Tag Archives: Sebastian Barry

Days Without End – Sebastian Barry

I wanted to start the revamped Savidge Reads by talking about a book that whilst I read much earlier in the year has been a book that has lingered with me long after reading it. This is not what I was expecting when Days Without End first arrived in my hands. In fact, truth be told, if I am being completely honest, when I was first sent it back in 2016 I wasn’t really that fussed about reading it and had my Gran been alive still it would probably have ended on a pile of books for her.

Don’t get me wrong, when I read The Secret Scripture many moons ago I thought it was something pretty great, I just wasn’t sure that other Barry books were for me, unlike my Gran who raved about him. With its themes of civil war in America’s 1850’s, something I really have little interest in, I was almost certain it wouldn’t be my bag. Yet when it beat books I had read and loved (The Essex Serpent, The Gustav Sonata and This Must Be The Place, what a cracking shortlist right there) I decided I had to give it a whirl. A week later I wanted it to win the Costa and all the other awards.

Faber & Faber, hardback, 2016, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

The method of laying out a corpse in Missouri sure took the proverbial cake. Like decking out our poor lost troopers for marriage rather than death. All their uniforms brushed down with lamp-oil into a state never seen when they were alive. Their faces clean shaved, as if the embalmer sure didn’t like no whiskers showing. No one that knew him could have recognised Trooper Watchorn because those famous Dundrearies was gone. Anyway, Death likes to make a stranger of your face. True enough their boxes weren’t but cheap wood but that was not the point. You lift one of those boxes and the body makes a big sag in it. Wood cut so thin at the mill it was more a wafer than a plank. But dead boys don’t mind things like that. The point was, we were glad to see them so well turned out, considering.

From the very beginning of Days Without End we are taken into the unflinching narrative of Thomas McNulty as he joins the US Army having escaped the Great Famine back in Ireland and become a refugee, where upon he witnesses the true horrors of the Civil War. Yet here he also meets John Cole with whom, and rather frankly but simply ‘And then we quietly fucked and then we slept.’ he starts a relationship. We then follow the two as they take part in a platoon before ending up in bar where they take on the role of female impersonators to entertain the locals who have not the joys of the company of the opposite sex.

They need only the illusion, only the illusion of the gentler sex. You’re it, if you take this employment. It’s just the dancing. No kissing, cuddling, feeling or fumbling. Why, just the nicest, the most genteel dancing. You won’t hardly credit how nice, how gentle a rough young miner dances. Make you cry to see it. You sure is pretty enough in your own way, if you don’t mind me saying, especially the smaller one. But you’ll do too, you’ll do too, he says, seeing John Cole’s newly acquired professional pride coming up again. Then he cocks and eyebrow, interrogatory like.
John Cole looks at me. I didn’t care. Better than starving in a wheat-sack.

Admittedly in the wrong hands this juxtaposition could come across as either totally unbelievable or completely farcical, yet with Barry’s deft and steady assurance this works and indeed provides some light relief (pun not intended) before sure enough Thomas and John are drawn back into the ranks to fight as the Civil War begins in 1850. It is from here that the novel takes a much darker twist, Barry looking at the appalling things that happened to many of the Indian’s living in the Great American wilderness. Yet once again there is a moment of light hidden here as Thomas and John take on the niece of an Indian chief, Winona, and an unlikely family is created. What constitutes a family being one of the major themes in the novel along with accepting and celebrating what is different.  Though if you think a happy ending is coming here then you would be wrong, there be many villainous types abounds, however I will say no more as I wouldn’t want to spoil it.

Suffice to say that whilst I admit I was sometimes a bit confused where in the tale we sometimes were, Barry would flash back on tiny moments in Thomas’ life prior to leaving Ireland (which I actually would have liked more of as well as his journey) and we also ended up in the female impersonators bar on another occasion in the tale, overall I was completely won over by this story of two men caught up in events so much greater than them, who happened to fall in love. In fact, it was this particular almost casual aspect to their love story that I think made it all the stronger. Bar one or two mentions of ‘Prairie fairy’ the fact the love story was two men is totally what Days Without End is about and yet is in no way sensationalised, it is just quietly celebrated. This was such a refreshing take for me and wonderfully dealt with, all the more wonderful when you know Barry wrote this book for his son after he came out.

