Tag Archives: The Man Booker Prize

Judging A Book…

So in the not too distant future (or in the recent past if you read this later than I posted it, which is pretty late) there will be a big announcement in the bookish world as to which novel and author have gone and won some award they call the Man Booker Prize, just a small thing no biggie. Of course I jest. In actuality within the next twenty four hours, and actually possibly weeks months and years to come, most of the bookish world is going to be discussing the decision made by five people in a room on the very subjective nature of what makes a truly great book… or possibly which book they all liked equally and therefore chose as the winner. So, not afraid to open a tinned can of worms, I thought I would talk a little bit about the whole book judging thing really.

You see when the Man Booker winner is announced there will be arms in the air with jubilation and also arms in the air with indignation. That is the way with books awards, well with any awards. I have experienced this a few times having judged both The Green Carnation Prize (for a few years) and then this year, yesterday in fact, I had the pleasure of judging the Not The Booker Prize for the Guardian. The latter was all the more nerve wrecking as the judging was all done live, we had no four walls and a swanky lunch (I am imaging the lunch, it might just be a cup of tea and a digestive) unlike the Booker.

Not The Booker’s Prize… a coveted Guardian mug.

For the judges there were two clear favourite books and forerunners, not in the eyes of the public but more on that shortly, those were Kate Atkinson’s ‘Life After Life’ and Meike Ziervogel’s ‘Magda’. Two books which couldn’t be more different in terms of length but are equal in how brilliant their stories, writing and vision were – oh and how much they made us think. The winner in the end was ‘Life After Life’ which will tick some people off. Interestingly as we were talking having said at the start I wanted ‘Life After Life’ to win I started thinking ‘hang on a minute Simon, Atkinson doesn’t need the publicity, she probably has plenty of mugs and doesn’t need a Guardian one and Magda is as amazing in so many ways and think what this could do for a debut novelist…’ yet I had to be true to what I considered the best read FOR ME on the list. Which is of course a very personal and subjective thing, for me though I was looking for prose, voice, story, characters, something new, impact and thought provoking nature. Both books had all these things, personally Atkinson just hit that chord where I felt it had been written for me even when Ziervogel blew me away. This probably makes no sense so let us move on; suffice to say I was very torn.

We also went against the popular and public vote of Zoe Venditozzi’s debut novel ‘Anywhere But Here’. We didn’t do this because we were being controversial, we did it because we all agreed that Zoe can write bloody brilliantly (review coming soon) and it is a very impressive debut but we all had a slight issue with what happens in the book as it goes on, which I won’t spoil. That doesn’t mean we didn’t like it, quite the opposite is true, it means we can’t wait to see what she (and indeed Lucy Cruickshanks) do next. Unlike the Booker, or any of the main awards actually, we COULD say that publically which was really nice. I don’t think the Booker longlisters who don’t make the short list get more than a ‘nope’, though I could be wrong – doubts it. Back to my point, the public weren’t wrong, the judges weren’t wrong, it is all subjective. Different judges could have had a completely different outcome.

Books are subjective by their very nature; we will all read a book differently. Even with the people that I respect the most in terms of books, I can sometimes think ‘what on earth did you see in that twaddle?’ It is the same with loved ones; I cannot begin to tell you how many books Granny Savidge Reads and I would debate, be they crime series, classics or modern literature. Yet some books you just meet on the middle on how much you love. It is those, above the ones you all like, that you discuss the most and get excited about the most. Like at a book group. You see when it comes to books we all judge them and that is what makes me laugh when people are up in arms about a set of judges decisions. (I include myself in this; I have been very cross with panels before, and then laughed at my outrage.) From the cover of the book till the final page – if we make it that far – we are constantly judging a book on everything we have read before and what we deem a good read for whatever reason be it on the writing, the enjoyment factor or the dreaded ‘readability’.

