Tag Archives: Kathleen Winter

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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Savidge Reads Books of 2011 – Part II

The midway point though the last day of the year seems an appropriate time to pop up part two of my books of 2011 and my last post of the year (is it me or does that feel weird?). We have already had the books released prior to this year and we now move onto the books that were released this year in the UK (I don’t think any of them came out anywhere else in the world but just in case I have popped that clause in). I actually think that 2011 has been one of the best for contemporary fiction and this was a much harder exercise to whittle these down to just ten. So without further waffle from me here they are again with a quote from the full reviews which you can find by clicking on the title…

Gillespie and I – Jane Harris

“Like its predecessor, the wonderful ‘The Observations’ (which I am going to have to re-read soon, it’s one of my favourite books which made me rather nervous about this one), ‘Gillespie and I’ is a book that is all about evoking an atmosphere, wonderful writing, an unforgettable narrator, and those clever twists you never see coming. Yet it is no carbon copy by any stretch of the imagination and stands in its own rite. I loved this book, it’s very easy to find a fault with a book, particularly one at over 500 pages in length, yet there are none I can think of. I would go as far as to say I think ‘Gillespie and I’ could be an almost perfect book…”

The Proof of Love – Catherine Hall

“I can’t hide the fact that I loved ‘The Proof of Love’. It’s a book that gently weaves you in. You become both an ‘outcomer’ and one of the locals. You are part of the loneliness and isolation of Spencer as well as the gossiping heart of the community, part of the mystery and part of the suspicions. It’s a very subtly clever book, it doesn’t show off the fact that it’s a rare and wonderful book at any point, but I can assure you it is.”

Annabel – Kathleen Winter

“I don’t think I have read a book that uses the third person in such a way that you see every person’s viewpoint so vividly. Every character, no matter how small a part they play, springs to life walking straight off the page and I honestly felt I was living in Croydon Harbour (atmosphere and descriptions are pitch perfect), whilst also being shocked that such a place still exists in modern times, and went along with Wayne’s journey every step of the way. It is incredible to think that ‘Annabel’ is Kathleen Winter’s debut novel; I was utterly blown away by it and will be urging everyone I know to rush out and read this book.”

The Borrower – Rebecca Makkai

“Rebecca Makkai is certainly a big fan of books of all genres, this adds to her prose and not just in the words and descriptions she uses but also the style. We have a letters and one of Ian’s short stories interspersed in some chapters, there are also chapters in the style of other books such as ‘Choose Your Own Fiasco’ where Lucy gives you her current scenario and you have to decide for her by going to ‘number three or go to number five’ like those quest books I used to read. It’s a really inventive way of writing the book, there is even a table or two in there, and adding another dimension to the whole experience of reading, in some books this doesn’t work, in this one it did.”

The Hunger Trace – Edward Hogan

“There is a real sense of humour in this novel, dark but often very funny, yet in many ways it is a moving tale of people and their sense of isolation or being an outsider often leading to events in their pasts be the recent or from years ago. These are events that leave a trace on you and which is described beautifully when Louisa discusses her prized bird Diamond who she saves and leads to the novels title. ‘When a falcon is undernourished, the feathers cannot grow properly. A fault line appears, even if the bird is fed again. The fault is called a hunger trace.’ It is this hunger trace that runs through the main character of this novel and their obsessions which keep the real world at bay be they Louisa’s birds, Christopher’s obsession with Robin Hood or Maggie’s need to succeed despite what anyone else says.”

There But For The – Ali Smith

“…so far it’s my favourite of Ali Smith’s works to date that I have read. She has taken bits of her earlier work; great characters, observations, comedy, unusual narratives, prose and pacing and put them all together. It’s a tour-de-force as opposed to a hotch-potch. I don’t want to say this is her most accessible book, even though in many ways it is, because that makes it sound like it’s not experimental and it is. It’s just honed down, controlled and done without ego.”

The House of Silk – Anthony Horrowitz

“I loved spending time with Holmes and Watson again and was gripped and tricked along the way. I just loved the adventure of it all. It doesn’t try to take Holmes anywhere new that the loyal fans will be unhappy with, nor does it become a pastiche of a Holmes novel. I knew it wasn’t Conan Doyle but I knew I was in safe hands. It has certainly made me want to turn back to the original Holmes novels; I hope Horowitz and Holmes fans will do the same, to me that is the sign of a great return and a successful one.”

