Tag Archives: Lucy Cruickshanks

The Trader of Saigon – Lucy Cruickshanks

I was going to start something new this week and do a mid-week selection of mini reviews, as I have realised that I have a mountain of books I have read this year and might not end up reviewing until 2014. The first of which was going to be some of the Not The Booker Prize shortlisted books. There need be no secret on my thoughts on these as it went live over the interweb last week. However, as on said day, I had dragged myself out of my sick bed to do that and so didn’t think I was as eloquent as I would have liked. So I thought I should give them each, maybe bar one, a review here and try and sound a little more compos mentis. Plus the Not The Booker helped me discover some great ‘new to me’ authors and I would like to pass some of them onto you. Starting with Lucy Cruickshanks…

Heron Books, 2013, hardback, fiction, 336 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘The Trader of Saigon’ is a tale of three people all in Vietnam in the 1980’s shadow of post war. Phuc is a business man who has fallen on hard times and with a family to feed resorts to desperate measures in his hope to save them. Hanh is a young woman who is working in order to keep herself and her ill mother barely away from starvation by working at the street toilets where her manager sits opposite constantly drinking yet claiming he can never pay her wage. Alexander is a US army deserter who now deals in women, that’s right, he deals in snatching and selling women. Cruickshanks weaves their story together though, obviously, if you want to know how you need to read the book.

There was much that impressed me with this debut novel. Firstly I liked the fact that whilst the book was set in Vietnam you knew where you were without having the author having to spoon feed you. It wasn’t smacking you over the head all the time (because this isn’t a history text book, it’s a novel), it simmered in the background. It was the same with the war, it didn’t get mentioned all the time yet was the cause for why everyone was in the situation they were in after all – again the scenes with Alexander at war I found very atmospheric and vivid. It didn’t need a lot of show and tell I didn’t think, and actually made me want to go away and find out more about the war as I realised I have very little knowledge of it shamefully.

At the start of the book I was a little concerned that I wasn’t going to get into the heads of any of the characters. Just as I felt I was getting to know either Alexander, Hanh or Phuc we would suddenly be thrown into the others narration. I also couldn’t quite work out what the book was trying to do, was it wanting to be a thriller or was it trying to be a literary novel? As I read on I realised it was aiming for both and that I myself was desperately trying to second guess what the novel was rather than just get lost in it. My fault more than the book itself!

Yet the more I read the more the characters became defined and Alexander started to really intrigue me. Note; if any of you who have read it, please explain the baby in the formaldehyde he carried around, I was a bit puzzled whilst also being oddly fascinated. He is really a bit of a bastard and I worried he would thaw and fall in love with Hanh (not really a spoiler, it is laid on a bit thick this might happen from the off) and for a period of time it looked that way but then Cruickshanks pleasantly surprised me by not doing that at all. I would have liked more psycho-Alexander though and his back story, but maybe that says more about me and my taste for the darkest aspects of fiction.

However she did make Alexander switch quite a lot for the purpose of the plot rather than letting the character lead the narrative, I thought, and Alexander was the most fascinating character for me out of the lot, especially at his most repugnant. I must admit I was secretly hoping he was going to become a fully blown psychopath after hints of his youth in America and behaviour during the war in Vietman, it wasn’t do be but I did find him rather fascinating. I did also have this huge worry, especially after the Phuc gambling incident you describe, that the book was going to become a huge cliché. It never does but I would say that towards the end almost too much happens and as it went on I found I was a bit confused with all the sudden high drama, but hey it was the denouement, it was going to be dramatic wasn’t it?

Overall though I found ‘The Trader of Saigon’ to be an interesting and enlightening read and one which ultimately combines a sense of literary with thriller to great effect. It is one of those books that gives you a peek into another place, time and culture and leaves you wanting to rush off and find out more about it. I know that Lucy is currently working on her second book at the moment and I will be one of the first in the queue to see what she does next as this book shows so much promise for the future of an author to keep your eyes on.

I should add here that I have been slightly lazy (though not ridiculously so as I have extended and expanded on quite a lot) and tweaked, not twerked, my thoughts from the Guardian website. Just so you know. Have any of you read ‘The Trader of Saigon’? What are your thoughts on the new genre of ‘literary thriller’ if such a thing exists? And if it does are there any you would recommend?

