Tag Archives: Man Booker 2009

Mantel for Man Booker 2009?

So today is the big day and we finally find out who is the winner of the Man Booker 2009. Its been quite a special year for me as its the first time I have read the entire longlist before the shortlist was announced. Last year I seemed to pick a longlist out of thin air and was pretty rubbish this year I was halfway there so maybe next year will be even better? I ahve to say I am split on whether I will do it next year.

I have loved reading some new authors that I may not have heard of otherwise (Adam Foulds, James Lever, James Scudamore, Ed O’Loughlin) some authors I have been to scared to read until now for fear they would be too highbrow for me (J.M. Coetzee, A.S. Byatt, William Trevor) a favourite author (Sarah Waters) a fabulous debut again (Samantha Harvey) and some authors I now want to read the entire works of (Sarah Hall, Simon Mawer, Colm Toibin, Hilary Mantel) so it has been brilliant in many ways.

There were a couple of con’s and that was the fact that it meant my reading became scheduled and slightly more pressured, and reading should be fun and occasionally it was a bit like wading in thick mud and I also worried that by reading that list I might be allienating readers in a way, plus with so many bloggers doing it were we saturating the book blogosphere? I would love your thoughts on it seriously, do you want to know all about the long list?

Back to the task in hand though and to who I think will win. Well there were many joys in the Man Booker dozen this year and though my personal favourite ‘Brooklyn’ by Colm Toibin didn’t make it onto the shortlist it was one of my reading highlights so far this year. Another reading highlight for me and the book that I would love to see win has to be ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel. I don’t think I have ever loved a tudor based book this much, and believe me I have read quite a lot both in my blogging and pre-blogging days, its a favourite era for me in fiction and history. Who thought i would ever enjoy a book about Thomas Cromwell, I certainly didn’t and yet I was totally there along side him to the peak of his career. I will also be there on his downfall if the rumours are true and their is a second book in the wings (I do so hope so).

There is one author that I wouldn’t mind Mantel loosing out to and that would be Simon Mawer as I though ‘The Glass Room’ was a very, very good book. I do have a feeling it may go Byatt or Waters way though, oh dear now it sounds like I am just covering my back. I want Mantel to win and thats that.

What about you who do you want to win and is it the same person as you think will actually win? Do you care? If you havent read the longlist and shortlist will you read the winner? Do you think that bloggers all blogging about the man Booker cuts people off or do you like it? Oh so many questions… 

***Please note Simon has just noticed neither his Sarah Hall or Simon Mawer thoughts are up… this will be rectified very soon!!

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Filed under Hilary Mantel, Man Booker

Me Cheeta – James Lever

When I heard that there was a book on the Man Booker Longlist that was the memoir of a celebrity ape I have to say I had a slightly snobbish attitude of ‘how on earth can something like that be on the Man Booker Longlist?’ I mean it didn’t fit in with my image of the Man Booker Award which instantly makes me think of stunning prose over thought provoking plot and this didn’t sound quite like that sort of book. How could you take a book that was a fake memoir by a chimpanzee seriously? I should have followed my own motto and not judged a book by its cover/blurb and let the actual reading of the book do the talking as it were.

James Lever’s debut novel ‘Me Cheeta’ is, yes that’s right, the fictional memoir of a famous ape. Yes ‘Cheeta’ is indeed the legendary sidekick of Tarzan and the cult classic 1950’s movies that took the world by storm and spawned many a sequel. Now I have to admit it takes a few pages of getting used to but once I was involved in the story I had to keep reminding me that it was fiction and that a chimp couldn’t actually tell you a story like this even if it was true and even if they wanted to.

Now retired and living happily as an artist in Palm Springs Cheeta takes a look back over the crazy and fabulous life that he has lived and of course the golden era of Hollywood in the 1950’s. If you like the era (and stars like Cary Grant, Mickey Rooney, Marlene Dietrich, Audrey Hepburn) then you will love this book as it brings the Hollywood hey day very much to life. It is also filled with gossip and the cult of celebrity which of course right now is a huge market, come on whom of us can actually say that they have never read a famous person’s autobiography? This is the gossip from the times when production companies made stars what they were, decided their climb and devised their demise. It is also from the time when stars were stars for talent (on the whole) and for a long time.

The star of this book though of course is Cheeta and his story, which also includes quite a saddening childhood and period of capture, even if he does very honestly admit that he may have added violins and slight exaggerations in order to sell more copies of the book. This honesty both works in terms of being incredibly funny making me laugh out loud on the tube and also in places incredibly, and slightly unexpectedly, moving.

I really, really enjoyed this book and having read it am thrilled that it was on the Man Booker Longlist and quite sad that it didn’t make it onto the short list. I think this is an incredibly modern novel that would get many more people interested in reading the shortlist and reaching a market that it may sometimes miss. Someone said on an earlier blog they ‘never thought someone would seriously consider’ this book as going to the short list compared to the other books and my question is “why not”? It’s a compelling read with a great unreliable narrator and made it very difficult for me to put down, I laughed, I was moved and all this combined to a great read for me and some of the other shortlisted books haven’t had that effect on me.