Of course, all the best sentiment in the world can’t make a book wonderful just because of the angle at which it comes, the writing could be crap, the atmosphere dry, the war an aside. None of these things are true of Days Without End. It might not always be the easiest of reads; some of the content is quite horrific but it is a war after all, Thomas speaks in a lilted dialect and for a short book about war the pace can be rather slow as opposed to some violence filled rush. Well, there is violence but it is not by any means rushed. Instead what Barry creates is a beautifully written – seriously the prose is just stunning even when it is about rat infestations or bodily infections – that it carries you along. You just need to take a breath now and again to take it in.

Spring comes into Massachusetts with her famous flame. God’s breath warming the winter out of things. That means something to a thousand boys heaped into camp at a spot called Long Island outside the old city of Boston. Except the endless yards of rain as thick as the cloth that falls on us. Battering the tents. But we got new business with the world and our very hearts are filling with the work. That’s how it seems as we set out upon our war.

I often find the books that surprise you the most are the books that you end up thinking on the most and, a lot like fellow Booker longlisted Exit West by Mohsin Hamid which I will be talking about in the next few weeks, are the books that grow on you and linger the most after you have put the book down for the final time. Days Without End is one of those books and as well as making it into my books of the year so far, has also reminded me why I enjoyed Barry’s writing so much before and why I should head to it much more often in the future. It is a subtle, understated yet emotionally charged book which looks at love and hope in times of war and the face of hate.

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Filed under Costa Book Awards, Review, Sebastian Barry

The Man Booker Prize Longlist 2017

I know I said that the relaunch of Savidge Reads would be next week, however one of the  most common comments from those of you who have done the feedback survey (which I posted earlier in the week and would love even more of you to fill in, you might win some books if you do) was that people loved hearing about prizes on here. So with that in mind here is the Man Booker longlist for 2017 which has not long been announced…

MB2017 BookStack

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (US) (Faber & Faber)
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Ireland) (Faber & Faber)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (US) (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Pakistan-UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Ireland) (Canongate)
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (UK) (4
th Estate)
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (UK) (JM Originals)
The Ministry Of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (India) (Hamish Hamilton)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (US) (Bloomsbury)
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (UK-Pakistan) (Bloomsbury)
Autumn by Ali Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
Swing Time by Zadie Smith (UK) (Hamish Hamilton)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (US) (Fleet)

What do I think of it? Well my initial thoughts (as I am literally typing this moments after the list going live) is that it is an interesting list if not a wholly surprising one. Barry, Hamid, McCormack, Roy, Saunders, Shamsie, the Smiths (not the band but imagine if Zadie and Ali made a band that would be something) and Whitehead have all been heralded and been up for several awards – if not winning them before.

This is by no means a slight as a) long time readers will know I do have a thing for the Booker b) I have read and loved the Barry, Hamid and Whitehead novels this year (reviews coming soon) and indeed love Ali Smith full stop, plus as with Ali’s I have been very keen to read the new much awaited Roy novel. I am also intrigued to get to both the Saunders and the McGregor as they have been on my TBR for quite some time. So interestingly this is one of the most instantly ‘yes I would read all those books’ Booker longlist I have seen in some years, in fact it is also one of the most ‘ooh I have actually read a few of those’ Booker linguists. Yet one of the things I love about book awards is discovering something or someone completely new to me.

This is possibly because I am a contrary old so and so but it is true. So for me the Fridlund and the Mozely are the ones I am the most keen to rush out and read now (if I wasn’t myself judging the Costa’s, though I may still have to get it). That said alongside the Mozely the other book I most want to read is the Shamsie, an author who has been up for many an award with both Burnt Shadows (which I funking adored) and A God In Every Stone (which I also thought was pretty blinking brilliant) and whose new novel feeds into my recent mini obsession of greek myths retold. So those may be three I try and squeeze into my summer/fall reading.

Which would I like to win at this point? Without a seconds thought Mohsin Hamid is my current personal favourite to win, which may shock some of you as you may know that I fell hard for the Barry. Yet, I utterly adored Exit West when I read it and it has grown on me more and more since both in the way it looks at refugees, war and love with a speculative yet oh so realistic twist or two. More on that book, and some of the others, very soon.

In the meantime… What about all of you? What are your thoughts on the list? Are you happy, is there a title or two missing for you? Which have you read and what did you make of them? Any favourites?