In Other Worlds: SF & The Human Imagination – Margaret Atwood

“…because the way Atwood writes makes it feel like you are sat having a conversation about these things with her (if only), there is a humour and knowingness as you go along, secondly because it shows the forming of a writer which I always find fascinating and thirdly because it made me think. A lot. This isn’t writing you can rush, you need to read it, pause, think a bit, make some mental notes, read on, have a bigger pause, think more. I loved that this was the effect it had on me.”

Before I Go To Sleep – SJ Watson

“It takes a relatively simple, and equally possible, scenario and flips it on its head. In fact it’s the very domestic and almost mundane ordinariness of the books setting which makes it so unnerving. The fact Watson does this, on the whole, in one house between three characters is truly impressive. It’s an original, fast paced, gripping and rather high concept novel. I am wondering just what on earth, Watson is going to follow this up with… and how?”

When God Was A Rabbit – Sarah Winman

“You see initially after reading it I was a little conflicted about it, however with time for the dust to settle I realized I really, really liked it. There’s a warmth in this novel which is quite unlike any other I have read and it lingers. So as I was saying all in all I really, really, really enjoyed ‘When God Was A Rabbit’. It’s a book you gulp down for the first half and then watch unfold more delicately in the second.”

So there you have it, my top twenty books of the year. (I should add here that ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ by Emma Henderson and ‘Mr Chartwell’ by Rebecca Hunt were initially on this list but then I discovered this morning they were actually published initially in 2010 and had already popped Part I up – oops, there’s two more recommendations snuck in there though.) So over to you, what do you think of this list and what were your favourite books of 2011?

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Browsing Bookshops…

I don’t know about you, but sometimes just browsing around a book store for a while (ok, maybe an hour or two) can be one of the best things to do when you are having any reading issues, or if you just want to calm yourself. I did this recently when my head was in a spin and it was just what I needed, a chance to gage where my ‘reading head’ is and let my eyes and mind wander over the spins.

As I went from A – Z, I saw authors I had been recommended only days before (Jenn Ashworth), authors that I had heard kerfuffle about and wanted to try (Leo Benedictus), authors I have started a book of recently and then not finished though I don’t know why (Jasper Fforde), authors I ‘really should have read’ but still ‘really haven’t’ but will honest (William Golding), authors I had never heard of but after the spine catching my eye, a read of the blurb and flick through I really fancy reading (Tama Janowitz), authors whose books have impacted your life (Harper Lee), authors who remind you of the excitement and reading possibilities in translation you haven’t as yet uncovered (Per Petterson), authors you seem to be hearing about all the time at the moment and have decided you simply must read them (Owen Sheers) and authors whose debut novels blew you away and you wish they would hurry up and write another one (Kathleen Winter).

As you wander the shelves, rather than be intimidated by the vast number of books you might not get to read, there is a certain joy in the books you spot be they the ones you love or the ones you might love in the future. Oh how a browse can be such bliss.

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World Book Night 2012…

I was going to give the blog a day off but then I received an email about all this so thought that I would pass some of it on. I know that actually World Book Night is months and months away (April 23rd 2012 in fact) so some of you might not be interested but an email this morning reminded me about it and the fact that you can vote for your favourite books to be given away. I was also a bit over excited when I read this specific email as previous givers, and you can see what I gave away and how I did it earlier this year, two people could win a chance to be on the World Book Night Editorial Selection Committee (theres a mouthful), well of course how could I not want to do that?

So what did you have to do? Well, give them your details, tell them what you gave last year and name the “top 10 books you most love to read, give and share for 2012” now initially I thought  they meant books out in 2012 then twigged they just meant your favourites. You then had to write, in 100 words or less, an impassioned argument for your number one book. I did it in ninety-nine.  

I liked the idea of this list of ten books you would want to pass on and realised that not all my very favourite books would pass the test of being books I would avidly pass on, those tend to be books I have liked a lot but not enough to keep on my own shelves, this however is the list of ten books I would happily buy other people and pass them on in that way… 

  1. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
  2. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  3. Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
  4. Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
  5. Perfume by Patrick Suskind
  6. The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
  7. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
  8. Annabel by Kathleen Winter
  9. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  10. The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark

I couldn’t choose ‘One Day’ (which I am desperately telling the Aunty Who Doesn’t Read So Much to read before she sees the film next week, will she listen…) or indeed ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ because both books were in the list last year and given away. I like the idea of some classics being given away in 2012, some corkers though, not necessarily the same old ones. You can guess which books I might mean but I will never tell, ha.