What are your thoughts? Do you think a book like this should be on the Longlist? Last year Child 44 caused some controversy and I think that’s just the Man Booker moving with the times and being inclusive of all writers and more diverse, do you agree/disagree? Have you read this book?

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Filed under Fourth Estate Books, James Lever, Man Booker, Review

Off The Man Booker Mark…

Well it seems that my Man Booker shortlist  guess earlier today was somewhat off the mark! mind you 3 out of 6 isn’t dreadful, it’s 50% which is much better than last year when I actually only guessed the Longlist and got that pretty wrong really so there is definately some improvement. This years short list is…

Anyone got any thoughts? I am mulling mine over.

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Savidge Reads Man Booker Shortlist

Ok, now indulge me for a minute or three and let me imagine that I am one of the judges on the Man Booker Panel (which I won’t lie is one of my life’s missions) and I was in the position to choose what made it onto the shortlist, which of course is the big literary news of the day, just what would I choose? Well having actually read them all now (more reviews coming in between Sensational September when it starts tomorrow) I feel that I can finally give my verdict.

I won’t score them or anything like that, as its not something I do with my book thought posts, and I am not going to even try and guess what the judges are going to name as their shortlist. Instead I am simply going to leave you with the pictures of the covers of the six that are my personal favourites be it for the prose, the plot or just the way I reacted to the writing/characters/situations. Those six are…

  

  

Now I wonder how close I will come to the actual six, probably not very close at all but hey ho, time will tell. It was hard with Summertime and Love & Summer as I could have placed The Glass Room or How To Paint A Dead Man (reviews of both coming soon) in the top six, the later of the three particularily but I had to be tough and looking at prose and thought provoking reads the six above ticked all the boxes. There is nothing wrong with the seven I havent picked and I know some people may be shocked about’The Wilderness’ being missing, while I did like it, having now read it twice I still didnt really quite connect with it though and I have mulled that book over lots and lots now. I would be perfectly happy to see it in the short list though. Which ones wouldnt I want to see? I couldn’t possibly comment… on here, but maybe in an email ha!

Who do I think will win… it flips between four hourly and for all I know they may not even be short listed so I will comment on that nearer October and the winner being announced. Have you read any of the longlist? Who would you like to see short listed or even win?

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The Quickening Maze – Adam Foulds

There have been some books that I have been really daunted by on the Man Booker Longlist and some that I have been really looking forward to. The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds was one of the latter. It ticked quite a few boxes for me straight away, it was based on true events, it was set in a mental institution and on a superficial level it has a wonderful cover. It sounded like it was going to be a creepy account of a man’s journey into madness.

Adam Foulds novel ‘The Quickening Maze’ is a novel based on factual events that happened in Epping Forest in the 1840’s. The book is set in High Beach Private Asylum where the poet John Clare is incarcerated. Well not incarcerated as he is allowed to wander the woods where he writes his poetry and dreams of his wives, yes wives. You see John Clare thinks that he is married to more than one woman though the depths of the why behind it is never really properly explained. It’s not just John Clare that we meet in the novel though of course.

Through the novel we get to meet all of the other people either working at the asylum such as Dr Matthew Allen who owns the asylum and his family or those who are staying there, some of whom which we get to know rather too well in some circumstances like the man who is scared that his daily ablutions add evil into the world and so will not purge himself. I did find the patients and their varying different issues and how they were treated really fascinating and wanted to read a lot more about them.

One of the latest arrivals to the asylum is the poet Alfred Tennyson who is there to support his brother who becomes a patient. Dr Allen’s daughter Hannah takes it upon herself to try and become the apple of his eye and so we are thrown in a strange kind of love story of sorts. I had no idea that these two world famous poets paths had crossed and so it was all again very interesting. Sadly though despite the premise being so me and the ideas and characters of the novel being so interesting it sadly just didn’t really quite work for me.

The prose is beautiful, you can tell the author is a poet himself, and the journey of John Clare into the depths of madness is written incredibly well so in parts you feel you are going through it with him. The disjointed relationship between Hannah and Alfred and also her sisters and family just didn’t quite mesh with me. This could be due to the fact that I read it on a plane which is not the best reading spot for me; I don’t think that is quite the case though. I found that in what is actually a very short 258 page novel there seemed to be a few too many characters and ideas, if the story had just concentrated on the poets and the asylum it might have done slightly more for me.

I feel bad not praising it as it’s very good, it just wasn’t the ‘me’ book that I had the high hopes it would be. Has that ever happened to any of you? A book you are looking forward to because it has all those magic ingredients that are just up your reading street and then it leads you into a dodgy dead end? What novels have you read based on factual events have really worked for you, which ones haven’t?

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Filed under Adam Foulds, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Man Booker, Random House Publishing, Review

The Children’s Book – A.S. Byatt

I mentioned yesterday that Book Groups are great because they make you read an interesting and diverse mix of books that you might not normally read. The same has applied for me with the Man Booker Longlist. There are authors and books on in the Man Booker dozen that I would never have read if it hadn’t been for giving the list a go, there was one author though I was slightly daunted by and that was A.S. Byatt. I had tried to read Possession the year before last and not gotten too far with it, though this maybe because I had masses I wanted to read around the time (it’s pre-blogging but I did keep lists of what I read and tried to read in a notebook) it just seemed a little dense and clever for me. Would her latest novel be the same, would I be able to finish it as I swore I would read every page of every long listed book, would this be my downfall?