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Filed under Man Booker, Random Savidgeness

The Man Booker Shortlist 2011

At some point today, probably this morning as apparently the judges decided it a week ago; the Man Booker Shortlist will be announced. I have to say when I first saw the longlist this year I was really, really excited. There were some debut novelists, an almost 50/50 ratio of male and female authors, and lots of independent publishers. In fact the list had a lot of people saying ‘what??!!’. I thought I would update you on what I have thought of the list so far, and what I think (or hope) will be on the list when it gets announced later today.

Thanks to TheLiteraryStew.Blogspot.com where I found all the covers in one image.

So I think the best place to start is looking at the longlist as a whole. I should say that there is a slight clause in this, I have read at least 100 pages of each of the books of the longlist, and I just haven’t finished all of them, or indeed reviewed all of the ones I have read. So I thought I would give you  a brief round up of the longlist reading experience. And if any of the ones I haven’t finished yet end up getting shortlisted then I will go back to them…

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes – The bookies favourite, but not actually mine personally. Whilst I agree it is beautifully written and emotive I personally didn’t ‘get it’. I think maybe, and this isn’t meant to sound as ageist as it will, I was too young for it, rather like last years winner. I didn’t think it was eligible being so small, but it did mean that I managed to read it in two naughty sittings at a Waterstones in town, but shhh don’t tell anyone. I wouldn’t be cross if this was on the shortlist, and think it probably will be, I just think there were more exciting rather than ‘literary’ reads. Oh, I know this is a ‘literary’ award in case you think I am being silly. I just think ‘literary’ is very subjective, shouldnt a ‘literary’ book be a work of literature accessible to all? Not that I am saying this book is being bandwagoned by critics… maybe I need to read it again, and not sneakily hidden away in a shop.

On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry – I will actually be rather cross if this book doesn’t make the shortlist. I had enjoyed Barry’s previous novel ‘The Secret Scripture’ but this one just blew me away. I was expecting another ‘Brooklyn’ (which is wonderful in itself) with the tale of a young Irish girl and her journey to America, I got something equally wonderful but utterly different and utterly devastating. I loved it.

Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch – Another favourite, I read this a while back and didn’t expect to like a book that was set so much on a boat (I have issues with books based on ships) I also loved this. It’s like a proper Victorian adventure, something that Conan Doyle would read and frankly he would have won a Booker prize, well he should have, if there had been such a prize then. I also found the emotional twist that develops in the second half of the novel was a pleasant surprise and one I wouldn’t have guessed.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt – Possibly my favourite ‘surprise find’ on the list. I don’t think that I would have read this if it hadn’t made the longlist (and there will be a very positive review coming soon) because it is by all sense and purposes a western, which I would normally avoid if I am really honest. I thought this was, excuse my French, bloody brilliant. There is something so fresh about this book that if you wouldn’t normally touch this genre then you really should try deWitt.

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan – A book I knew nothing about and I am still not too clear on. I started it, popped it down and haven’t gone back to it yet. That makes it sound like I didn’t like it, not so as I would like to return to it, I just wasn’t grabbed and I am not sure why. Well written, interesting subject, one to return to and think over more maybe?

A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards – Another novel that I would have heard nothing about had it not been for the Man Booker Longlist. I was intrigued from the title and the intrigue carried on in the pages as I started to read. It is in some ways a murder mystery, and yet not all at once. That makes it sound experimental and it isn’t a particularly experimental novel, it just has some good twists and turns both in terms of story and delivery. I hope that makes sense. Oh and I liked not liking anyone in it, how odd is that?

The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst – Oh, oh, oh… ‘The Strangers Child’. Hmmm. I have the same issue in a way that I have with the Barnes novel. It is beautifully written… but. Whilst Barnes is a short novel, Hollinghurst’s is almost never ending. I totally understand people who are saying ‘oh my goodness the prose alone…’, I just think you need to have a story. Hollinghurst’s has several stories and yet none all at once, it’s also got a middle that (oops, ouch) sags and drags, it’s about 200 pages too long. They are a beautiful 200 pages though. I have been mulling reviewing this book ever since its release but am still on the fence… or simply undecided.

