Tag Archives: The Man Booker Longlist 2011

The Strangers Child – Alan Hollinghurst

I have been sitting on this review for months, well ok not literally sitting on it but certainly debating if I should put it up. I then thought, as I am out of the country, why not? You see my relationship with Alan Hollinghurst’s latest novel was one of excitement (as I got a bound copy before the advances came in), self hype of my own making, the hype upon release and then the joy of the first hundred pages, before sadly it all began to fall apart. Plus, the books sold a shed load now and I am well aware me being a little grumpy review wise about it won’t do it any harm, and its not really a normal Savidge Reads review, rather a bit of a disappointed grumble. 

Picador, hardback, 2011, fiction, 576 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Before I go into what I hope will be a fair critique of ‘The Strangers Child’ I should really discuss the premise of it. The novel is really a tale of people of years and years, the novel itself is told in five sections each relating to a different decade. The two main characters, well I thought they were the main force of the story though others may disagree, Cecil Valance and Daphne Sawle meet, along with Daphne’s brother George who is equally smitten with Cecil (this made me think of ‘Brideshead Revisited’ though apparently that’s not something you should say to Mr Hollinghurst, oops, but it does give the book a slight feel of ‘oh haven’t I been here before?’) and really we follow their lives from their first meeting and join them at various points in time as the book progresses.

As much as I am being vague to not give any spoilers away, I was also slightly at a loss as to why we meet these characters when we do, and why they tend to wander off. Yes, that’s real life… well possibly real life if you are very rich and can spend life being unlikeable yet fabulous.  These points in time, to me, didn’t seem pivotal, and I couldn’t get a hold on them. I didn’t mind the fact they were all rather unlikeable but as the novel progressed I just kept thinking ‘where is this going, and do I care?’ Some will say the rather random way in which the book is written is one of the cleverest points of the novel, really? I don’t expect my books linear at all, yet I sometimes wonder if ‘clever’ (which is the word I have seen in many reviews) is a good way of describing ‘we don’t get it and so it must be the authors intention to be a little unconventional, it’s the art of the book… how clever’. Hmmmm.

I can say the writing is utterly stunning, yet ‘stunning’, ‘beautiful’, ‘elegant’, ‘effortless’ (as the reviews keep on saying) prose can only go a certain way and I honestly feel in the middle of the book it became all about the prose and it simply didn’t stop. The beautiful prose started to drag and the effect of it started to sag and I thought ‘I’m not going to finish this’. Yet I did and as the last third starts the book indeed picks up again. The random plot threads make a little more sense, then they don’t and tantalise and then they sort of do.The characters stay being dislikeable yet readable and I liked the way it ended. Yes the way it ended, not the fact it ended.

This of course has left me very torn. There is no doubt that ‘The Strangers Child’ contains some utterly gorgeous prose, no question of that at all. I just wish there had been a much tighter edit on the book as with about 200 pages taken out of it, or several thousand of those wonderfully worded words, this book would have become a possible favourite of mine, I do love an epic after all. Instead I became rather bored, if somewhat beautifully.

Advertisements

12 Comments

Filed under Alan Hollinghurst, Man Booker, Picador Books, Review

August’s Incomings…

As always if you don’t like posts about books are incoming then look away now, there is another post coming later today about my favourite memoir of the year, if not in quite some time. But now to the post in hand and the books which have come in during the last month. I hope you will note it’s a much slimmer selection than in previous months.

Of course August is Man Booker month and so a few of those came in through the door…

I have to say that I was really excited about the longlist this year when it was announced, but from dipping in and out of some of them I am beginning to simply not get it. There are six books I think could make a rather strong short list (more about that next week) but in the main I am a little bit non-plussed after trying and failing with a few of them. I am thinking it might be time to introduce a new series of posts on ‘Books I Didn’t Finish and Why’ but maybe with a snazzier title.