The Children’s Book is not what it first appears on many levels. For a start its not a children’s book though I do wonder what children would be let in for if A.S. Byatt decided to write them some. Anyway I digress. The book opens in the wonderful setting of the V&A Museum in London as two boys, Julian Cain and Tom Wellwood, watch another who himself is in awe of one of the pieces the museum holds. However the boy they are watching, who we learn to be Phillip, and whom Julian thinks “there’s something shifty about him” suddenly vanishes miraculously. Julian’s father being the ‘Special Keeper Of Precious Metals’ he is at home with the museum and so they tail the boy until finding him living hidden deep down in the depths of the museum. From this I thought we were going to get some kind of adventure novel however we don’t.

From this moment the boys take Phillip to Julian’s father and Tom’s mother who is the children’s author Olive Wellwood. Olive decides she will take the boy in and help him to become his dream of a potter. It is this twist that then leads us to what the book is truly about and that is the art and crafts movement in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s in fact the book spans the era of 1895 to the end of the Great War. During this huge piece of time we follow all the above mentioned characters and all they come across as their stories and journeys develop.

Now as you can see describing the opening chapter is quite an effort so to describe the whole book would possibly end up with me writing something half the length of the book itself which lies at a rather large 617 pages but you will whizz through them. There are some parts that are a little dull and are harder to get through. I found some of the politics and some of the industrial movement explanations and reactions to a little hard to endure. Also though A.S. Byatt is clearly a true mistress of words and creates the most vivid characters there are so many you can end up (without the use of a notebook) getting slightly confused by everyone you meet, who is related to or who knows who? I did occasionally also find that though I loved the descriptions that A.S Byatt gives us it could be a little much, even though oddly in parts the book can be a little rushed. For example describing one or two costumes at a midsummer ball is delightful, describing almost every one of the 100+ guests outfits for a few pages was a bit much.

You do get lost in the rich wording and prose, and though not the biggest fan of arts and crafts I found myself completely drawn into the world and into all the descriptions of the pottery and other crafts and how they were made and I wouldn’t have expected that. If I was asked to sum this book up in one word it would be ‘immense’ the cast of intriguing and delightful characters is vast, the time period the book covers it’s a very interesting one and one of great change, and the writing is simply beautiful. I can fully understand why it’s in the long list for the Man Booker and wouldn’t be surprised if it is in the shortlist.

It does seem I am slightly daunted by both the size of books (as with Wolf Hall and once again I was proven wrong) and authors who have a reputation that precedes them, if you know what I mean? Have you ever been put off by a book that was too big or was an author you had heard lots about that daunted you? Did you then read the book and get a surprise? Do you have any of these kinds of books on your TBR? What other A.S. Byatt books would you recommend?

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Filed under A. S. Byatt, Chatto & Windus, Man Booker, Random House Publishing, Review

Not Untrue & Not Unkind – Ed O’Loughlin

Now this is going to be an interesting post for me to write as I am still not quite sure how I feel about this Man Booker Long List novel, and when I haven’t quite decided how I am feeling about a book I don’t like to put down my thoughts ‘out there’. However I am reading the Man Booker Long List and also I think that this book is one of those books I am not sure I will ever be quite sure how I feel about, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

‘Not Untrue and Not Unkind’ is Ed O’Loughlin’s debut novel and to be long listed is a huge feat and I think from some of the writing and the subject matter of the book that Ed O’Loughlin is definitely a talent to watch out for. The story is based around a group of journalists and photographers who are covering the wars in Africa. The thing is again this is one of those books that suffer slightly from the start because of the blurb.

We as the readers are told “In Dublin, a newspaper editor called Cartwright is found dead. One of his colleagues, Owen Simmons, discovers a dossier on Cartwright’s desk. And in the dossier Owen finds a photograph, which brings him back to a dusty road in Africa and to the woman he once loved! “Not Untrue and Not Unkind” is Owen’s story – a gripping story of friendship, rivalry and betrayal amongst a group of journalists and photographers covering Africa’s wars.” Yes, this is undoubtedly Owen’s story and more of him later but the whole ‘Cartwright is found dead’ I was expecting a much more suspenseful tale and you have to get well past page 80 for any of that to kick off. This is a small thing though; it is just something that really bugs me with blurbs. I know a book needs to be sold, but don’t miss-sell it.

So Owen is our narrator and he is a very interesting one. War has made him immune to the death toll as it rises in more shocking and horrific ways. He in some ways sees his time in Africa both as furthering his career and some sort of extension of his student days, the drink and the girls though he does fall in love. However I did find that his disillusion with people and those who came into his life meant that I never connected with characters and in fact so many were introduced in the style of “and that was how Polly ended up on the scene” so quickly I was quite confused and had too many people to remember in too little time. Not quite the best start but I persevered.

Owen’s disillusionment sadly for me continues with all of the war scenes he goes to. I say war scenes because you never really get the background on what the war. You end up going to a looted palace or going to a site of dismembered bodies without actually ever knowing why this has all happened, it’s sort of assumed that you would know and I didn’t. Maybe that’s my fault though maybe I should have put the effort into researching the background more? Anyway it also ran into the shocking scenes you are shown for example when one of Owen’s colleague says the shocking line “has anyone seen the other half of this baby, I don’t want to count its body twice” because of the fact your narrator has seen it all before it passes onto you as the reader and so you aren’t as shocked as frankly you should be.

