and invitations to launch parties. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Thom’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

Advertisements

4 Comments

Filed under Other People's Bookshelves

Books That I’ve Bought of Late

I have been thinking about the books that I should be sharing on the blog, aside from the ones that I review of course. By that I mean the books that come in to Chez Savidge Reads. I used to do regular-ish posts of the books that the publishers were sending me yet whilst this came from enthusiasm, I was saying mere days ago how when I come home to a pile of parcels it still feels like Christmas, I have noticed that there seems to now be almost a sense of showing off the latest free books incoming around the blogosphere. All a bit icky and not something I am not interested in perpetuating despite my genuine enthusiasm.

So I have decided that I will tweet and Instagram select moments of postal joy, on the blog however I will review the ones I read AND share with you the books I have bought. I love book shopping, my bank doesn’t part of why blogging has been so amazing, since having a more regular salary (less freelance living) I have been enjoying ‘payday treats’ only sometimes more than just on payday. Here are the books that I have bought in the last few months and the reasons why (some are so flimsy it is shameful)…

Books Bought

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith – I know, I know. I haven’t even read the hardback I have of The Cuckoo’s Calling but I admit sometimes I can fall for the hype. This may well not get read until some point next year but it was half price, oh thinking about it it’ll probably be less than half price in paperback. Oops. Least I have the hardback set though, so far, meaning I will have to by the next. Oh…

The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson – I don’t know about you but I hate, hate, hate food and household good shopping. I have been offered to not have to do this, however I would end up with food stuffs and household trinkets I don’t like I am sure of it. So when said big shop happens every weekend, if particularly stressful I treat myself to a book. This was bought on one such trip when I had become infuriated by the bananas and so went off to buy something, anything. And I am going to Sweden so it made sense. I haven’t read Jonasson’s debut, it is on my devil’s device which I seem to have misplaced/forgotten where I put it.

The Rental Heart by Kirsty Logan – I am a big fat liar. The publisher sent me this pretend you haven’t seen it, I have clumsily mis-shelved it.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou – Isn’t it awful that the death of an author can lead you to finally getting your hands on their work. My mother has been telling me to read Maya Angelou for ages and ages, it sadly took her passing to make me actually go and buy a copy. I will be reading this as soon as my holiday week starts.

Things I Don’t Want To Know by Deborah Levy – Can you say you are a big fan of an author after only reading two of their books? If so I am a HUGE fan of Deborah Levy and this is meant to be an answer to George Orwell’s Why I Write which I have inherited from Gran. I may read them back to back especially.

The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell – This is the lovely Kate of Adventures with Words choice for the next episode of Hear Read This. I know nothing about it, but that can be quite exciting to have in your reading diet from time to time.

The Sundial by Shirley Jackson – Shirley Jackson is one of the many, many authors I often think ‘ooh I must read more of’. Yes, there are lots of those. This is apparently a newly reprinted old tale of hers that Penguin have brought back from the depths of time. Simon of Stuck In A Book has done a glorious review of it, and two others in Shiny New Books, which sent me off in search of it. Who doesn’t think a gothic family household at the end of the world sounds amazing? See, everyone agrees, instant must read.

The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark – Gavin has chosen this for next months Hear Read This along with Kate’s choice as we have been and are doing novellas over the summer. I have read this and loved it however didn’t have a copy, so a reread is a perfect excuse to by my own copy. I have to say any time I see a Penguin Modern Classic I want to buy them all.

The Absent Therapist by Will Eaves – After loving Charles Lambert’s With A Zero at It’s Heart so much and it being such a ‘different’ read I asked for recommendations along those lines. David (who should have a blog himself frankly) said that he had recently read this and it would be right up my street. I have been meaning to read Eaves for a while too.

Eeny Meeny by M. J. Aldridge – I apologise profusely, I cannot remember who was raving about this as a brilliant crime thriller, it might have been on Twitter or Instagram but safe to say they made me buy it. It was before it was announced on the new Richard and Judy book club list, just saying.