So moving on from Booker books what else has popped in from the publishers? Well you will be shocked to learn that I can fit my hardbacks, trades and paperbacks in one photo, that’s quite a breakthrough. I haven’t had as many unsolicited books and those I have had have been much more my cup of tea. Hoorah! So here they are…

  • Good Offices by Evelio Rosero – unsolicited copy, winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize sounds a little bit different and is short so could be worth a read.
  • Ragnarok by A.S. Byatt – I didn’t think I would try another Byatt, I find her a little full of herself in her writing and in person (oops), but books should be about good stories and this looks a treat as its one of the Canongate Myth retelling series.
  • The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai – A book about a librarian who kidnaps and is kidnapped by one of the children who comes to the library. I am half way through this and I think it is wonderful so far. I can’t wait to tell you more.
  • Blow On A Dead Man’s Embers by Mari Strachan – I really liked her first novel ‘The Earth Hums in B Flat’ so I begged for this one. When it arrived my aunty, who is a whatsit for a title, asked if it was about something rude. I hadn’t thought of it but now I keep giggling when I see the book. Oh dear.
  • The Gendarme by Mark Mustian – You know when you see a book in Waterstones and just love the cover but aren’t sure it would be quite your cup of tea, you keep seeing it and you keep being torn. Well, now I have it and am expecting quite a lot.
  • Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson – I thought Winterson’s debut novel ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit’ was wonderful, I am puzzled by the author though. On TV I have seen her be delightful or prickly, and I know she had a phase of hating being labelled as an LGBT author, and yet now we have a very LGBT book. Should be interesting, but puzzling too.
  • The Book Lover’s Tale by Ivo Stourton – I admit I asked for this solely based on the title.
  • The Blue Book by A.L. Kennedy – This is probably going to be read this weekend. It’s a book about psychic’s on a cruise ship and just sounds right up my street. I have struggled with Kennedy before so am hoping this is the way in. It’s also a beautiful book to look at.
  • The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan – I have wanted to read this since Marieke Hardy called it a ‘cock forest’ on The First Tuesday Book Club, she didn’t like it and her reaction just made me want to read it even more.
  • The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen – I love Tess’ books so there is no way I couldn’t have this. Its signed too. Hoorah.
  • 666 Charing Cross Road by Paul Magrs – A new series starts… could be very exciting.
  • Twenty Six by Jonathan Kemp – Twenty six (very) short stories from one of last years Green Carnation short listed authors. Looking forward to this one.
  • Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes – Kevin from Canada mentioned this on the Man Booker forums as a brilliant crime and had a very nice review of it too. It’s not his genre so if its got non crime fans raving then I need to give it a whirl.
  • Something Was There edited by Kate Pullinger – unsolicited copy, Asham Award Winning shost stories, perfect for the autumnal nights which seem to have come early this year.
  • The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson – unsolicited copy, a book about sideshow freaks and the love story between the Human Skeleton and the Bearded Lady, erm yes please (I have to say if I had seen the drab cover in a shop though I wouldn’t have picked this up, Picador are normally ace at covers, what’s this about?).
  • The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill – unsolicited copy, had the hardback so this reminded me a read was due, especially seeing as the next one ‘The Betrayal of Trust’ is out in October, which I will of course really be desperate to read.
  • Electricity & The Man Without by Ray Robinson – I thought ‘Forgetting Zoe’ was brilliant and so I am really looking forward to reading his back catalogue.

There was a second hand spree this month so I can’t say I have been that good in terms of treats. However I have had a lovely loan and two lovely gifts too.

I did a call out to see if any of you had Sue Johnston’s first autobiography as I am ‘in conversation’ with her next Tuesday at Waterstones Deansgate (a review of her stunning autobiography out today will be up this afternoon) and the forementioned Paul Magrs had a copy of ‘Hold onto the Messy Times’ which he has kindly loaned me. I don’t know why I didn’t ask Paul first, he has lots of the TV books from the 1980’s so it should have been an instant thought. Ruth from my book group has kindly given me her latest finished read which is ‘The Fallen Leaves’ a Wilkie Collins book I don’t own. Naturally I was thrilled. And finally, all the way from the USA, Rachel of Booksnob sent me ‘Bedilla’ by Vera Caspary which she read and adored and with a tagline ‘she seduces men… but does she kill them? A mystery bout the wickedest woman who ever loved’ knew would be right up my street. Thrilled, again.