I loved the premise of the book and its settings. I thought some of the writing was great. I was intrigued by the characters as far as I could be, though I think the cast is way too many for a book of less than 300 pages. I also liked the idea of seeing these times through the eyes of a journalist and seeing the world they get to see, sadly because my main narrator was immune to it all, I in some way became immune to all of it too and the book didn’t have the effect that I think it could have. Mind you having said all that it is an accomplished debut maybe it’s just not quite for me.

I told you I hadn’t made my mind up yet. I also think it seemed too stereotyped and dark a view of Africa which is a theme that Dovegreyreader commented on when she reviewed the book. Yes it has a dark past but there are books that somehow look at these times, and worse yet they see hope in those times. I think that one of the best books set in Africa is ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche and definitely want to read her other works. What other fantastic books set in Africa are out there that you have encountered? Have you read this one and what did you think?

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Filed under Ed O'Loughlin, Man Booker, Penguin Books, Review

Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel

I will be the first to admit that this wasn’t one of the Man Booker Long List that I was looking forward to the most. I think the size and subject, despite lots and lots of rave reviews online and in the press, were what were making me feel that this book was going to be too much for me. It wasn’t the fact it was historical fiction, in fact The Tudors, The Victorian era and the 1930’s are eras books can cover that I can read about until the cows come home. It was more who the book was about, was I really interested in a book all about Thomas Cromwell? You know the saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’ this might be my first case of ‘never judge a book by its subject’.

Reading the blurb I was lead to believe that ‘Wolf Hall’ would be the ‘fictional account of the first half of Thomas Cromwell’s life’ which considering I didn’t really know and wasn’t sure that I was all too bothered about. However ‘Wolf Hall’ isn’t just about Thomas Cromwell, though he is the main character and the book covers his youth and leads up to the height of his power to merely call it a ‘fictionalisation of Thomas Cromwell’s life’ doesn’t actually do the book justice whatsoever.

What Hilary Mantel manages to actually conjure up is 35 years of Tudor Britain and focusing especially the pivotal time in England’s history when Henry VIII decided Katherine was not the Queen for him and Anne Boleyn certainly was, thus changing the religious situation of England forever and creating one of its most tempestuous political climates. This isn’t told through the eyes of the King or off any of the Boleyn’s, this is all through the eyes of the man who would struggle and fight to become Henry’s right hand man from his beginnings as the son of an alcoholic abusive butcher.

Though what happens to him between 1500 and 1529 remains quite a mystery Mantel has clearly done a huge amount of research (you couldn’t make the Tudor world seem so very real without putting in huge amounts of time, effort and research) and does give us occasional glimpses when Cromwell reflects which he does now and again. What does come to light is he becomes Cardinal Wolsey’s right hand man and Cardinal Wolsey was of course Henry’s right hand man. Not only do we get to see the lavish lifestyles of the rich such as the king, the lavish like Wolsey and the comfortable like Cromwell. We also get to see, through Cromwell’s work with law, his time amongst the public and poor and time through plagues, how the poor lived and I honestly felt I was walking the streets with him.

Mantel never overdoes it though, her prose is descriptive but tight, she doesn’t wander off into endless flowery paragraphs of descriptions of one castle front, or one of Anne Boleyn’s dresses. The details are there they just happen to be precise and to the point yet vivid and scene setting. So if she is so precise how can this book be over 650 pages? Not because it is filled with endless political or religious terminology if that’s what you are worried about. Mantel spends time building all her characters and their back stories as Cromwell becomes aware of them or takes them into his household. Some of the cast of characters include as Wolsey, Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn as mentioned but also Mary Boleyn, Mary Tudor and Jane Seymour all fascinating historical characters.

I completely fell into the world of this book. I actually couldn’t put it down (which at its size in hardback is quite an effort on the arms) and rushed to read it at any given opportunity. Mantel may or may not win the Man Booker with this but what I think she has done is create an epic novel that will one day be considered a modern classic. I have found it to be one of the most compelling, interesting and complete joy to read novels of the year, and I don’t say that often or lightly. I think the fact it’s the longest of the Man Booker long list and I have read it in the shortest space of time of all of them should speak volumes.

I also think it’s a book that’s accessible to anyone. I don’t think everyone will like it, in fact I didn’t think I would at the start I just immersed myself and was ‘there’, well I felt I was. It seems inevitable that people will compare this to some of Philippa Gregory’s work, ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ springs to mind instantly. While I did enjoy that book (sadly the one about one of my favourite women in history Bess of Hardwick ‘The Other Queen’ left me slightly cold) I do think Mantel takes the era an extra step though how is hard to put my finger on. No we will never know if these conversations ever happened but it does seem to be based much more on fact and less on what might possibly have happened. Having said that if you like Gregory (and I do – I just think this takes historical fiction further) then you will love this, if you love literary fiction I can imagine you loving this.