The best things about prizes are though that they get us all talking about books and igniting the passion for literature of all types and genres. And they make people want to read long and short lists. All good stuff! So before we judge the judges on what they have judged the best book of the year (remember that the publishers were the ones who actually chose which books to put forward) in whatever prize they are judging, that we all judge books all the time don’t we?

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The Lighthouse – Alison Moore

I really should listen to people more and stop making assumptions so quickly, I really should. One book that has certainly highlighted this recently has been reading Alison Moore’s debut novel ‘The Lighthouse’, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year. I had assumed that with a lighthouse on the cover it would be about the sea and boats, which it isn’t but I don’t read blurbs so I just assumed it would be. Then I heard it was a ‘walking book’ and as a child who went on too many walking holidays (sorry Gran, I do think of them more fondly now) that put me off too. However Trevor of The Mookse and the Gripes raved about it to me when we recorded a Man Booker special of The Readers and now, having finished it, I am kicking myself for having not read it sooner.

Salt Publishing, paperback, 2012, fiction, 184 pages, borrowed from the library

Futh, which I admit I initially found such an unusual name it bothered me to start with and slightly distracted me, is a man who has decided to take himself off on his first holiday alone walking in the German countryside. As we meet him on the ferry we learn that he has recently become separated and in some nostalgic way has done what he and his father did when his mother left and head to Germany for a break of sorts. It is this almost circular and mirroring of the past and the present that we see more and more of as ‘The Lighthouse’ goes on. As Futh walks in the days that follow certain things mainly scents, as he is a chemist who creates artificial scents which I couldn’t help think was inspired by the fact the only thing of his mothers he had was a perfume bottle shaped like a lighthouse, remind him of the past and memories start to come back that he can’t quite figure out, yet as the reader we can which I thought Moore had planned rather intricately.

Now I am aware that I have fallen into the trap of making this book sound like it is a ‘walking book’ and actually it is so much more and that is where the second strand of the novel comes from in alternating chapters. Ester is a rather unhappy landlady of a B&B in Germany called Hellhaus (which is German for ‘lighthouse’) where Futh comes to stay. Her husband, Bernard, no longer seems interested in her and so finds herself sleeping with single men who stay at the hotel, and who will have her, in a way of getting her husband’s attention. This works but not in the way she hopes, his reaction is of a darker jealousy which cleverly creates a sense of unease and dread in the reader for all concerned.

“In the past, she always used beds she had already changed, but since receiving complaints about the sheets, she makes sure to use rooms not yet cleaned. Or she uses rooms whose occupants are out for the day, brushing off and straightening up the bedding afterwards, and sometimes, while she is there, browsing the contents of drawers and suitcases, picking up perfumes and lipsticks, testing them on herself. If guests ever notice their possessions, these small items, going missing, they rarely say anything.”

Both the characters of Ester and Futh are polar opposites yet they have similarities and are so fascinating they make you read on. She appears from the outside a little cold, sexually dominant and manipulative; you learn how she went for Bernard when she was originally dating his brother etc. Yet really ester is a woman who fell in love with a man who became bored of her and she became bored of her life, she wanted romance and indeed still collects and reads Mills and Boons, the promise they offer consoled with drinking gin during the day. Futh on the other hand is one of those people who seem to amble through life a little bit confused and is often overlooked, misunderstood or finds himself misunderstanding the world around him. I did love the fact that wherever he stays he has to work out an exit of safety, hence why he doesn’t like planes. He is someone who goes under the radar possibly because he is actually a bit boring. It is this ambling nature and of not understanding or being understood which makes the ending of the book all the more horrifying, but I won’t say more on that subject.

“He has got into the habit of always determining an escape route from a room in which he is staying, imagining emergency scenarios in which his exit is blocked by a fire or a psychopath. This began, he thinks, when he was in his twenties and living in an attic flat. His Aunt Frieda, worrying about stair fires and burglars, gave him a rope ladder. It seems important he should always know a way out.”