I am pretty sure that I won’t be picked as one of the World Book Night Editorial Selection Committee, though if it did happen I would just be over the moon, partly because I have blabbed about it on here. It gave me a think about books though, and a chance to give you all a list of books to try should you have not read them so far. You can find more out about World Book Night 2012 here. What would your ten be? What are your thoughts on the whole World Book Night idea?

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The Man Booker Longlist 2011… Thoughts

I do love the general buzz, most often in a form of outrage, that the Man Booker Longlist seems to bring out after its announcement and this years seems to be one of the strongest case of a ‘what?!!?’ moment I have seen in a while. People seem up in arms about how their favourite books are missing, there’s a lot of ‘what were the judges thinking’ being bandied about too. Personally after my initial ‘oh no, where are Jane Harris, Ali Smith, Kathleen Winter and Catherine Hall’ (possibly my favourite fiction reads of the year so far) moment I looked at the list and the more I think about it the more interesting in seems.

There is no using bemoaning the books I think should have made the cut, I don’t know why people go on about this so much. The thing with the Man Booker Longlist is that we don’t know if the publisher submitted our favourites, they have a small remit, or not do we? We also need to remember like reviews and book clubs every judging panel is subjective. Four of the five might have been passionate about my personal favourites, but all five of them might have been passionate about 13 more of them instead. Who knows, what can we do about it now? I think we should be focusing on what makes this list very exciting, and also what makes the list show publishing is far from dead. Which I actually wrote about in a piece for We Love This Book, feel free to have a look, on the Booker Longlist called ‘Big Guns and Bridesmaids’.

I won’t focus on the titles I am not fussed about on the list here, reviews are coming of some of them, but I will say a big hooray for Sebastian Barry and a bigger hooray (I know that’s a tiny bit of favouritism) for Carol Birch. If a Victorian adventure won the Man Booker this year I would be thrilled. However the list is made up of lots and lots of books I hadn’t heard of, and as time goes on its these I am getting more and more excited by. Patrick deWitt, Yvvette Edwards, Alison Pick and Esi Edugyan weren’t four names that were really bandied about in the lead up to and ‘guessing’ of the longlist. I hadn’t heard of the last three at all. Yet all of these novels look rather exciting and are interestingly the ones that I now want to get my hands on first, they feel like unchartered waters, annoyingly these are also the books that I don’t own. Typical. In fact I only have five of the titles, three of which I have read (wouldn’t it be off if these made the short list)…

What for me though is most exciting is not only the fact that almost a quarter of the titles are debut novels with Stephen Kelman, A.D. Miller, Yvvette Edwards and Patrick McGuinness all being long listed for their first novels – this is a continuation of a trend which was previously shown in the level of debuts in the Orange Prize lists earlier this year. The prize shows an almost landslide victory for independent publishers  with nine out of the thirteen titles not coming from the big gun publishing houses. This seems to be giving a very positive message to the state of fiction today and one that seems to fly in the face of the doubters who believe that the publishing industry is dying when so much new talent, along with independent publishers, that seem to be flourishing as far as the awards are concerned.

That to me is something to be celebrating with this list, along with the fact that some titles we might have missed have been brought to our attention. Is anyone going to try and read the whole lot? I’m not sure with my reading remit at the moment I could, which is annoying as it’s the year that I think I would most like to. Maybe I can sneak a few of them in?

P.S This is my last Man Booker Longlist discussion on Savidge Reads until I start popping up reviews of the titles, and speaking of reviews, get ready for a ‘review rush’ I have a backlog.

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Guessing The Man Booker Longlist 2011

It is the big day in publishing when the Man Booker Longlist is announced and I have to say I have been getting rather excited about it as it’s got nearer, which was not what I was expecting after the winner was announced. I seemed to have gotten into a state of mind that actually the Man Booker was a little out of touch. Why that is I can’t say now. Anyway, it’s great to play the guessing game before a longlist is announced and rather than just give you a list of the books I thought I would share with you a piece I did on the Man Booker Longlist 2011 for We Love This Book, let me know what you think of my choices and reasons…

“Predicting the Man Booker longlist is really an impossible mission—I mean, apart from the judges and a very select group, who really knows what on earth gets submitted and which novels make the grade? And yet we all love to do it. It’s like having a harmless little flutter without needing to spend any money placing a bet.