The Girl With All The Gifts by M. R. Carey – So I bought this as M. R. Carey was coming to read at Waterstones in Liverpool (where it has apparently sold the most copies in any store) and I have heard great things. I then got a shift at work which meant I couldn’t go. So it awaits a read, maybe he will come back again?

The Year of the Ladybird by Graham Joyce – Graham Joyce told me and Gavin about this when he joined us on The Readers Book Club. I am intrigued as to how he makes a holiday park in the British summer time heatwave of the 1970s spooky. I have a feeling it will be very good.

Randall by Jonathan Gibbs – Spur of the moment buy when lovely lady said ‘oh you have used all ten of your stamps so you get ten pounds free’, you get a stamp every time you spend ten pounds. Having loved A Girl is a Half Formed Thing by Eimear McBride I have been meaning to try more of Galley Beggar Press’ novels, this apparently is a pastiche of the art world so should be fun. Note – only after I got home did I realise a) I only got that loyalty card 5 weeks ago b) I have another Galley Beggar Press book at home waiting to be read. But hey, life’s short.

Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes – The next choice for my book club and since I have suddenly discovered Barnes is actually an author I think I really like I am very excited about reading this.

Red Moon by Benjamin Percy – I blame supermarkets again. This is apparently a ‘spin on the werewolf novel’ and I do love werewolves, those ghosts and dragons I am all a fan off. It had also been a rather trying time in the ‘baked goods’ aisle, so a treat was once more needed.

The Ravens by Thomas Bannerhed – I have been picking up and putting down this book every time I have gone into Waterstones lately. The cover is stunning and it sounded like one of those ‘out in the countryside where things are more raw, rough and grubbier’ kind of novels which I love. Every time I have looked at it the copy has been battered so I have resisted. New ones came in, it is set in Sweden and so will be going with me in a week and a bits time. Job’s a gooden.

Beastings by Benjamin Myers – “A girl and a baby. A priest and a poacher. A savage pursuit through the landscape of a changing rural England.” I think that this is definitely going to be one of those ‘out in the countryside where things are more raw, rough and grubbier’ kind of novels which I love. And also like the above is from a small press so I purchased it even though I have not yet read Pig Iron which I have renewed from the library twelve times, true story.

So that is my haul. I have just realised I have missed the second hand copy of Persepolis which I bought myself today. I hadn’t been in any second hand shops for ages and was on the hunt for the second and third of Camilla Lackberg’s books however I only found the fourth and fifth, amazingly I didn’t buy them wasn’t I good? I am planning a big (baggage allowance allowing) second hand spree in Washington with Thomas which I can then go and read by his pool everyday on my mini tour of America so expect to hear about those then.

By the way, before I ask you all some questions, I am aware Other People’s Bookshelves has gone quiet recently. I have sent lots of the forms out am just waiting for the pictures and responses but if you fancy taking part please email me via savidgereads@gmail.com with Other People’s Bookshelves in the title! Back to today’s post though. Which books have you bought recently? Have you read any of the ones that I have grabbed lately?

15 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Levels of Life – Julian Barnes

I feel a bit like I owe Julian Barnes an apology. You see for some unfathomable reason, known only in the unreachable part of the 90% of my brain that I don’t use, I had decided that he wasn’t an author for me. I think around his Man Booker win and the way everyone was talking about him I created an author who I wouldn’t like, would find dry and miserable and a bit worthy – completely forgetting I had read and loved Arthur and George which resides happily on my bookshelves in the lounge. Imagine then the horror I felt when Rob chose Levels of Life for Hear Read This! and not long after Claire had chosen Flaubert’s Parrot for book club. I decided to start with the short one first…

Vintage Books, paperback, 2014 (2000 edition), fiction, 128 pages, kindly sent by the publisher (almost passed on if Rob hadn’t chosen it for Hear Read This!)