Another thing I really admired and found rather enthralling was the circular feel to ‘The Lighthouse’, something which the title seems to allude to right there and indeed the quoted paragraph above does too. Themes of how history repeats itself, with Futh’s mother (also called Angela) leaving his father for being boring, and then his wife does the very same thing. The very walk itself he goes in is circular, the bottle in his pocket is a lighthouse, Esters hotel has the name, the place Futh saw his father hit his mother and ended their relationship was on a walk to a lighthouse etc. Occasionally these fall into symmetries and seem a tad too much, the fact Ester dated one brother then another and Futh’s wife might have had an affair with his estranged step brother, or the fact Futh creates scents and carries an empty bottle of his mothers and Ester collecting perfume bottles seemed one too far but because the book is so, so good I ended up overlooking it, even if it did seem to be one connection that was thrown in for the plot a little.

I think ‘The Lighthouse’ is one of the most accomplished debut novels that I have read in quite some time, and indeed is one of my favourite novels of the year so far. It is a book that says so much and is brimming with themes and ideas in fewer than two hundred pages. It has shades of dark and light, there is some real humour at Futh’s expense making the darker undertones all the darker, the unease build throughout and the ending all the more upsetting. I had to keep re-reading the last few chapters. I would highly recommend you give this book a whirl and am thrilled that the Man Booker judges chose this over some more famous names or I might have missed out.

Who else has read ‘The Lighthouse’ and what did you think? Have you ever been put off a book by its cover and/or what you have assumed about it or thought the subject matter wouldn’t be your thing (I am also thinking of Madeline Miller’s ‘The Song of Achilles’ here) only to love it and wish you had read it sooner? Oh and you can read Trevor of Mookse and the Gripes thoughts here and also Kim of Reading Matters here as it was Trevor who said I should read it and Kim’s review that made me get this from the library!

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Filed under Alison Moore, Books of 2012, Man Booker, Review, Salt Publishing

Defending Book Blogging…

Why is it that so many people like to lay into book bloggers and basically say how rubbish they are and how bad for literature’s future blogging is? Peter Stothard, who is chairing this year’s Man Booker Prize, is the latest to have a go at bloggers in the Independent. He basically says that blogging is killing of good literary criticism which I actually disagree with, especially as you look at the article in more depth.

I was asked to contribute to the Guardian’s piece on this yesterday defending book bloggers, which of course I did and you can see here. I also threw in the fact that with bloggers we have more space to discuss literature, no deadlines for print so we can think on books longer and we don’t get paid for the work we do. It is, for me and the blogs I follow anyway, about a passion for books and literature and spreading the word about great books and discussing them and the ones we don’t like as much. How is that a bad thing?

What has been lovely to see is that most of the comments, well the ones I have seen so far, feel similarly and on the whole think, as I do, that bloggers and literary critics can live together quite happily as we all simply love the book and literature. End of.

What do you think?

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The Man Booker Shortlist 2012…

At some point today (apparently within the next hour or so) the judges of this year’s Man Booker Prize will announce their shortlist. Each and every year, which is swiftly becoming a tradition as this blog has a big birthday this week, I like to guess the long list and then the winner of the Man Booker (and indeed the Orange Prize) even if I haven’t read all of the contenders, which we never know pre-long listing, it just seems to be part of the fun of it all and getting more discussions about books going on here, there and everywhere.