I am unusually excited about this year’s prize. I don’t know if it’s the panel (which includes ex-MI5 Stella Rimmington and the delightfully arch author Susan Hill) or if it’s because I have found the last year very exciting for fiction. Particularly in terms of d ébut authors and female writing—the Orange shortlist was stunning this year, and I am hoping for the same with the Booker and several other prizes as the year unfolds.

Already I have a feeling there is going to be a shock with the longlist. As with last year’s McEwan and Amis no shows, I think we could have the same with Adiga, Ghosh, Enright and Hollinghurst this year. All of these have fallen through my letterbox, all have been tried, and yet none really held me. I have only so far finished one of them, The Stranger’s Child, which, whilst being some of the most beautiful prose I have read all year, didn’t half sag in the middle. That, of course, is just my personal opinion. I can only base my guesses on the criteria that I would have should I be a judge on this year’s panel.

I would want books that are simply “great books”, beautifully written and addictively readable with characters who walk off the page, books that deal with subject matters, periods of time, events or places I know nothing about and books that touch me emotionally and “get me” in some way. With that in mind, these are the 13 eligible books (not all have been featured on my blog yet) that I would fight for…

On Canaan’s Side – Sebastian Barry
Jamrach’s Menagerie – Carol Birch
Everything Beautiful Began After – Simon Van Booy
 The Proof of Love – Catherine Hall
Gillespie and I – Jane Harris
King of the Badgers – Philip Hensher
Anatomy of a Disappearance – Hisham Matar
Ours are the Streets – Sunjeev Sahota
There but for the – Ali Smith
The Dubious Salvation of Jack V – Jaques Strauss
Go To Sleep – Helen Walsh
Bed – David Whitehouse
Annabel – Kathleen Winter

Those are, of course, in alphabetical order of authors’ surnames, so you can’t see which are my very favourites just yet. I haven’t managed to get my hands on a few of the “bigger” names I’d have liked to—in particular A L Kennedy and Michael Ondaatje (who might miss out with the previous winner curse that I think might be coming)—nor have I yet read some of the lesser-known books like The Sentamentalists, Bernard Beckett’s August or Gail Jones’ Five Bells—I am rather keen to spend a few hours with the latter three in particular. I also keep mulling over Then by Julie Myerson, which I am about to start. You see, this year is a really strong year—I could never possibly get it right.

In fact I would say I would be more than happy if I was completely wrong and the list was filled with what Susan Hill (on the Man Booker forum) has called “some splendid out of the way novels”. Whilst it would be quite something to have guessed the unguessable, I think in honesty I would rather see a list of 12 or 13 books I hadn’t heard of that really excite me. Even if it would add a whole heap of new reading material to my never-ending list.”

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Recommended Reading, My Books of 2011 So Far…

Can you believe we are halfway through 2011 already? I have more thoughts on all that coming later on today. Why is it that knowing you are halfway through a year makes you think about everything more? Like I said, more on that later today. In the meantime I thought I would give you a list of my books of the year so far. There have been more than ten in my ‘Books of 2011’ category, some have grown on me, some faded over time and some like the marvellous new Ali Smith novel ‘There But For The’ still need a little time to settle on me as do about six books I have read recently and have still only done small notes on pre-review. Getting back to the point without further ado, here are my favourite reads of 2011 so far…

  1. The Proof of Love by Catherine Hall
  2. Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
  3. Annabel by Kathleen Winter
  4. Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood
  5. Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
  6. Grace Williams Says It Loud by Emma Henderson
  7. The Mermaid’s Singing by Val McDermid
  8. A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
  9. Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
  10. Before I Go To Sleep by  SJ Watson

I wonder if these will still be some of my favourites by the end of the year. There are a few contenders that I haven’t put reviews up on the blog, in fact ‘Swamplandia!’ by Karen Russell which I read ages ago, but haven’t reviewed yet could be a contender. Of course my end of year favourites allow me to cheat a little more, I have ten released in the year and ten released before, this mid-way post is more of a merge.

It is of course now pretty much summer time, and so you could really say that really this is my list of summer reading recommendations, should you be in the need of any. What are your favourite books of the year so far? What would you recommend I get reading over the summer months?