Can you tell I loved it yet? I will stop now, I could go on and on about this book for hours. I have given it straight to ‘The Converted One’ who is a Tudor-holic. I will just add that I do think going to Hampton Court Palace last week was the push I needed to read this and it came just at the right time.

Has anyone else been daunted by this book before reading it like I was? What are your thoughts on it being the favourite for the Man Booker at the moment? What do you think of historical fiction, can it be literary or is it just escapist romps in corsets? What’s the best historical novel you have read?

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Filed under Books of 2009, Fourth Estate Books, Hilary Mantel, Man Booker, Review

Summertime – J.M. Coetzee

I don’t know what’s happened with my blogs of late they seem to be getting later and later. I was quite a way ahead a few weeks ago but with all this Man Booker Long List reading I am doing far more reading than blogging. That’s not a complaint by the way it’s just something I have noticed. Anyway in the frankly glorious sunshine we had in London I managed to finish reading ‘Summertime’ though the content of the book didn’t quite match the title as ‘summery’ is not how I would describe my first foray into the writings of Coetzee. 

‘Summertime’ is a very clever novel and all at once a very confusing one. It is fiction and yet is the memoirs of J.M. Coetzee. Hang on let me explain… this is a fictional novel written by a researcher who is writing a biography of John M. Coetzee after his death. He meets with five people who were important in Coetzee’s life in the 1970’s when Coetzee was living in South Africa with his Dad himself a grown adult and as many say ‘fathers were not meant to live their lives with sons’.

The start and end of the book are two sections of the Coetzee’s notebooks (are these real or fiction – we never know) that look at his life at that time and in many ways the relationship he had with his father and see’s Coetzee not only reflective but also questioning himself. These are the notebooks we learn that inspire the researcher after reading them and has used to form the book on Coetzee he is writing. Are you keeping up with this? It’s easier to read than it sounds I will admit.

The people the nameless researcher interviews are an interesting collection. Julia a married woman with a child who John had an affair with, even though by the sounds of it it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable relationship between them somehow it went on and bizarrely started sparks in Julia’s dead marriage for a time. I slightly wish this has been the final part of the book as I found this the most insightful and interesting into both Coetzee how he was deemed to see women and also how he lived with his father as Julia stays there for a time. The next interviewee also stayed with them for a while, Margot his cousin discusses their childhood love for each other and his sudden return from “jail in America” and what a changed man he was. Adriana, a Brazilian dancer, believed he was infatuated with her and even more inappropriately her daughter whom he taught. Martin was a friend he made when they both failed an interview, and didn’t quite seem to have a point at only ten pages long. Finally there is Sophie a colleague and lover he had.

In fact this book to me seemed less about father and son and more about Coetzee and his relationship with women. In fact with the mentioning on several occasions of the possibility that Coetzee was a homosexual by all interviewee’s and the researcher I was expecting Martin to have been a lover also, maybe a dalliance.

It is written incredibly well and despite being a complex idea, I don’t know if the other two novels in his fictional memoirs are the same format, he makes the whole thing work and actually read in parts like fiction, in others like research and interviews and then also like a work of non fiction. I couldn’t work out, which riled me somewhat, whether with the fact the researcher always mentions ‘he sold well but was never popular, the public never took to him’ if he is being bitter, ironic or wanting sympathy. I also couldn’t work out if all the tales of what an odd, awkward and dark person Coetzee was, Coetzee is in fact wanting sympathy or doubly proving he is trying to be unbiased.

I was definitely left wondering how much of ‘Summertime’ is fact and how much really is fiction? Either way it’s a great read, one I would recommend to people looking for something different but very readable. I was new to Coetzee and would certainly read more.

Yet another reason why I am so pleased I am reading the whole long list this year as I am being introduced to so many new and interesting authors and works. As you will see I have started reading (which I was quite apprehensive about) ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel and am loving it. I am just over 120 pages in and am reluctant to stop every time I have to put it down. At only a sixth of the way through (well just over) it could all change but if it carries on like this it could be a favourite, more of that later in the week.

Back to Coetzee though have any of you read any of the other of the trilogy of his ‘memoirs’? What are your thoughts on writing a fictional memoir like this? What about any of his other works? I have two copies of Disgrace at home and now will have to give it a go, have any of you read it… thoughts (though of course don’t give anything away)?

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Filed under Harvill Secker Books, J. M. Coetzee, Man Booker, Random House Publishing, Review

Brooklyn – Colm Toibin

One thing that I particularly like about reading this year’s Man Booker long list is that it is giving me the opportunity to read for the first time some authors that I have always wanted to try but never quite managed, or possibly been slightly daunted by. A.S Byatt is one of them and that is still going slowly but surely (enjoyably so), Coetzee I will be starting today and is someone I have always been intrigued by. However its Colm Toibin who I pretty much own the back catalogue of works by but haven’t read a page… until I started ‘Brooklyn’ that was.

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I am not going to hold back I loved ‘Brooklyn’. I thought Toibin’s style of prose and narrative was simple and beautiful and throughout the whole book I was totally and utterly engaged. I liked and believed in all the characters and I loved the subtle simple plot. In fact ‘subtle and simple’ are possibly the perfect two words to sum this book up for me. Yet at the same time it’s quite an epic novel and one that covers a huge amount in fewer than 250 pages.

