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!!
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?
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.
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?
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?
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?
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?