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And The Winner of The Orange Prize 2011 is…

…Well we will know in just a few hours. I think this is the year that I have done the most Orange Reading ever. Sadly it has seemed I suffered a citrus book based burn out and the initial excitement of reading the whole longlist at one point became borderline frustration with having set myself such a task. The thing was though it brought forward some absolute gems, along with a few books I loathed (see this post for more longlist details), and its two of those gems, which I would have missed, that I would be equally overjoyed to see win the prize…

Yes, if Annabel’ by Kathleen Winter or ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ by Emma Henderson win (interestingly both debut novels) then I would be very pleased indeed. I have a strange feeling about the latter which niggled and niggled at me when I didn’t include it in my original guessing post, so hence why I put £1 on it at the bookies. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the other four won, and no not just because they are on the short list, because they are all good in varying ways. Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’ is the favourite, I wouldn’t be shocked if ‘Great House’ by Nicole Krauss went and did it though, or Aminatta Forna’s ‘Memory of Love’, or ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ by Téa Obreht. Oh is mentioning them all not allowed? I am aware that I still haven’t put all of my longlist and shortlist reviews up. I just got orange’d out (I’m all about Green Carnations at the moment prize-wise) but they will come, I will get round to it. They are all worthy winners… I do have those two favourites though.

Good luck to the six finalists, I will update this post when the announcement has been and gone. Does anyone know what time that might be? Who do you think will win and/or who do you want to win?

Update… The winner was ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ and you can see my thoughts, which are still all over the shop and in need of reigning in, on here soon.

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Grace Williams Says It Loud – Emma Henderson

Hindsight is a wonderful thing sometimes, and in the case of me and books it’s proving to be somewhat of a wonder above all wonders and a new way to write about the books I read. You see after I first read ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’, the debut novel by Emma Henderson which is now shortlisted for The Orange Prize this year, I thought that it was a very good book. The more time I have had away from it, letting it weave its magic after the turning of the final page, the more and more brilliant I have thought it is.

I think the most simplistic way of trying to describe ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ would be to call it both a melancholic tale and hopeful one of love and life in the face of obstacles. That might sound a bit pretentious but if I were to embody the book in one sentence that is how I would do so. Grace Williams is born disabled, or as she refers to herself ‘a spastic’, both physically and mentally in 1947. This was a time when the world, including those who love her, weren’t of the understanding and acceptance that we are today. After several years of seeing doctors and hoping for the best, when Grace’s mother becomes pregnant with her fourth child a decision is made (though it could be that both things just happened to coincide) that Grace should go and live in ‘The Briars’ mental institute. It is here that she meets the boy who is set to become the love of her life, Daniel, one day at playtime.

“I bit Daniel’s leg at playtime when he knelt and tried to steal the car I’d taken from the toy box. I was lying on my side, on the floor – a fish in the bottom of a bucket – curling and unfurling my limbs. I didn’t see Daniel coming. His bare skin felt, smelt and tasted rough and homely, like old bread. Daniel bit back, on my bad arm, but it didn’t hurt. It was more suck than bite. More kiss. More please.”

I have to say in the initial two parts I was feeling rather heartbroken, we are given an enormous clue that Emma Henderson is going to break our hearts in the end from the very first page as it is, but there is a rather melancholic tone as we learn Graces past – how her parents, siblings and even Grace herself come to terms with the situation that they are in. For example when the decision is made to send Grace to Briars, as I mentioned above, you are never quite sure if the doctors had suggested this before her mother was pregnant or if it was due to that, which adds a question mark in your mind going forward and makes you wonder about everyone’s motives. There is one scene involving Grace and her mother which comes from nowhere and had my jaw hitting the floor. Its this sinking in of the situation and its problems and possibilities that I found rather fascinating and the way Grace takes it all in so normally, even though some of it is hurtful and heartbreaking, like its just the way life is – making the reader feel empowered by her in a way whilst also feeling utterly horrified.

“Bedtime, playtime, poo-time. You-time, me-time, teatime. Bread before cake. You before me. Bread and butter sprinkled with pink, sugary hundreds and thousands. Boiled egg and Marmite fingers. Soldiers, said John. Chicken and egg. There were millions of eggs in Mother’s ovaries, he said. Why was Grace the rotten one?”

From here the story goes on, into the third and longest part of the book, and things become both much worse and much better. We have tales of the attitudes from the nurses to these children, not good ones; there are deaths, disappearances, cruelty and sexual abuse. Just when you are feeling utterly heartbroken thankfully Henderson adds hope in the form of Daniel, though his tale is triumphant initially we learn there is dark there too, and a rare few nurses and teachers at Briars. They are few and far between but they seem to give the book some rays of light and stop it from becoming a novel that just leaves you feeling miserable and nothing more, something I can find rather lazy and had Henderson only highlighted the awful I might not have responded in the emotive way I did oddly enough. There is dark and light in life and there is in this book, it doesn’t mean those two polar opposites have to be equal.

