Tag Archives: Not the Booker Prize

The Good Son – Paul McVeigh

When the Guardian called for votes for their Not The Booker nominations there were two books I simply had to put forward. One was the brilliant All Involved by Ryan Gattis (as someone had already nominated the equally brilliant A Little Life) and the other was a book with a character that I will never forget, Paul McVeigh’s debut novel The Good Son, which stars – there is no other word for it than stars – Mickey Donnelly.

9781784630232

Salt Publishing, 2015, paperback, fiction, 244 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

If I told you that you should really read a book set during the Troubles in Ireland which throws in poverty, religion, sexuality and violence, both domestic and political, you would probably look at me in horror, which is why The Good Son is such a brilliant book. It has all of those elements in their unflinching rawness and yet with Mickey’s voice and cheeky sense of humour McVeigh gives us an image of an incredibly difficult and fractured time in some sort of rainbow technicolor whilst with a very black and white viewpoint. It is something I have not experienced before and I thought it was marvellous. It also gives us hope.

I was born the day the Troubles started.
‘Wasn’t I, Ma?’ says me.
‘It was you that started them, son,’ says she, and we all laugh, except Our Paddy. I put that down to his pimples and general ugliness. It must be hard to be happy with a face like that. I almost feel sorry for him. I spy a dirty, big love bite on his neck and store this ammunition to defend myself against future attacks.

And so we are straight into the narrative of Mickey Donnelly a young boy growing up in Belfast during a time of much turbulence as he is at that age, just before secondary school, when he is full of questions and hormones… oh and there are all the troubles on going in the background. That might sound throwaway yet to Mickey his main concerns are the fact that his family have no money, his Da is a violent drunk so his Ma and little sister Wee Maggie need protecting, everyone calls him gay and it looks like he won’t be going to the secondary school he dreamed of (which symbolises future escape) with his best friend.

 I think McVeign does many wonderful things with The Good Son and first and foremost of these is the character that he has created with Mickey. I am not a fan of child protagonists in fiction, I tend to find them precocious and a bit too clever (which tends to happen when you can see the authors viewpoint or purpose in their behaviour) for their own good. I adored Mickey. He is funny, rude, antagonistic, kind and hopeful. He is at once wiser than his years, due to some of his experiences at home and in the streets, whilst also often being naive. He thinks he knows everything about the world yet we the reader (as fully fledged adults, well I try) see everything around him in a different light and context. It is a real skill to get this just right and I think McVeigh does this effortlessly. His emotions are contagious too, when he is happy we are jubilant, when he is confused we are concerned, when he is defeated we are distraught.

Sorry, Mammy, I’m always going to be on my own until I get away to America.
‘Somewhere over the rainbow,
Way up high…’
Somewhere over the Atlantic away from our street and everybody in it.

McVeigh excels in the use of light and shade within his writing. As I mentioned with Mickey he uses his joy and his defeat to an incredibly emotive effect with Mickey. McVeigh does this in other ways too, humour being one of them. The Good Son can be wickedly funny which, when the bad things happen, also makes the darker moments all the more so. From one moment we are in a world of the musicals of Doris Day (any book with Doris Day gets a seal of approval from me, as it would have my Gran) to the bullying in the streets or worse the violence which broods in the background throughout.

This device I also found incredibly powerful. Whilst many novels of the Troubles would make them the main focus and give you them in all their rawest and most shocking detail, I think McVeigh gives you something far more clever and intricate. A young lad growing up at the time Mickey does would, as Mickey is, be used to it and so it is not the be all and end all of his thoughts. This of course leads us into a false sense of security so when things like the night time raids or the murder and bombing in the street happen it gives us all the more of a sense of shock, some of these parts of the novel are really harrowing reading. Yet often more striking are the random smaller moments in which we are reminded the streets the kids are playing in are territory of war, I found these truly chilling.

In the shop window, there’s an IRA poster. A man’s face. Eyes starin’ at you, frownin’. A bodyless hand covers his mouth. Loose Talk Costs Lives it says. You have to be careful all the time. Keep your mouth shut. I move and it’s like the eyes follow me, same as the 3D Jesus picture in Aunt Kathleen’s.

It is with this deft approach that McVeigh also looks at subjects such as religion and sexuality. Some authors might be rather heavy handed with their approach to these and whack you around the head with them at any given opportunity. McVeigh lets them bubble and simmer in the background, they become part of the story rather than the reason for it. This is a technique many, many authors should be taking on board. McVeigh also uses this restraint in his prose, no word is wasted, no sentence unplanned – and believe me he is a sucker for a brilliant final sentence in ever chapter that makes you constantly say ‘oh just one more chapter then’.