I have to admit that when I started Levels of Life the odds were stacked against it. I had been told that it was a book about ballooning and grief, in particular the grief Barnes has been going through since the death of his wife. Ballooning? And grief? Ballooning and grief? This wasn’t going to work. I was internally chanting ‘thank goodness it is short, thank goodness it is short’. Well silly old me because a book that is indeed about ballooning and grief had me enthralled and then in absolute tears, and I admired every sentence of it. Barnes does something very clever indeed with Levels of Life, and not in a clever pretentious way, by creating three sections (or levels in a way) which link in some ways you would expect and many ways you wouldn’t hazard a clue at.

The first section, around 24 pages, of the book are indeed about the history of ballooning. Now ballooning doesn’t appeal to me; a lot like boats, submarines, cricket (or indeed sport in general), horses (full stop) or talking animals of any variety, it is just a subject I don’t think I have any interest in. Well apparently I am a liar to myself because I found the history of ballooning, in Barnes’ capable hands, utterly fascinating. Who knew? It is the sign of an accomplished author and sparky narration to make anyone interested in something they swear they couldn’t really give two hoots about.

You put together two things that have not been put together before. And the world is changed. People may not notice at the time, but that doesn’t matter. The world has been changed nonetheless.

The second section/level of the book is all the love affair of French actress Sarah Bernhardt and English colonel Fred Burnaby, who happened to be two of the pioneers of ballooning. We read about them a little in the first section, yet it is really Gaspard-Félix Tournachon who is in the limelight of that section, here these two lovers become full focus and we look at how independent people might or might not make the ideal couple and tame one another, or possibly not. Again I was gripped by this section, especially by the story of Sarah Bernhardt and her menagerie including a pillow eating python she bought here in Liverpool. I did begin to ponder if Barnes had a mind to write a fictional account of her and used it in this instead, she fully comes to life with Fred and their affair is totally tantalising.

You put two people who have not been put together before; and sometimes the world is changed, sometimes not. They may crash and burn, or burn and crash. But sometimes, something new is made, and then the world is changed. Together, in that first exaltation, that first roaring sense of uplift, they are greater than their two separate selves. Together, they see further, and they see more clearly.

Then everything changes and the real force behind the book comes to the fore as in the third and final section of the book Barnes writes about his grief after the death of his wife, literary agent Pat Kavanagh. Grief is a very, very personal thing and something we are not prone to discussing even though we all go through it. Barnes does something exceptionally brave, though he probably wouldn’t see it as such, in sharing the brutal honesty of how much the loss has affected him. From contemplating suicide to talking to his wife or dreaming her up at night, even though he knows she is dead. He shares his story of grief but also the stories of others and how everyone grieves differently. It is raw, devastating and incredibly moving.

You may here of course be wondering how the ballooning does interlink to it all and this to me added even more depth and, as clichéd as it will sound because of the title of the book, levels to this final section. Firstly there is the slightly obvious motifs of the rise and fall of the balloon, from how at a great height, and in hindsight, we appreciate everything around us etc. Secondly there is the fact that actually loving someone is a risky business, like early ballooning. You might crash and burn, you might soar off into the sunset, their maybe storms and unknown danger ahead. Love comes with risk. There are also the links to earlier moments. Barnes will compare grief to the python overstuffed with pillows Bernhardt has in the second section, he will compare it to the fall to the death one man had who ended up embedded in a flower bed his own legs forcing his internal organs to be ripped out, his world and himself exploding. These all add an extra dimension to the book, so difficult to describe yet so totally affecting.

You put together two people who have not been put together before. Sometimes it is like that first attempt to harness a hydrogen balloon to a fire balloon: do you prefer crash and burn, or burn and crash? But sometimes it works, and something new is made, and the world is changed. Then, at some point, sooner or later, for this reason or that, one of them is taken away. And what is taken away is greater than the sum of what was there. This may not be mathematically possible, but it is emotionally possible.