Anyway I say which ones I would like to see go through and which ones I think actually will (because I can almost guarantee my choices won’t be the panels) lets remind ourselves of the long listed novels. I have put the ones I have read, or tried to, in italics. There is a link to the only one I have reviewed so far (as I am being sparing with reviews at the mo) or DNF next to them when I couldn’t finish them, in the case of ‘Communion Town’ haven’t finished yet (HFY) as I am currently reading it in chunks a chapter here and there which is working better than a straight read was. So here is the list…

The Man Booker contenders I’ve had a crack at…

The Yips – Nicola Barker (Fourth Estate)
The Teleportation Accident – Ned Beauman (Sceptre) DNF
Philida – Andre Brink (Harvill Secker)
The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng (Myrmidon Books)
Skios – Michael Frayn (Faber)
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce (Doubleday)
Swimming Home – Deborah Levy (And Other Stories)
Bringing Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate)
The Lighthouse – Alison Moore (Salt)
Umbrella – Will Self (Bloomsbury) DNF
Narcopolis – Jeet Thayil (Faber)
Communion Town – Sam Thompson (Fourth Estate) HFY

Overall from what I have managed to read it has been a really interesting list this year and one where three books in particular have stuck out for me. Those are Levy, Barker and Mantel. I would be thrilled to see them in the shortlist and currently I can’t call if I would like Barker or Levy to win the most, Mantel has already won recently so I am sure she wouldn’t mind me thinking this. Joyce’s novel, which initially seems the most commercial of the longlist (along with ‘Skios’ which I liked but wouldn’t short list) is a book which has stuck with me since I have read it and one I keep thinking about, so that is on my list. Oddly, though I didn’t finish it I want Will Self on the longlist too. You see I didn’t dislike the book at all, and I know Will Self takes work to read which is fine by me, it is just a book I needed a lot more time for and one I didn’t want to gulp down and resent because I wasn’t putting enough work in, so that makes my list. Finally, because I can’t suggest a novel that I haven’t read (though I really fancy reading ‘Philida’ when I go back to normal reading in a month or two) I am going to have Thompson as my last choice, though in a way I think its interweaving short stories more than a novel (controversial and why it might not go further), because I am enjoying it, I am admiring the prose and construction of the book and think it’s a book you could return to. So my short list would look like this…

My Man Booker Shortlist

What do I think will actually make the shortlist. Well my hunch is… Barker, Beauman, Brink, Levy, Mantel and Thayil. We will see though. What do you think? Which have you read and what were your thoughts? I will post the proper short list later when it has been announced.

Oh and don’t forget the wonderful new ‘unofficial’ Booker Forum that Trevor from Mookse and Gripes has set up which you can find here. Come and have a natter there too with everyone.

Update: The shortlisted authors are… Tan Twan Eng, Deborah Levy, Hilary Mantel, Alison Moore, Will Self and Jeet Thayil.

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Swimming Home – Deborah Levy

‘Swimming Home’ has been a book that I had been meaning to read for a while, because of some lovely bubbling background compliments from various trusted sources, before it was long listed for the Man Booker Prize. That long listing, plus the fact I had loved a previous book by the same independent (and Arts Council funded) publisher, meant that when I saw it in the library I knew that I had to give it a whirl, and I am so glad I did as I think it will be one of my reads of the year.

*****, And Other Stories, 2011, paperback, fiction, 157 pages, borrowed from the library

I have often heard that all the best novels start with the best first lines. Now of course this isn’t always true and indeed is rather subjective to tastes however, for me personally, from the opening line of ‘Swimming Home’ I knew that this was going to be a book I would enjoy. As the novel opens from the very first line we are given a mystery, back story and darkness all in one go, which is very much what ‘Swimming Home’ is like throughout and just happens to be just my reading cup of tea.

‘When Kitty Finch took her hand off the steering wheel and told him she loved him, he no longer knew if she was threatening him or having a conversation.’

As the novel opens we soon learn that Kitty Finch is going to be a character that we, and the people whose lives she forces herself into, are never going to forget. Well known, and rather well off, Poet Joe or Jozef Jacobs has come to spend summer in a villa in Nice with his wife Isabel, a war correspondent, teenage daughter Nina and family friends Mitchell and Laura to escape for a while and write. In fact everyone there is really escaping something. However one morning everyone is woken to a discovery of something floating in the pool which turns out not to be a bear, as suspected, but a naked woman and one who is very much alive, Kitty Finch. From the moment Kitty arrives the dynamic of the group is thrown and people start to do things out of character, for example Isabel invites Kitty to stay suddenly, or is it that Kitty brings out the cracks in the veneer that people use to cover their true selves which slowly start to unravel, again ironic as we soon learn that Kitty herself is unraveling rapidly forming a subconscious catalyst in everyone else.