“’It’s ridiculous.’ Mr Maitland, in the lobby outside the classroom, with Miss Blackburn, was almost shouting. ‘Spastics – sitting exams. Your correspondence simply doesn’t convince.’
 ‘They may have spastic bodies, Mr Maitland,’ Miss Blackburn replied, ‘but some of them have the most plastic, malleable, marvellous minds I’ve ever come across – in more than twenty years of teaching.’”

I don’t want people thinking that this is a miserable book because its not. In fact Grace’s narrative saves the book from ever being too dark and too gloomy. Oh, I should mention here that one of the aspects of Grace’s varying disabilities means she can only ever communicate two words at once. I loved how Daniel reads between it all with her body language and facial gestures when others can’t. It seems her speech, or lack thereof outwardly, has weirdly been an issue for some readers. It’s almost like because she can’t speak Grace (see I am talking about her like she really exists, a sign of a great book) therefore can’t narrate? Of course she can and it’s the insular aspect of that which worked so well for me, along with her simple acceptance – not to say she doesn’t ever fight against it because she does – that worked incredibly for me and made it so vivid, visceral and emotive a read whilst also making it a strangely hopeful one.

I think ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ is an incredible and rather marvellous novel regardless of it being a debut novel. The passion of the authors experience with disabilities, through her sister Claire, adds a passion to the novel but this is not just a novel told from experience. It’s a novel that lives and breathes; it makes you utterly heartbroken and then laugh out loud. It’s a book that challenges people’s ideas, even if you have the most open of minds this novel will get you thinking outside the box. I can’t really recommend it anymore than that. I initially gave this book a 9/10 but it’s a book I have thought and thought and thought about more and more so I change my mind, this is definitely a 10/10

This book was kindly sent by the publisher.

With the Orange Prize looming in just a few days I have to say its ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ and ‘Annabel’ by Kathleen Winter that I am routing for I would be happy if either of these novels won it. I know I haven’t reported back on some of the long-listed reads, and two I won’t be as with this new hindsight outlook I just don’t haven’t anything exciting or interesting to say about them but the others will come in good time. I simply am not writing about everything in the order I read it anymore and its working because I can be 100% sure I want you to read books like ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ long after the initial flash of ‘just-read-joy’ has waned and the brilliance continues to shine through. I’ll shush now; I have gone on long enough.

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Filed under Books of 2011, Emma Henderson, Orange Prize, Review, Sceptre Publishing

The Orange Prize Shortlist 2011

So it has been announced and the six short listed titles by the Orange Prize 2011 judges are as follows…

My thoughts? Well I really like the list. Though its not the six I would have chosen, I had three of them in ‘My Orange Shortlist 2011’having read all the books on the long list this year from cover to cover. You will see I predicted ‘Room’ and ‘Great House’ might just make the final six. I am over the moon that ‘Annabel’ is in the mix because I loved that book so, so, so much. I am also really thrilled to see ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ by Emma Henderson on the list too, my thoughts on that one very soon, as it was a book that really took hold of me and has grown on me and stayed with me since. They are the two I would most like to see win at the moment, though I have loved all four of the others (for me ‘Swamplandia!’ just had the edge on a modern fairytale over ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ – reviews of both of these coming soon, though I think a little Orange rest is called for now) in their own ways.

Enough of my thoughts on The Orange Prize 2011 so far, what do you all think about it? What do you make of the short list?

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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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Annabel – Kathleen Winter

Sometimes the only way you can describe the effect that a book has on you is to say you were bowled over and that is exactly how I felt when I had turned the last page of ‘Annabel’ the debut novel by Kathleen Winter. I was hoping that it might be something quite special when I first saw it on this years Orange Prize Longlist. I then went off and looked at some reviews and it seemed that on the whole people had loved it. Initially I planned to save it until later on in my Orange reading but after changing my approach to the list I picked this one up next and to sum it up in a word I found it incredible, so much so I have lots and lots to say about it.