‘Brooklyn’ is a tale of Eilis, a young girl in Ireland after the Second World War where the economy is a disaster and jobs are scarce. Overjoyed simply to find a Sunday and occasional evening job when you can expect little more Eilis is suddenly offered a job and life in Brooklyn where work is easier to find and so is money and more importantly prospects. Eilis soon realises that this isn’t a sudden offer and in fact her mother, sister and brothers (in England) have been well meaningly plotting this for quite some time and really she has no choice.  After following her nightmare journey across the ocean we watch as Eilis settles into a new life with new people and new cultures in an unknown environment. We also watch as she grows from girl to woman and falls in love. It is eventually though a trip home that leads to the climax and a huge decision for Eilis… I wont say any more than that, I will say I bet the ending will either seal the deal for people or possibly put them off the book completely.

The plot brings us some wonderful, wonderful surroundings. I loved the Ireland we briefly got to see at the start and especially when Eilis ends up working in the local shop where supplies are low and people get special treatment, well bread that’s not off, if the owner likes them. When Eilie moves to Brooklyn you could vividly see the streets of shops and as Eilis works in one of these ‘Bartocci’s’ we get to see how everything runs and I could just envisage it so clearly. I will admit it; I ended up wanting to be there in Eilis’ house share in 1950’s Brooklyn!

The plot also brings up many subjects. The first is poverty and how the Second World War left countries like Ireland and all the people who survived the horrors of war behind. It looks at women’s roles and how they changed and strangely gained independence further during these times, they could go and work in other countries and start new lives even if the job opportunities were limited. It also discussed racism at the time as the colour of customers in Bartocci’s changes; this isn’t a subject at the heart of the book I did like its inclusion though as it would have happened at the time. In fact looking back with Eilis’ love interest being from an Italian family and Eilis not being an American in America different cultures is in a way a theme.

For me out of everything it was the prose and also the characters that really made the book the complete joy to read I found it. I liked Eilis though for me she was in a way a ‘nice and intrigued’ pair of eyes to watch a story through. It was characters like the scary domineering and gossiping Mrs Kelly who owned the corner shop and the fabulous Georgina, who I adored, and is Eilie’s partner in illness on one of the most horrendous boat crossings I have read… I did laugh though. With characters, plot and backdrops like this I would be amazed if you could fail to love this book.

In fact actually this is just the book I have been craving to read, and haven’t quite been able to find (not even in Samantha Harvey’s The Wilderness but almost) for quite a while something I would rush to read the next bit of and get lost in all over again. I can’t wait to read more Toibin after the Man Booker long list, the only question is… where to start, what should I read of his next?

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Filed under Books of 2009, Colm Toibin, Man Booker, Penguin Books, Review, Viking Books

The Wilderness – Samantha Harvey

I have to admit that Samantha Harvey’s debut novel is the perfect example of how reading books at the right time can really make a difference. When I first tried the novel, though I have a real affinity with stories about Alzheimer’s as I spend a weekend every 8 or so weeks with my Great Uncle in his home which is solely for people with that and dementia, I didn’t connect with the book. I think the reason was I was rushing through the Orange long list and I don’t think rushing does any reader any favours, you miss lots of a book just to have more reviews on your blog… a little pointless. I am now much more relaxed… on the whole. Second time around I took to ‘The Wilderness’ so much more and I think its because I paced myself. Now bear with me as this is actually quite a hard book to review.

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The Wilderness is narrated by Jake who, when we meet him, is being whirled around the countryside in a plane for his birthday. Jake is in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s and on the cusp of retiring is looking back on his life, his loves, his regrets and his unfulfilled hopes. Of course having Alzheimer’s we never quite know at points to whom he is referring or whether what he is saying is reliable or not as his memory deteriorates.

Looking back over his marriage to Helen (who seems to dream the future as she actually predicts her daughter birth and her own death) and the women he had affairs with including Eleanor who he now finds himself sleeping with again, to the relationships with his mother and his children a son Henry who is in prision and a daughter Alice who seems to be slightly removed from the family though once finds out he is ill wants to help. The characters are all very interesting to read I did love ‘poor Eleanor’ who Jake seems to know is hard done by and yet carries on being hard to her, I also loved his mother Sarah and her coldness mixed with motherliness. It is actually Jake as the lead character who is the only well drawn male; all the others seem on the peripheral and don’t quite come fully formed. The cast of women are all incredibly written which I found and interesting mix.

In some places I found myself confused as seeing the world through Jakes eyes you are naturally going to occasionally get lost, and yet this time around I enjoyed being lost in the book. I think the reason that I found it such an effort to read was with a plot and subject like this it can’t be rushed and you may need to re-read the novel in parts once or twice to work out just what Jake is discussing or who. Intermixed with his back history and the deteriation of his memories through his meetings with the nurses Harvey also in a way explains what happens to Alzheimer’s sufferers.

Not many a writer could pull all of this off and the fact that this is Samantha Harvey’s debut novel is in some ways quite astounding. I loved the fact that she also did this without becoming melodramatic. Dramatic things of course happen but they aren’t ever written for effect, they are seemingly factual and matter of fact. The fact she writes a male character so well, though I could never call him likeable (apart from when he finds the dog his girlfriend hit and takes it in as a pet) is another sign of what a promising writer she is and why she has been up for so many awards.