A more compact month, but a month filled with gems I think you will agree. What have you had through the post/from the library/bought from the shops lately? Which of these have you read or are looking forward to reading and which would you like to see reviewed on Savidge Reads in the near future?

18 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

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?

11 Comments

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

Pigeon English – Stephen Kelman

There was quite a lot of furore when the Man Booker longlist came out wasn’t there? First up there was all the titles we hadn’t heard of, then there was the fact the big names were missing, and then there was debate over which titles should definitely not be on the list. ‘Pigeon English’, the debut novel by Stephen Kelman, seemed to be the novel that became the particular scapegoat in all this and so, along with the fact it was one of my ‘Reading With Authors’ choices with Naomi Wood, it became the one I most wanted to read first in part to see what all the fuss was about.

Bloomsbury, Fiction, 2011, 263 pages, sent by publishers

There is an underlying issue with ‘reviewing’ a novel like ‘Pigeon English’ and daring to critique it. It almost makes you wonder should you dare to because the subject matter is a delicate one, in the main it seems that Stephen Kelman took the story of school boy Damiloa Taylor’s death and wrote a fictional response about/to it. ‘Pigeon English is told by eleven year old Harrison Opuku, a young man who is also an immigrant from Ghana now living on one of the tower block council estates in London. This is an area of street gangs, poverty and violence; in fact the novel opens with the death of a school boy who Harrison sort of knew.  

“Me and the dead boy were only half friends, I didn’t see him very much because he was older and didn’t go to my school. He could ride his bike with no hands and you never even wanted him to fall off. I said a prayer for him inside my head. It just said sorry. That’s all I could remember. I pretended like if I kept looking hard enough I could make the blood move and go back in the shape of a boy. I could bring him alive in that way. It happened before, where I used to live there was a chief who brought his son back like that. It was a long time ago, before I was born. Asweh, it was a miracle. It didn’t work this time.”

Writing in a child’s narrative has become something of trend in modern contemporary writing, long before ‘Room’ we had ‘What Was Lost’ (and indeed the theme of child detective comes up in this book as Harrison and his best friend decide to hunt the killer), it is also a hard act to balance when on a tough subject. Can you hold the reader’s belief? Does the narrative ring true? Does the simplicity of the voice dilute the events that are happening? Sadly, for me at least, whilst I loved Harrison’s view on life, which often made me laugh out loud, it took away the impact of the novel. When you are spending time in the company of this lively witty young man you are also left missing a lot. I never felt I got to know any of the other characters deeply, the other school kids like X-Fire (pronounced Cross Fire) or Killa became almost like cartoon caricatures, his sister and mother has no real back story other than one being the matriarch and the other a bit of a pain. I also felt like there was a whole back story in Ghana I simply didn’t know enough about. Oh and I haven’t even started on the talking pigeon, something I didn’t think was needed or added anything other than making me a bit cross.

I’m aware this sounds harsh, and indeed there are many things that make this book highly readable. Harrison’s voice rings true and is a delight, it’s a novel very much ‘of the time’ and I it was highly readable – almost too readable for its topic. I wanted Stephen Kelman to give me more though, I wanted the wonderful ‘council estate whodunit’ thread to be more of a story rather than a game/accidental thread/plot device, I wanted to know much more about his mother and what was going on with Ghana. There was a certain vagueness, or maybe it was simply too closed in a horizon which children can have, for me and that turned what could have been a fantastic book into a good one but one that didn’t pack any emotional punch for me. If you have read this book then you will know it should have hit home harder all the way through but especially at the ending.

“You could see lighter burns on Miquita’s hands all shiny like wax. They weren’t even for a good reason like Auntie Sonia’s burns, they were just a trick. Killa only made them so Miquita would admire him. I even felt sorry for him then. I didn’t even have to burn Poppy to make her admire me, I only had to make her laugh. Somebody should tell him, laughing is the best way to make them admire you. It’s even easier than burning.”