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman – I want to start off by saying that this book doesn’t deserve the vitriol that it’s been hit with since getting long listed. Give the book a bloody break people. It’s immensely readable, which is a quality that I think every good book needs. Sadly the story, for me, of teenage gangs and crime including murder whilst being very timely looses something in being told by a child narrator. A shame as I loved the narrative voice, the two aims of this book just didn’t quite go hand in hand.

The Last Hundred Days by Patrick McGuinness – I am midway through reading this. I can’t say that I think it’s the best book ever written but it has a certain something about it. It’s one of those things that you can’t quite put your finger on. I think the fact it’s slightly thrilling, slightly surreal and yet seems based so much on fact all merges to work for me. In fact it is reading about something that I know so little about that I think I am currently really enjoying. I haven’t finished it yet though but might just go out on a limb, there’s books that could be deemed ‘better’ and yet…

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller – Another one I have finished and haven’t written about properly yet as I only finished it recently. I liked this one despite the fact it was nothing like I was expecting. There’s a slight black and white noir film aspect to it, which I think sets it apart from ‘The Last Hundred Days’ which actually thinking about it now it is quite similar too in its sense of Englishman thrown into the unknown (how have I only just thought about this, too close to them), and then develops and becomes more and more compelling.

Far to Go by Alison Pick – I have reviewed this for We Love This Book but not on here yet. The more time I have had away from it the more it has grown on me. It didn’t fully blow me away, but only three or four of this years longlist have, yet the story  of the Bauer’s and the Kindertransport has stayed with me more than I expected. It’s a WWII story with a twist and is a little bit different. The modern story just bothered me a little, it felt a tiny bit like a forced ‘see how the war keeps affecting people’ device, if one that leads to an interesting conclusion.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers – I wanted to like this one, I liked the idea of a dystopian novel on the list and a small publisher being on the list too. I just didn’t really think it was a great book and have stopped. I think anything can happen in fiction, no limits, if the author can take you with them and sadly I am not convinced. I gave up at page 105! I might try it again though as it does have promise, just not as much as I hoped.

Derby Day by D.J. Taylor – I was excited about this one, I love all things Victorian after all. It started off so well. I loved how dastardly all the characters were and how much planning and manipulation there was. Yes, there is a but coming… I sort of got confused and too much started to go on… and someone else ordered it from the library so I let them have it. If it gets shortlisted then I will order it again, but I would rather see Carol Birch on there if we have a Victorian novel on there.

So from that I have decided (and I swapped two titles on the Man Booker forum but this is my final guess) that these are the six novels that I most hope make the shortlist…

  • On Canaan’s Side – Sebastian Barry
  •  Jamrach’s Menagerie – Carol Birch
  •  The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt
  •  A Cupboard Full of Coats – Yvvette Edwards
  •  Snowdrops – A.D. Miller
  •  Far To Go – Alison Pick

What do you think? What would your short list be made of? Could you give a monkeys? I have to admit the reason so few of these novels have ended up on Savidge Reads yet in more detail was my initial excitement started to turn into Man Booker Boredom, let’s hope the shortlist excites me again. Which six books not listed would make your ideal Man Booker Shortlist this year? I need to think about mine actually, I’ll tell you mine if you tell me yours. Oh, and I will report back once the announcement is made. Thoughts please.

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On Canaan’s Side – Sebastian Barry

There is a rare moment, as a reader, when a narrator’s voice makes the hairs on the back of you neck stand up with emotion, a kind of book lover’s bliss – even when the content is sad. I had this within a paragraph of ‘On Canaan’s Side’ when Lily Bere asks ‘What is the sound of an eighty-nine-year old heart breaking?’ and from that moment on I was hooked by Lilly’s voice. Which is a good thing as in Sebastian Barry’s latest novel she is the woman whose life we follow and through whose eyes we see all.

Faber & Faber, hardback, 2011, fiction, 272 pages, sent by publisher

Lilly Bere, it first appears, has decided that her life is over since the suicide of her grandson, who survived the Gulf war physically though not mentally, and the cause of her heart break. You are left to wonder if the death of her grandson reignites memories of her brother Bill’s death in 1919 during the war, and starts the reminiscence that we are then told over a period of seventeen days. In fact it is her brother’s death which introduces her to Tadg Bere, a former soldier who fought with her brother, a moment which sparks a romance and changes her life for the better. Happiness doesn’t seem to last, it soon forces her to flee Sligo for America after Tadg joins the Black and Tans, this is itself again like an echo or rippling of the previous effects of her past and her fathers’ time in the police force which we learn of in her childhood.