Having the personal and close contact with someone with this disease I think that anyone dealing with it should read it, ok it may be fiction but in terms of the effects of the disease its incredibly real and could give people more of an insight. I would love to know where and how Harvey did her research for she has clearly put a lot into this book. I also liked the fact she made out these people aren’t victims and indeed looked at the rage they feel when approached as such. I look forward to what I think is an incredibly promising start to an incredibly promising author and I am already hoping she is shortlisted though with another seven or so books to go it could all change of course. Have you read this yet and if so what did you think?

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Filed under Jonathan Cape Publishers, Man Booker, Random House Publishing, Review

Heliopolis – James Scudamore

Having listened to the praise that has been coming out of ‘The Converted One’s’ mouth for James Scudamore’s debut novel ‘Heliopolis’, I was really looking forward to it. Before I started it though I suddenly thought ‘do we actually have the same taste’ which is something I had never thought before. We both loved ‘The Cellist of Sarajevo’ but other than that we haven’t read any other books in common bar a Harry Potter or two with ‘The Converted One’ isn’t the biggest fan of. So how would ‘Heliopolis’ fare? Would I not get it as I am not from Brazil or would James Scudamore create the world of Sao Paulo so vividly I would feel I had walked the streets myself?

If you have never been to Brazil, like me, then ‘Heliopolis’ will definitely give you an insight. Though born in the UK Scudamore lived in Brazil (as well as Japan) during his childhood. The streets are vividly drawn in a culture where rather than knock down or redevelop you simply either flatten and rebuild or simply move elsewhere and start again. It is also, as one of the biggest and most densely populated cities in the world, also very much a crime leaden and poverty stricken city. In Brazil the rich are rich and the poor are poor “there is no middle class”.

Our narrator Ludo was one such boy born into poverty in favela’s of Heliopolis not far from Sao Paulo. However his destiny changed and one day rich man’s wife (and also British) Rebecca comes across Ludo and his mother during a day out for the charity she works for and decides to adopt Ludo and take his mother in as the cook at their weekend retreat. From then on in Ludo sees a life quite unlike any that he has ever seen before. Moving to Angel City is a slightly traumatic experience as the rich even employ and discipline the police. If your son or daughter rights off your Porsche in a drunken drug fuelled crash, as long as they are ok, who cares you just buy another one.

This is all told in hindsight as we follow a week in Ludo’s life. We open with the discovery the Ludo is sleeping with his adoptive sister who is also married, has been given a job by her (and his adoptive) father in advertising where his boss hates him and someone is leaving him threatening messages on his answer machine. As for a social life? Well Ludo spends most evenings alone with a bottle of vodka. In fact in many ways he has become one of the affluent people who coast through life he hates.

As for the plot, well Ludo leaves his adoptive sisters bed on morning and stops on the way to work at one of the old squares no one could be bothered to build over or renovate and is slightly lost in history. Whilst there a beggar tries to persuade him to give him money and Ludo pushes him away, a few minutes later the boy is shot by a security guard and Ludo feels the guilt. The very same day Ludo is given a new job, not only working for Ernesto his adoptive sisters husband, but working with the people of the ‘favela’ or as his boss puts it “the people he knows” leading Ludo to ask himself some big life questions.

Did I like the book, yes I did. I thought that the description of Sao Paulo was brilliant both in the poor and rich parts. I did however feel that though the description was great Scudamore had done what a few authors do and gone for description (not prose – though this was good) over content if that makes sense. One rich house invariably is the same as another; one beggar shares the same story as another and so on. I did like the contrast that it presented though and I do find it fascinating that a country can be so black and white in terms of rich or poor. I am glad I have read it, even if maybe a short story could have sufficed instead.

For ‘The Converted One’ however it was a true eye opener, as he was very much brought up in the ‘Angel Park society’ and his family had truly shielded him from it as much as possible. Yes, of course he had seen squats and the like but I don’t think having never been allowed, or dared to go near them he knew what it was like in there and that’s been quite and emotional thing for him. See it just shows you how experience in life can make you relate quite differently to the same book. Let’s see how he gets on with ‘The Life of Pi’ and then ‘The Kite Runner’ experiences of which we have never had anything close to. Do you think your personal experience can sway your feelings about a book?

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Filed under Harvill Secker Books, James Scudamore, Man Booker, Random House Publishing, Review

Not The Man Booker Award

I was going to put Gran’s blog up this afternoon and then I thought really she deserves awhoel day so that will be up tomorrow I promise. I have been playing catch up with your blogs and I have just seen this fabulous blog post on Kim’s blog and thought that I would share it with all of you.

As ever there has been a lot of controversy, maybe thats a bit strong – debate is a better word around the Man Booker Long List. I have to say this year I have been completely swept up in it all and am loving the long list and reading some books I would have probably not read otherwise. The Guardian have decided to do a long list as voted by the public, thats you and me, and you have until the 23rd of August to vote and then the shortlist will be announced.