‘Standing next to Kitty Finch was like being near a cork that had just popped out of a bottle. The first pop when gasses seem to escape and everything is sprinkled for one second with something intoxicating.’

This ‘mysterious stranger’ coming into a group unannounced and unwelcomed is admittedly not the most original of plot devices, yet of course with the right author they can do something very different and that is what I felt Deborah Levy did with ‘Swimming Home’. Everyone has secrets, yet as we go on and learn Kitty’s, we start to see those in the other characters whilst they are still sussing out Kitty’s themselves. It’s a great vantage point and one Deborah Levy does wonderfully well by almost seamlessly making us flit from each characters perspectives, a style that has sometimes been known to irritate me, yet here worked wonderfully well.

I absolutely loved Levy’s writing style. A word is never wasted and she can concoct, like in the opening of the book, a whole set of images in a single sentence. Everything is very real and people fully form in front of your eyes without her writing much and certainly never over writing. For example ‘Mitchell lay on his back sweating. It was three a.m. and he had just had a nightmare about a centipede.’ Or ‘Joe Jacobs lay on his back in the master bedroom, as it was described in the villa’s fact sheet, longing for a curry.’ Even the characters who fall slightly off centre stage get the same treatment, like the wonderful aged Madeleine Sheridan, though watch out for some of those background characters as they become more catalytic and important on occasion as the book goes. They are all fully formed, even by the most random of moments. Mitchell thinking it is a bear floating in the pool in the middle of Nice certainly says a lot about him from the off doesn’t it.

‘It was the fat man who liked guns calling up to her. Madeleine Sheridan lifted up her arthritic arm and waved with two limp fingers from her straw chair. Her body had become a sum of flawed parts. At medical school she had learned she had twenty-seven bones in each hand, eight in the wrist alone, five in the palm. Her fingers were rich with nerve endings but now even moving two fingers was an effort.’

I thought ‘Swimming Home’ was a truly marvellous book. I loved how Deborah Levy set up a simplistic and rather conventional premise and made it anything but. I loved how she through a set of characters of all ages (from teenage Nina to elderly Madeleine) all walks of life (from the rich Joe to the poor local business man Claude) together so richly and yet so tightly in so few pages. Most of all though I loved the underlying and brooding darkness of the book and the way Levy kept me on my toes flipping everything plot wise and playing games with prose style too. It is a book I will certainly re-read, one I didn’t want to take back to the library, and if all Levy’s books are like this I shall have to go through her entire back catalogue. It’s definitely one of my books of the year and one I would heartily recommend.

Here’s hoping it gets short-listed for the Man Booker Prize in four days time. I have actually read a few of the long list, though am eking out reviews at the moment while I read the Green Carnation Prize submissions, and this is one of my three favourites so far. Who else has read it and what did you think?

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Filed under And Other Stories, Books of 2012, Deborah Levy, Man Booker, Review

Books By The Bedside #4

It’s time for me to do a little sharing of what I am reading, and of course ask you all to do the same, with my latest ‘Books by the Bedside’ post. I have to admit after my break away and the utter lack of reading while I was there I did come back and have a small period of readers block. That seems to have cleared now thankfully and I am back on reading form. Phew!

One of the books that got me out of a funk, and I am still dipping in and out of, was ‘Adrian Mole From Minor to Major’ which is a collection of the first three volumes of his diaries (‘The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾’, ‘The Growing Pains of Adrian Albert Mole’ and ‘True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole’) written by Susan Townsend. I was look at books that would get younger people reading, to deliver a presentation for that job I didn’t get sadly, and so dug these out for a re-read. Well, I have been in hysterics! I forgot how funny, and how rude, they are and it is amazing that they haven’t aged, despite the fact they were 30 years old this year they read quite currently.