There is a sense of tragedy from the start, you know that Lilly’s grandson’s suicide is not the first tragedy that has befallen her in her life and so we go back to her childhood and look to the present and how she ended up in Long Island and why. Initially fearful leaving her homeland and the family she loves, fear always seems a few steps behind her.

“Fear is a force like a seasickness, could you call it a life-sickness, a terrible nausea caused by dread, creeping dread, that seems to withdraw a little in dreams while you sleep, but then, just a few moments after waking, rushes back close to you, and begins again to gnaw at your simple requirement for human peace. Gnawing, gnawing, with long rat like teeth. No one can live through that without changing.”

You would be forgiven for thinking this is a melancholic piece of writing, yet through her character and highlighting life’s tragedies Lilly also emphasises the pleasures in life, often the smallest of them being the very greatest. I can safely say from the character of Lilly and her narration alone this will be one of my favourite reads of the year, sometimes she will break your heart and other times you will laugh out loud at her frankness because she doesn’t sensor herself be it from the first time she and Tag become properly intimate, to the fact in her old age certain bodily functions are playing her up.

“This is a day the land is being absolutely thumped by rain. Millions and millions of little explosions in the fields, making the soil jump. The roots of things I am sure are delighted by it, if it doesn’t actually kill them.
                I walked over to the other side of the pond to see Dr Earnshaw, because, even if my stay on earth is to be short from here on in, I had to do something about the constipation that is plaguing me. I had my umbrella, and my long plastic coat, but the wind was very disrespectful of me, and blew the rain against every bit of me, so that I arrived to the surgery drenched.
                ‘Mrs Bere, did you fall in the pond?’ the receptionist said, with her spiky blonde hairdo.”

If there were a theme in this beautifully written novel, and the prose is quite something else as I hope you can tell from the quotes I have used; I would say that, after death and grief, it is the fact that history has a way of repeating itself no matter what. It also highlights the stupidity of those who don’t learn from the past over those who seem to unwittingly draw the same events to them time and time again. I had hoped I would love it after reading The Secret Scripture’ I wasn’t quite prepared for the journey that Lilly and I would have together, and what a journey it was, one I won’t be forgetting for quite some time.

Regardless of how far after the Man Booker longlist ‘On Canaan’s Side’ gets, this is a book that is a deceptively small epic novel. As the blurb says it is ‘at once epic and intimate’ and I think quite extraordinary. I thought this might be a re-hasing of Colm Toibin’s ‘Brooklyn’ which is a book I don’t think any could match, my fears were unfounded, the only similarity s a woman’s journey from Ireland to America. I have heard that Lilly is in fact the sister of one of Sebastian Barry’s earlier novels, a lot like the narrator in ‘The Secret Scripture’ met characters from his previous novels, if they are all as good as this I think I need to read much more of the Dunne family and their interspersed yet connecting stories, any recommendations?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Faber & Faber, Man Booker, Review, Sebastian Barry

The Man Booker Longlist 2011… Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Man Booker Longlist 2011

Well here it is…

The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes (Jonathan Cape – Random House)
On Canaan’s Side – Sebastian Barry (Faber)
Jamrach’s Menagerie – Carol Birch (Canongate Books)
The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt (Granta)
Half Blood Blues – Esi Edugyan (Serpent’s Tail – Profile)
A Cupboard Full of Coats – Yvvette Edwards (Oneworld)
The Stranger’s Child – Alan Hollinghurst (Picador – Pan Macmillan)
Pigeon English – Stephen Kelman (Bloomsbury)
The Last Hundred Days – Patrick McGuinness (Seren Books)
Snowdrops – A.D. Miller (Atlantic)
Far to Go – Alison Pick (Headline Review)
The Testament of Jessie Lamb – Jane Rogers (Sandstone Press)
Derby Day – D.J. Taylor (Chatto & Windus – Random House)

I am thrilled to see Carol Birch and Sebastian Barry on there (I guessed 2/13 – I am officially rubbish) and also very excited about the fact that I don’t know a lot of the others. So am off to investigate before I do a round up post a little later. What do you think of the list?

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Guessing The Man Booker Longlist 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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