All that said I would recommend ‘Pigeon English’ but maybe not so much for the adult market, and here I think Bloomsbury have missed a bit of a trick. This is a book with a wonderful child’s voice that should be being pushed into schools and aimed at a young adult market. In that setting, and with that audience, I honestly think this book would have an incredible impact. I would also recommend this as a good ‘book group’ novel, it’s a great one for discussion. Not just for its subject matter, but also for the joys and pitfalls of the child narrator in fiction.

Has anyone else read this? What did you think? I feel a bit like I am being ‘bah-humbug’ about it, but I did enjoy reading it, and whenever I did pick it up I certainly read it quickly. I just felt something was missing amongst all the signs of promise. I will certainly read Stephen Kelman’s next novel. You can see a discussion between Naomi Wood and myself about ‘Pigeon English’ here, be warned there was almost a fig roll fight so watch for any low flying biscuits.

14 Comments

Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Man Booker, Review, Stephen Kelman

Reading With Authors #2: Pigeon English – Stephen Kelman; With Naomi Wood

Today we are off via the magic of the internet (and a little bit of imagination) to an author’s house in London, not a million miles from the very streets where today’s book for discussion ‘Pigeon English’ by Stephen Kelman is set. We’ve rung the doorbell, had a nosey around and join the lovely Naomi Wood (and take over her house) for the second in the series of ‘Reading With Authors’.

  

So Naomi, even though I am actually in your house for today’s virtual meeting do make yourself comfortable… tea or coffee? Any biscuits you would like? I brought a box but fear Belinda and I might have eaten all the digestives last week

I am sitting very comfortably, thank you, in my expansive countryside cottage looking over rolling hills. Not really. We are sitting in my ex-council flat in London with the dehumidifier on (making lots of noise; problem with damp.) Please can I have a large double mocha skinny frappe latte? No? Okay. Cup of tea and a fig roll please. That would be ‘hutious’.

‘Advise yourself’ Naomi. I can’t quite remember why it was that we chose this book can you? I know it was one that I had been meaning to read for a while, what was it that had made it a book on your hit list? (And we can be quite smug in saying we chose to discuss this before the Man Booker Longlist was announced…)

I think it’s been a very talked-about book and I already knew a lot about it before I did the Brighton Book Festival with Stephen. I was very intrigued as I’d seen him on the Waterstones’ Eleven list (I always think that sounds like a police roll call) and lots of people were talking about that. Also, what with the riots, it seems timely to be talking about a book that looks at youth violence, poverty, gang culture…

The first thing to ask really is if you enjoyed it?

I did enjoy it: the voice of Harrison was flawless, I thought. You never really broke with that voice, and I was surprised at how funny it was. I thought Harrison was a loveable, good character, full of optimism. His relationship with Poppy, his girlfriend, was just lovely. That said, I was surprised that I wasn’t much emotionally moved. Bad things happen in the novel and, perhaps because of the alacrity with which you read it, and how quickly they’re narrated, I can’t say that I shed a tear or felt much conflicting emotion.  But then maybe I’m an uncaring bastard. Did you?

I sort of did and sort of didn’t all in one. That isn’t to say I thought it was a bad book by any means, it’s just one I couldn’t always get a handle on. It seemed Stephen Kelman had almost too much he wanted to include. The youth led crime of London’s city streets; the past of Harrison’s life in Ghana, the struggle for money and opportunities, there was a lot there and yet…

People always say that’s the problem with first novels, right? That there are always about three books crammed in rather than one clear story. But I actually disagree with you on this one. I actually wanted more rather than less. Specifically, I wanted the detective story much more in the foreground. I loved the idea of a ‘council estate whodunit’. I thought it was going to be much more like A Curious Incident…, in the sense that the main story is propelled by the desire to find the killer, but somehow that always seemed rather secondary to the comic colourful scenes on the periphery: painting Adidas stripes on his trainers, Mr Frampon singing too loudly at church, his fear of Miquita ‘sucking him off’ (Harrison thinks this is a term for ‘deep kissing’). I did enjoy all of this – it gave such colour and immediacy to Harrison’s life as a new immigrant in England – but I wanted more of the detective story, and fewer tangents. Hold on, have I just agreed with you?