The second book was also one that I picked up to dip into while I had the small reading block. Nancy Mitford’s essays ‘A Talent to Annoy’ was a book I spotted last week in the library, the perfect place to wander when you have no idea what to read, and almost whooped with joy when I spotted as it is really hard to get hold of. They are perfect quick sharp reads for when you only have five minutes spare and her dry and wry humour just gets me every time.

I am also currently reading two other books. This is very unlike me but let me explain. I have been reading a very advance copy of Colm Toibin’s ‘The Testament of Mary’ which, as I am not religious, is taking me a lot longer than I expected as I keep having to go and Google all the references, like the story of Lazarus, that I know little of. Now when I was getting my head around all this I had a book sort, not ridding myself of any just manoeuvring them around, and I picked up ‘The Age of Miracles’ by Karen Thompson Walker and read the first page… two hours later I was still reading, utterly hooked, and have now almost finished it but as I don’t want it to end I am back to Colm. Do any of you do that?

I then have two books that I am really keen to get to once these lovely reads are all over. I have not read one of Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler novels in quite a while, the sixth comes out soon and I suddenly realised I was only on the third. ‘The Shadows in the Street’ was a purchase at an independent bookshop I will be writing about very soon. I weirdly had the fifth in this series but not the fourth and though they stand alone I am a stickler for reading in order.

Last, but certainly not least, is ‘Bringing Up The Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel. Now I admit I did say I was going to resist reading this until at least Christmas because I was so sick of hearing about it, then it was long listed for this year’s Man Booker, the hype went up and suddenly I was desperate to read it. I think it the fault of Anne Boleyn, I am fascinated by her and so that is the major pull. Oh and the fact that I loved ‘Wolf Hall’ of course.

So that is what is on my reading horizon, what is on yours?

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The Forrests – Emily Perkins

What I love about reading books you know nothing about is that they can occasionally make you learn something about the reader that you are. I have always thought I have rather eclectic reading tastes with a slight leaning towards ‘literary fiction’ (if I was forced to surmise it that is how I would put it) yet I have recently read a book that I think was too literary for me. It is the second release from new publishing imprint Bloomsbury Circus, who aim to be ‘unashamedly literary’, which is something which excited me, however I think ‘The Forrests’ by Emily Perkins might be one of those novels that is so literary that while its lovely to read in a way, it completely goes over your head. Well it did for me a little sadly.

Bloomsbury Circus, trade paperback, 2012, fiction, 340 pages, sent by the We Love This Book for review

‘The Forrests’ is a clever mixture of family saga and the story of the life of Dorothy Forrest. It’s also a book which seems to celebrate the ordinary and everyday in life, there’s no major story arch, just the snap shot stories of a woman’s life.

As we follow her from her childhood, and the slightly dysfunctional family that she comes from, we are drawn into her life through snapshots. Yet interestingly Dorothy isn’t the omnipresent narrator or even the main protagonist that you might assume, that role often passes onto other characters. These are mainly her siblings like Eve, some who don’t really appear in the book themselves, or like Daniel a boy who her mother ‘took in’. We often learn more about Dorothy when she is described by others or appears in everyone else’s consciousness. It’s one of those books which rely on what is ‘unsaid’ about people and their actions leaving the reader to do a lot of the work.

I am not averse to making an effort with a novel at all, actually sometimes the books where the author allows the reader a freedom to move within the story and almost create some sort of collaboration between writer and reader can be my favourites. You feel trusted. However, my main issue with ‘The Forrests’ is that there was almost too much effort to work out just what the heck was going on. Paragraphs and sections of the novel can shift viewpoint without you realising who is then talking. You also have small situation set pieces which, as the book is so much ‘a celebration of a normal life’ if you will, seems to be in the book for no reason, they are just another event in Dorothy, Eve’s or Daniel’s life. Again some people will adore this, I found myself oddly frustrated and really trying to find out where the plot was, and I am often saying I can really enjoy a book that is has no plot but is simply observations of peoples/characters lives.