I have to admit from reading the prologue of ‘Annabel’ I wasn’t sure that this would be the book for me. It’s a short and rather final encounter between a young girl called Annabel and her blind father as they take a canoe ride to see white caribou in the Canadian wilderness. This proves to be their final outing together and is told in a rather dreamy and magical realist way. Interestingly it’s not reflective of the rest of the book, and yet in its way it has a pivotal place in the rest of the book.

As the book itself opens proper we join Jacinta Blake in the final painful moments of giving birth surrounded by the many of the women of the small town of Croydon Harbour in the Canadian region of Labrador in 1968. Once the child, named Wayne, is born it is local women Thomasina Baikie that notices something different about the child. Wayne has been born with both sexes genitalia, he is there for a hermaphrodite, or ‘intersex’ as I believe the term is now preferred.

“Thomasina hooked a plug of slime out of the baby’s mouth with her pinky, slicked her big hand over face, belly, buttocks like butter over one of her hot loaves, and slipped the baby back to its mother. It was as the baby latched on to Jacinta’s breast that Thomasina caught sight of something slight, flower-like; one testicle had not descended, but there was something else. She waited the eternal instant that women wait when a horror jumps out at them. It is an instant that men do not use for waiting, an instant that opens a door to life and death.”

From the moment Thomasina tells Jacinta, who up until that point has been her best friend something which then is occasionally tested, a secret is born but one that the baby’s father Treadway isn’t as oblivious to as the women might think. Treadway is a silent man who disappears into the woodland and wilderness for half the year to earn his families keep, a man who talks to nature and through nature learns more than people would give him credit for – this brings occasional moments of magical realism throughout the book as it goes forward. He knows his child is of two worlds, a woman’s and a man’s, he also believes that a decision must me made  one way or the other. However life is never that black and white nor is it that easy.

From here we follow how this all changes the lives of the three main people at Wayne’s birth. Treadway and how he forces his fatherly role on Wayne, and Wayne taking part always wanting his fathers approval which he feels he never quite gets, thinking its for the best (there is one sequence of events involving a childrens den which almost made me cry in frustration). Thomasina as she struggles to go along with Wayne’s parents decision and then how she deals with grief after her family die tragically. Jacinta as she copes with the fact that once the decision is made she gains a son but also looses a daughter, something that is wonderfully brought to life when she goes to one of her friends Eliza’s houses (we also see here what a wonderful job Kathleen Winter does of fleshing out some of the smaller characters in a paragraph) for a sociable lunch.

“No matter how outrageous Eliza’s reasoning, Jacinta had tried to understand it. Even now Jacinta did not argue about the Valium, though she felt Eliza’s new outlook was chemically induced illusion. This is my problem, Jacinta thought. I am dishonest. I never tell the truth about anything important. And as a result, there is an ocean inside me of unexpressed truth. My face is a mask, and I have murdered my own daughter.”

You might all be wondering about Wayne Blake, do we not follow him too? Yes of course we do from his first few years and into his childhood. During this time though we see how he, unaware of the female half of him, is rather different from all the other children of both sexes but through the eyes of his parents and Thomasina. Its not until he gets older and how naturally his other self, who he addresses as Annabel as Thomasina does after the death of her daughter (see the beginning does bear a huge relevance), starts to show herself in the smallest of ways. It is as he learns the truth, in a rather shocking sequence of events, that we see things through his eyes and his narrative, through the third person, in the second half of the book.

“Where did she go? She was in his body but she escaped him. Maybe she gets out through my eyes, he thought, when I open them. Or my ears. He lay in bed and waited. Annabel was close enough to touch; she was himself, yet unattainable.”

I don’t think I have read a book that uses the third person in such a way that you see every person’s viewpoint so vividly. Every character, no matter how small a part they play, springs to life walking straight off the page and I honestly felt I was living in Croydon Harbour (atmosphere and descriptions are pitch perfect), whilst also being shocked that such a palce still exists in modern times, and went along with Wayne’s journey every step of the way. It is incredible to think that ‘Annabel’ is Kathleen Winter’s debut novel; I was utterly blown away by it and will be urging everyone I know to rush out and read this book. It is just superb and possibly my favourite read of the year so far. 10/10

This book was kindly sent by the publisher.

I don’t think I can say anymore than that really. I just loved it. I am wondering if, as well as hoping it makes the Orange shortlist, it will be eligible for this years Booker Prize? Regardless of that, I am hoping that lots of other people will read it, if they haven’t already, as I am busting to discuss it to death. Has anyone else given this a whirl?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Kathleen Winter, Orange Prize, Random House Publishing, Review

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 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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