Ghosts and Lightening by Trevor Byrne
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Map Of The Invisible World by Tash Aw
Summertime by JM Coetzee
The City and The City by China Miéville
John The Revelator by Peter Murphy
Solo by Rana Dasgupta
The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton
Jerusalem by Patrick Neate
Spirit by Gwyneth Jones
This Is How by MJ Hyland
The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan
The White Woman On The Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey
The Quiet War by Paul McAuley
The Harrowing by Robert Dinsdale
Hodd by Adam Thorpe
The Tin-Kin by Eleanor Thom
The Winter Vault by Anne Michael
White Is For Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
The Father Of Locks by Andrew Killeen
The Children’s Book by AS Byatt
Stone’s Fall by Iain Pears
Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie
Down On Out On Murder Mile by Tony O’Neill
Rose by Gillian Green
Cockroach by Rawi Hage
Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
Grace, Lamar and Laszlo The Beautiful by Deborah Kay Davies
Ten Storey Love Song by Richard Milward
Tender by Mark Illis
Jeff In Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer
Little Gods by Anne Richards
A Kind Of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth
Great Waters by Kit Whitfield
Black Rock by Amanda Smyth
Red Dog, Red Dog by Patrick Lane
Harare North by Brian Chickwava
Generation A by Douglas Coupland
Tomas by James Palumbo
Neverland by Simon Crump
The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville
All The Colours Of The Town by Liam McIvanney
Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin
Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
The Outlander by Gil Adamson
How To Paint A Dead Man by Sarah Hall

I have marked the ones I own in italics and put the ones I have read in bold, or actually with links in. I will be routing for ‘Burnt Shadows’ which I adored and could easily read again this year which I don’t say often. It does appear I have missed out on some cracking fiction if all the rave reviews are to be believed. Have you read any of these and what did you think? What would you put in your ‘Non Man Booker’ long list? What will you be voting for?

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Filed under Man Booker

Love & Summer – William Trevor

Bizarely a week or so before the Man Booker Long List was announced my Gran (who I know you are all a big fan of) was telling me how wonderful the author William Trevor was. She did add that invariably his entire works “end in tears before bed time” but equally were some of the most wonderful writing and prose she has read from a modern author. Now had I know that he had a new book coming out after such praise as that (my Gran doesn’t rave about authors often after 60 plus years of reading) I would have possibly put him in my guess for the Man Booker Long List this year, but I didn’t. Now reading the Long List I have had the honor of getting an early copy but would William Trevor live up to my long list hopes, let alone my Gran’s high praise?

‘Love & Summer’ is really a snap shot of several peoples lives in the village of Rathmoye, Ireland. I have to admit as I have a slight nosey streak I really enjoy books that have a decent plot but are very much about people and observations of characters and from reading this novel it’s clear that William Trevor is wonderful at this. However it is at the end of one characters life that the book starts and through this death certain characters meet and certain characters circumstances change for good.

The death of Mrs Connulty and her journey from building to building through the town after is the opening paragraph of the book and had me thinking ‘oh this is going to be gloomy’ until I read a line that made me laugh out loud. As she dies Mrs Connulty thinks that “she wouldn’t miss her daughter and she sincerely hoped she wouldn’t be reunited with her husband”, I thought that that was a brilliant line and one I wasn’t expecting. After her death we also see how grief affects her children both Joseph and the unnamed Miss Connulty. There are scenes with the latter and her mother’s jewelry that are fascinating and incredibly insightful.

Mrs Connulty’s death seems to affect everyone in Rathmoye as if you believe the gossip mongers “Mrs Connulty owned half the town” and everyone is out for the funeral. One such guest is Ellie Dillahan the young former convent girl and now second wife of the local farmer who used to deliver Mrs Connulty her eggs. There she spots a stranger to the village taking photos of the funeral that no one else seems to notice. The photographer is Florian Kilderry and he has originally come to photograph the burnt out cinema until he see’s the funeral procession. However someone else spots Florian and Miss Connulty decides he is bad news and must be kept and eye on as events unfold.

I won’t go into anymore of the plot as it would give too much away and so intricate is it that I could end up writing endlessly about the twists and turns of these wonderful often dark and compelling characters. The pasts of both Ellie and Miss Connulty are fascinating and wonderfully written and you do wonder how on earth William Trevor manages this in less than 220 pages, it is quite a feat and I can see for that  reason why the Man Booker judges have selected it.

I will admit in parts with so many characters in such short spaces of time I found it occasionally confusing and had to re-read a fair few bits, but then this isn’t the sort of book you can sit down and read in one go just because its short. You can’t rush it as you may miss important small statements with the love story that runs through it, even if I wasn’t sure about Florian myself, and the fact that what story you instantly think you may get isn’t quite what is delivered. It is truly a book you have to savour it and with characters like my very favourite Orpen Wren who is a wonderful old man with dementia that plays a very pivotal role you will want to savour every scene.  

I did really enjoy the book; will it make it into my short list for the Man Booker? Hmmm, time will tell as I still have another ten of them to read. I will say that this is a perfect summer book (as the title will suggest) and found it the perfect companion by the pool with a picnic this weekend even if as my Gran warned there were ‘a few tears before bedtime’.

Have you read any other William Trevor books? I definately want to read more of his fiction in the future and havn’t a clue where to start!

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Filed under Man Booker, Penguin Books, Review, Viking Books, William Trevor