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Filed under Heron Books, Lucy Cruickshanks, Not The Booker Prize, Review

Not The Booker, Not Quite Live…

One of the highlights of my bookish year so far (and there have been a few) has been being asked to be on the Guardian’s Not The Booker inaugural judging panel. There were two things I hadn’t quite taken into consideration though. Firstly, I didn’t think I would get to meet any of the authors who I was judging the works of, especially one of them who I had lived up to my name a little with, yet this weekend at the Not The Booker event in London I did. Initial awkwardness was encountered, eventually I think it ended up being okay though as all the authors were lovely. The other thing I didn’t expect was that I would have to judge ‘live’ – on air on the Guardian website and YouTube – yet this morning it was. And I thought I might share the experience with you (settle down with a cuppa)…

Hopefully I didn’t come across like too much of a wally. I am in bed with a bad case of man flu since coming back from London so I had to make myself presentable (I have pyjamas on from the waist down, ha) and I was worried my ‘literary musings’ tended to be along the lines of ‘I just liked it’. Oh and yes those are my bookshelves!

We came up with a winner in the form of the marvellous ‘Life After Life’ by Kate Atkinson, but it wasn’t easy – least of all because I was constantly thinking ‘people might watch this so watch your potty mouth Savidge’ – as the competition was super strong, especially from ‘Magda’ by Meike Ziervogel which is amazing and I will be telling you all about very soon. In fact I will be telling you about all the books in some form or another as I really want to discuss the debut novels of Zoe Venditozzi and Lucy Cruickshanks who I think might be two huge authors in the future. Not sure if Gaiman will catch on. Plus the debate of genre and chick-lit that Tullet’s novel brought up. So watch this space for more, and should any book prizes be looking for judges, well…

Let me know what you think of the video if you have a chance to watch it, would you like all prizes to be this ‘open’ to readers? Have you read any of the books shortlisted for the Not The Booker? Have you read this winner or any of the previous NTB winners?

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Filed under Not The Booker Prize, Random Savidgeness

Three Things…

I have decided to do a very speedy post with a few updates today as I am in the middle of some serious first reads shortly to be followed by a bout of re-reads. So here goes…

First thing. Some very, very exciting news this week as I have been announced as one of the judges on the inaugural panel for the Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize. I am beyond thrilled about this (I have also been very good as have known about this a little while and not told a soul) and am really looking forward to re-reading the shortlisted books below which are…

notthebooker

  • Life After Life – Kate Atkinson (Transworld)
  • The Trader of Saigon – Lucy Cruickshanks (Heron)
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman (Headline)
  • Little White Lies and Butterflies – Suzie Tullett (Safkhet Soul)
  • Anywhere’s Better Than Here – Zoe Venditozzi  (Sandstone)
  • Magda – Meike Ziervogel (Salt)

I will report back on these in more detail once we have a winner of the prestigious Guardian mug, unless I steal it for myself, for the first time ever, I think for a book prize, the judging will all be live on the Guardian website (so best make sure I am at my snazziest) there is also an event as part of the Wood Green Literary Festival this weekend on Saturday which I might just be showing my face at and you can find out more about here.

Second thing. I am in my old haunt of London for an extended weekend (working and playing) from Thursday morning until late Sunday. This means I need to pack some books though I am not planning on taking too many as I never read as much as I think, especially with a bonkers schedule whoring myself seeing some publishers, catching up with friends and pottering around bookshops. That said I would love to know if any of you are about, any of you have recommendations of bookshops I should head to (I am going to go to the London Review Bookshop for the first time ever which is truly shocking considering I lived in London for 12 years) and if there are any exhibitions that I should be heading too.

Third and final thing. Sadly after giving it a lot of thought Gavin and I have decided to call time on The Readers Book Club. We were finding having an author on a show was lovely but if they suddenly couldn’t come on (or the publisher forgot to liaise) it meant the show wasn’t quite working and if they wouldn’t come on it was limiting our choices. So we have decided to start something new, with the help of the lovely Kate and Rob of Adventures With Words, to host an all new monthly book club show called…

Hear Read This

The premise is simply four hosts, two books, one hour per month. The first two titles we are discussing are ‘HHhH’ by Laurent Binet and ‘Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore’ by Robin Sloan, which I am bingeing on now. We are very excited as, as Gavin so eloquently put it, we can have dead authors on now! Plus authors who might not have come on or speak English as a first second or third language. I also think it might mean you all see a much darker side to my thoughts as without the author coming on there is no need to hold back. We have loved the Readers Book Club but sometimes you need a change. Tune in on Friday when the podcast goes live here.

So that is my latest, what is going on with all of you? Have you read any of the Not The Booker short list and if so what did you think? Have you read either of the ‘Hear… Read This!’ selections for October? Any recommendations for what to do or what to see when I head to London in two days?

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Filed under Random Savidgeness