I can’t quite put into words how brilliant I thought Levels of Life was. In terms of a piece of literature it is incredibly original and so cleverly constructed. Yet there is so much more to this book than it’s amazing construction, it is an emotionally driven and filled work. I don’t think I have read anything so raw and visceral about love and grief. Possibly ever. Having gone through the death of Gran last year this book chimed so much on an emotional level with me I couldn’t stop crying through the final section of the book, though I think anyone who reads this and doesn’t cry probably has a piece of coal where their heart should be, and I am so thankful to Barnes for being as honest as he is and urge you all to go and grab a copy of this book.

Of course I am now feeling a) all the more stupid for writing him off as an author I didn’t like after this mini masterpiece b) very excited about reading Flaubert’s Parrot. I am also pondering which others of his books I should read as it appears Barnes is very much a ‘me’ kind of writer. You can hear more of my thoughts on Hear Read This, along with Kate, Gav and Rob. Who else has read this book and what did you make of it? Can any of you recommend any other books on grief, as this seemed very cathartic for me, that I should look out for? Oh and any recommendations on books about Sarah Bernhardt are most welcome, she sounded fascinating, I could become obsessed!

9 Comments

Filed under Julian Barnes, Non Fiction, Review, Vintage Books

Two Bookish Books I Think We Should All Be Reading…

I try not to bark ‘read this now’ as an order too often on Savidge Reads. If I really love a book then I hope the enthusiasm comes of the screen and you might want to go and have a look at it in a book shop or read about it more online. It’s very unusual then that I am pretty much going to bark the orders ‘read these now’ about two books that I actually haven’t read myself the whole way through…

 

‘Stop What You’re Doing And Read This!’ and ‘The Library Book’ are two books from separate British publishers which are all about books, reading and libraries. Really that should be enough to have you rushing to your nearest bookshop or book selling website shouldn’t it, in fact it might already have done just that, however I thought I would tell you a little more about both – just to really push you over the edge.

‘Stop What You Are Doing And Read This!’ is an anthology which asks the question ‘why should you stop what you are doing and read a book?’ The ten essay responses collected here are from the likes of authors such as Jeanette Winterson, Blake Morrison, Mark Haddon and Zadie Smith, along with Jane Davis founder of ‘The Reader Organisation’ and Carmen Callil who founded Virago and rather famously quit the International Man Booker judging panel. These ten essays simply tell you, in varying ways, the power of the book and the joys of reading. I have only dipped in and out of a few so far but from what I have seen it’s only going to make my love of reading and desire to read all the stronger. I know that Simon T of Stuck in a Book loves this book.

There is a different twist on the joys of reading with ‘The Library Book’ as this book is of course celebrating the library itself. Some of my favourite authors like Susan Hill, Val McDermid and Alan Bennett (there are lots more Kate Mosse, Julian Barnes, China Mieville, Stephen Fry – I could go on, there are 23 pieces in this collection) have all contributed works to this book, not all of them are essays though as of course we go to libraries for fiction, and so some of the authors have made fictional shorts along with the other essays throughout – all about the library, of course. Again, I have only had a glimpse at this book (as it only arrived this morning) but I am very, very excited about what’s inside. In fact what am I doing here writing this? I should be reading them already!

What I think is another thing that’s special about these books, if I haven’t sold these two you by now you may be a lost cause, is that they are working with the charity The Reading Agency (all the proceeds of ‘The Library Book’ are definitely going to this charity, it doesn’t say with ‘Stop What You’re Doing And Read This!’) which encourages people to read in all sorts of ways and is developing exciting library programmes. What could be better?

I am hoping some of you have stopped reading the blog by now and run off to find out more, or even gone and got the book. I am off to sit with my copies for a while. I will report back, I hope you will too!

34 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Books About Books

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?

4 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Man Booker

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?

16 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Man Booker

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.

16 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Man Booker