I think you might have. I think the book needed to be longer or ‘deeper’ really, so maybe I am agreeing with you? The book opens with a really shocking scene; it’s no spoiler to say a young boy has been knifed to death seemingly for his ‘Chicken Joe’s’ meal deal. I was thinking to myself that this was going to be a hard book to read, and yet it’s very readable, sometimes almost too easy to read and digest. You may of course think I am bonkers saying that…

Yes, I think I agree with that. You get into such an enjoyable gallop with the voice that you forget to see that the countryside is burning, so to speak. And I think that’s a great achievement on the part of Kelman to make us so comfortable with the main narrator’s voice. Your thoughts, please, Mr Savidge, while you pour me another cup of tea?

Oh sorry, I was so into the chat I forgot about tea. Did you just mutter ‘rubbish host’ under your breath… Moving on. I actually wondered if the narrators voice, which I did really enjoy in a lot of respects, being one of a young boy made all the horrific things simpler and yet strangely diluted it all. Did you find this? Did you think the repetition of ‘asweh’, ‘donkey time’, ‘advise yourself’ etc added to the narrative voice or did it detract from it?

The voice, for me, was definitely the best thing about the novel. The whole novel hinges, completely, on the believability of Harrison’s voice. It also hangs on his hawkish (or pigeony?) eye: he sees things with such humour, that, yes, I suppose, sometimes you forget how depressing the council estate is, how rotten it is that his dad and baby sister are still stuck in Ghana and that the family are torn apart. Did the voice dilute the shocking nature of the events? No, I don’t think so. The fact that the boy’s murder was cribbed into everyday life just underlined how common incidents like this are in some communities. That’s sad. Some of the little verbal tics got irritating at times but nothing you can’t ignore (as with the pigeon… more on that later.) I actually liked ‘Advise yourself’. Perhaps I’ll start using it.

Ha, ha, ha. I can see you going around doing that Naomi. I did think the voice diluted it though, it was almost trying to over simplify it all. Maybe I just struggle with children’s narrators? I liked Harrison a lot, as I did the child in Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’, yet I do sometimes wonder if it’s used as a tool to emotionally manipulate people. Harrison’s voice rang true and I enjoyed spending time with him. I just felt it distanced me, rather than made me closer, to the events he was embroiled in. What do you think?

But I can’t see how the narrative could have been told in any other way than how it was presented. That’s the thing: this is a crazy child’s world where all the kids are acting like adults, and where serious adult things happen to children. With the adults strangely absent (or impotent, like the police) it’s the children left to sort it all out. It had to be told from the perspective of someone within the dead boy’s circle. But I know what you mean about child narrators. I find the irony we’re meant to experience, of knowing much more about the child than the child knows, a little frustrating sometimes. It’s always nice after reading books like this to read one from the point of view of a very old person who has an expansive and mutable voice rather than a child narrator who is necessarily curtailed by the limit of their young understanding.

Let’s turn to the ‘whodunit’ aspect of the book. By the way, I think if you liked this one for the detective angle then you would love ‘What Was Lost’ by Catherine O’Flynn. Back to ‘Pigeon English’ though… I did love the idea of Harrison and his friend Dean becoming detectives, that to me was a brilliant aspect of the book, we got inside a few addition characters worlds. That said it never quite fully formed itself as a device or sub-plot for me and I was never very sure I got to know any of the other characters, which I wondered if was the purpose behind it in some way, rather than just playing with the genre.

Yes, I really wanted more of the detective story! More attempts to get their school friends’ DNA, more lists like ‘Signs that people are definitely guilty’ (includes ‘farting too much’ and ‘religious hysteria’)… I felt like it was pretty obvious, really from the beginning, who had killed the boy…

Really? I didn’t. I missed it completely and got sidetracked by the red herring with a member of Harrison’s family…

…and I would have liked more derring-do, intrigue and a ‘whodunit feel to the story. I’d have liked to have found out more about the female characters, such as the sister and the mum, as their voices were quite sidelined in favour of the boys and the gangs. That said, I don’t think there was much space for that.