I could go on and on. I could talk about the wonderful relationship that Mickey has with his mother and sister, the way I felt his brother and father are almost visions of what Mickey’s life might be, how much I loved the sense of unsentimental hope thorough out. See I could go on and on. And I haven’t even hinted at the ending which will leave you lingering on it long after you have finished it. What a tease I am. What I shall say to round up is simply that McVeigh has created something incredibly special with this book and its protagonist.

If you would like to hear more about The Good Son then you can hear Paul McVeigh chatting with me on You Wrote The Book here. Who else has read The Good Son and did you love it, and Mickey, as much as I did?

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Filed under Books of 2015, Paul McVeigh, Review, Salt Publishing

Not The Booker 2015

I am back online, and just in time as the Not The Booker shortlist has been announced which I have been very excited about for the last week. Yes, you heard me right ‘Not’ The Booker. If you haven’t heard of it before it is an annual prize that The Guardian run around Man Booker Longlist time, the difference is that book lovers get to vote which I think makes it all the more exciting, and in past years all the more controversial as I discovered when I joined in and then judged back in 2013. This year people nominated a 70 strong longlist, which if you want a list of corking sounding books then do go have a look. Now almost 1,000 people have voted on which books go through (voting for two books the books with the most votes go through, sounds simple never quite is) and the shortlist of six books has been announced – and I am going to read them all. Oh yes, here they are…

  • Shame – Melanie Finn
  • The Artificial Anatomy of Parks – Kat Gordon
  • Fishnet – Kirstin Innes
  • Things We Have in Common – Tasha Kavanagh
  • Dark Star – Oliver Langmead
  • The Good Son – Paul McVeigh

I am very excited for two reasons. The first is that I nominated The Good Son in the first round as I was just at the end of it and think it is an utterly marvellous debut novel that cleverly deals with the recent violent history in Northern Ireland through a wonderful young (and not precocious, amazing) narrator who I will remember for a very long time – it got through, I am thrilled. Secondly just look at that list, isn’t it brilliant. Firstly these are six (almost) new to me books (I knew McVeigh’s as I voted for it, I also have the Kavanagh on the shelves) as well as six (almost) new to me authors. This is exactly what I loved about judging Fiction Uncovered and ticks many of my ‘reading outside the box’ boxes. Yes, there is an irony to those boxes, anyway…

It is a real mix of books. There are tales of Africa, surburban thrillers, science fiction, tales of escorts and prostitution, family dramas and tales of the IRA in Ireland, there is also a really interesting sway towards debut novels and independent publishers. It is a list that I find really exciting, so I have already been and bought two (no, not on that awful river based site) and Kat Gordon and Oliver Langmead will be in the post shortly. Finn’s editor has already tweeted me and is winging a copy of that over which will be the first book to be discussed around the 17th of August. So I thought I would let you know in case you wanted to join in with the fun.

Anyone else joining in? Have you read any of these books and if so what did you make of them?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Not The Booker Prize, Random Savidgeness

Anywhere’s Better Than Here – Zoe Venditozzi

Something I often think about is how many books there are that go under the radar every year and how can we rectify this? See, I do have deep moments, here I should mention that I spent 30 minutes wondering what might happen if gravity suddenly failed the other morning, deep indeed. We have great initiatives for neglected classics like Persephone, Text Classics or Virago but for modern novels, bar favourite of mine Fiction Uncovered, there isn’t much. I have been mulling how as a blogger I can do anything, I am still mulling it. The book that has set off this mulling has been Zoe Venditozzi’s debut novel Anywhere’s Better Than Here, which had I not been reading for the Not The Booker Prize, which it won from the public vote of before we pesky judges stepped in, might have passed me by which would have been a proper shame.

Laurie is stuck in a rut. She is working for a call centre which bores her but not as much as her takeaway loving boyfriend, Ed, who barely likes to leave the house let alone his computer or the DVD player. Laurie has had enough and, possibly because of the grief after the death of her mother finally coming to the surface, she decides she needs to become a bit more daring. Her first steps are to not stay in and have a curry but to take herself out for a drink in a pub alone and this is when she meets Gerry, a hospital radio DJ, and things begin to change a little recklessly.

Sandstone Press, 2012, paperback, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

From the start I was a big fan of Anywhere’s Better Than Here simply because of the writing. I think Venditozzi has a corking eye for capturing real lives and real observations, from page two describing pensioners as ‘the biscuit coloured brigade’ I found myself often thinking ‘oh I think that’ including when she is working out, with Jamie a young boy who comes into her life, how she would survive a sudden tsunami or zombie attack. These are things we all think about on occasion and Laurie felt very, very real to me – a big win. She also captures and ponders over some of the mundane aspects of our lives yet without the book ever feeling mundane, instead feeling very real and human. It is bleak yet there is a great sense of humour within it too, we all have mundane moments in our lives after all.

Oddly I also liked the fact that I liked Laurie despite the fact that I actually really disliked her on and off throughout.  Occasionally my morals would start kicking in, outraged initially at how she could start dating Gerry when she hadn’t ditched Ed, both playing the moral high ground without just cause. I thought she was behaving like a spoilt cow that needed to buck up her ideas. Yet with Venditozzi’s writing she gained depth, she was complex and whilst I couldn’t always sympathise with her, or like everything she did, I could understood why she was the way she was.

I felt the same with Gerry, who has his own dark past. Yet Gerry was also where I felt I wanted more of his character and the whole Post Traumatic Stress, it never quite hooked me and then with the reasons for his going into war, so I wanted a bit more. There was also the element of the novel, which I won’t spoil because I would like you all to give this a read at some point, where the book completely changes and becomes more of a road trip tale. Here the book wobbled for me ever so slightly, I wanted to say to Venditozzi ‘You don’t need to put anymore in this book, it has me, I am interested don’t add bells and whistles.’ Initially this change in setting and pace didn’t quite sit with me.  It went to a level of melodrama (saying that I could see why it happened sort of) that it didn’t need to have, it was a compelling read enough simply in its plot of lifes gritty normalities. Once I got over the (very slight) sulk I embraced the change, accepted the twist and got on with it.

I don’t want that to sound damning on the book though, as I mentioned above I really liked this book and am really pleased that it ended reading it. The only reason I was a little taken aback by the change is because when Venditozzi writes darkly and quietly, with her wonderful observant prose and bleak sense of humour, she is absolutely corking and that is when Anywhere’s Better Than Here really lives and breathes. It is also an unflinching look at grief, depression, how we can think we are coping when really we aren’t and how we find ourselves stuck in life’s ruts. I am very much looking forward to seeing what she does next, she is most definitely one to watch out for. Give it a whirl!

Who else has read Anywhere’s Better Than Here? What are your thoughts on how we, bloggers or broadsheets or just readers, can help find those books which go under the radar and frankly shouldn’t?

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Filed under Not The Booker Prize, Review, Sandstone Press, Zoe Venditozzi

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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Simon’s Bookish Bits #30

I thought whilst I am busy with ‘The Book Cull of the End of Reading Days’ today and various meetings with Waterstones and my co-host Adam for Mondays delights I would bring back my bookish bits (they haven’t been seen since January so needed a bit of dusting off and airing) which have as of today hit the big 3-0! So here are some links and the like that I have loved of late…

  • First up, which is probably old news but was new news to me, the Guardian’s First Book Award has caused some kerfuffle by sharing its submissions. I can’t decide if I like the idea, we have been debating it for The Green Carnation Prize (which extended its deadlines this week due to so many submissions), or not to be honest. I do like the fact you can vote for a title not on the list though, so maybe it’s a good thing? What do you think?
  • Speaking of awards (and indeed the Guardian again) what has become one of my favourite events of the year, the Not the Booker Prize, opened this week. You can vote for one title to be put forward (as long as it is eligible of course). I have cast my vote, which was for the wonderful ‘The Proof of Love’ by Catherine Hall – I know I haven’t shut up about it, but its that good – let me know if you vote, there has already been some, erm, disharmony and mass voting. Ha.
  • Speaking of disharmony that leads me to a little plea for people to come and join the Man Booker Forum. I don’t know how many of you are currently reading the longlist but you are a lovely lot and it would be nice to see some friendly faces, even if you are behind a nickname, on their as its all got a bit tetchy on there… I might have got a bit grumpy about it and said my piece.
  • The lovely Kimbofo has done a brilliant list of other literary links that you should have a look at. She has also had my bestest friend in the world, since the age of three, and book blogger Polly of Novel Insights on her Triple Choice Tuesday this week so do look at that too.
  • Remember tomorrow is the first in the ‘Reading With Authors 2011’ series. Belinda Bauer and I are ready to be live on the virtual sofa all day with tea and biscuits tomorrow so do pop by for a discussion on ‘The Man Who Fell From Earth’ by Walter Tevis.
  • Finally a reminder that on Monday in the heart of Manchester there is a new literary salon called Bookmarked starting. You might know one of the hosts, in fact their was an interview with him over on Nick Campbell’s A Pile of Leaves blog. This month is ‘Debut Night’ and will see Sarah Winman and SJ Watson on a very real sofa at Waterstones Deansgate AND you could win a chance to meet them for a private chat, and a glass of wine, before hand. I so hope to see some of you there.

Right off to cull books, good weekends ahead all of you, any plans or any special reading ahead?

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Filed under Simon's Bookish Bits