There is a lot of discussion that this isn’t a literary novel and I must add that I do think this book is in many ways. It combines page turning with the literary in fact. I don’t understand all the hoo-ha being made about it being on the Man Booker Longlist do you?

Pass me a fig roll before I politely disagree with you. I’m not crazily concerned with it being on the Booker list, but I do think the Booker is the only place for really, really literary work, and I don’t think this is, and I can’t even say why. It’s not the subject matter, or the way it’s related, or the child’s point of view… it’s not the fact there aren’t long ‘literary’ words in it: I know none of this is tantamount to making something ‘literary’. Perhaps it’s just because I didn’t come away with the feeling that I’d been changed, in a small but important way, by reading the book. I’ve just finished Edward St Aubyn’s Some Hope trilogy, and after reading that I had to go away and have a good think. I didn’t feel like that in this case, which I’m not particularly concerned with, because I enjoyed reading it and I read it really quickly, and I laughed quite a lot.

I think you might have hit the nail on the head and succinctly described my issue with the book. I enjoyed it a lot, but it didn’t have the impact I was expecting, it didn’t change my views on the world. Without reviewing the book, which I will do separately at some point, I think we can say that with everything that has been going on in the UK with riots and the disillusionment/anarchy with young gangs that this is a most timely book. I thought in that sense actually this book would be great for a young adult readership as well as an adult readership. 

Yes, me too. I recommended Pigeon English to a school-teacher friend and he absolutely got it in a way that I think is because of his proximity to children of that age. I think it could definitely work as a YA novel too: teens could easily read this, probably understand all the slang quicker than us, and really get on with Harrison’s voice. I think a lot of teens would love it. That’s another thing I liked about it: it was so, so current, and it’s not often you get to read a book set very much now, in voices that are familiar to us.

Now, I have to bring it up… that ruddy talking pigeon. What was all that about? I think this is what maybe spoiled the book a little for me. I didn’t see the need. Am I just a miserable old cross patch?

Eh. Can I have another fig roll? I might talk with my mouthful to make this sound less shouty: I COULDN’T SEE WHY YOU NEEDED A TALKING PIGEON! I didn’t think it added anything, and, more than that, I thought it was pretty irritating: you switch from running around the streets looking for criminals to this high-minded, day-dreamy, bookish voice where the choice of language completely changes. However. It’s only a paragraph here and there, and is very easily ignored. It didn’t spoil it for me. Perhaps you are a miserable old cross patch…

I am tempted to launch some fig roll missiles at you for that comment Naomi, be warned. Ha! So would you recommend this book to a friend or to a book group? I actually think this would make a great book for discussion, I think it’s quite possibly a bookish equivalent of marmite…

Very marmitey. If they’re someone who loves funny books with a strong voice, and a page-turner too, then yes. And I would recommend this, definitely, to any teenager living in any British city. But if they’re more sort of bookish and, yes, probably more conservative in their tastes, then maybe not. I’m really glad I read it because my taste is shamefully narrow (all the authors I like are all white guys above the age of 50 with an eye on sort of existential melancholia, and I realise the limits of reading only about one type of experience about one type of person) and this book took me totally out of that zone. Would you?

I would, and I think in particular I would recommend that this is a book that adults who love to read should read with any teenage children they have. I will be recommending it to my mother in particular who works in a school where children come from these sorts of backgrounds and I think it would be a great novel for them to talk about. I do think that the publishers have missed a trick with that one. I also think, despite my own slight issues with it, people need to stop crouching about this book so much, for Harrison’s narration alone. I will also be very interested to see what Kelman comes up with next. Right, we best open the discussion up to everyone else hadn’t we…?

10 Comments

Filed under Naomi Wood, Reading With Authors 2011, Stephen Kelman

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.

12 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Man Booker

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?

22 Comments

Filed under Man Booker