Here’s an example of where the writing it utterly beautiful, yet what is going on is rather confusing and, if I am honest, has no integral part to the story…

“The woman leaned down to examine his collar. ‘Where did you find him?’  
 ‘He’s my dad’s.’ She pointed down the road in the direction the woman came from. ‘I don’t know his name.’  
 ‘Blackie?’ The woman was speaking to the dog. ‘Blackie?’  
 The dog barked again, loud over the running car engine.  
 ‘It’s acting like it can talk,’ Evelyn said. ‘Like you’re having a conversation.’  
 The woman laughed.  
 ‘Is he yours? Evelyn asked. ‘Blackie?’
 ‘Yes. He’s grown a bit.’  
 Exhaust fumes coloured the air. The light of early morning had found its way onto everything now, on the dogs conker-coloured eyes and the woman’s sleep deprived face, in the spaces beneath the tree trunks and over the pile of grey stones Evelyn had gathered.  
 Evelyn dug at the stones with her foot, sending one skittering over to the woman. ‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘My dad’s really going to miss him.’”

The writing is utterly beautiful, yet sometimes Perkins so wants to fill the book with words – which some people will love – the sentences can become never-ending. The style of the novel and it’s drifting nature make it seem dreamlike, yet also, for me personally, meant I was sometimes unsure who in the Forrest family I was following and slightly unable to connect with any one character, especially Dot who the novel focuses on in particular from a midway point, yet she isn’t developed enough at the start. I felt like I knew everyone else and what they thought about her, rather than me actually having connected with her in any way.

I liked ‘The Forrests’ rather a lot in parts, I also felt equally frustrated by it. It’s left me feeling rather like I am sitting on the fence about a book, which doesn’t happen to me very often. I admired it greatly for its prose and style, even if I never quite fully connected with it.. Some people will love this book because the fact it is so dreamy and meandering, yet for the very same reason I can imagine some people might just loathe it. I guess it depends on how literary you like your novels. Odd analogy warning; but it reminds me of when I drank Cristal champagne, I knew it was special and refined and of exceptional quality, I just wasn’t sure it was for me. One thing is for certain though, Emily Perkins can certainly write and its good that Bloomsbury Circus are trying to find authors who have missed out on some of the success they most likely deserve. Plus I could be in the small minority with this book as there is already some buzz that this could win this year’s Booker prize. Who knows?

Has anyone else read this and if so what did you think? I have seen reviews from all extremes but would love to chat about it. Do you have any books that you have tried and found almost too literary for you? How did you combat that? Did you give up or persevere trying to appreciate how good the writing was?

A shortened version of this review appeared in We Love This Book.

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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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Do I Want To Read… Beryl Bainbridge?

There are certain authors which I always feel like I should have read and invariably haven’t. I am sure that all readers have this feeling of ‘why haven’t I tried that author yet’ now and again. One of the authors that I have always felt I should give a read is Beryl Bainbridge. This week when The Booker Prize Foundation announced it was doing a ‘Best of Beryl’ prize I was reminded that she was an author I had been meaning to read and had no clue where to start, this is of course where all of you come in.

You see something about Beryl Bainbridge has always appealed to me without having read a word. In part this is because I have seen her on TV a few times and been fascinated, it’s also because I love the name Beryl and in fact named my very first cat just that. I have always seen lots and lots of copies of her last novel ‘According To Queeny’ in charity shops but although I always pick it up I am never quite sure if it’s me or not.

So I thought I would ask you all for your Beryl Bainbridge thoughts and recommendations. I am tempted to see if I can find her first novel ‘A Weekend With Claude’ as I do like to start from the beginning but actually I am going to throw caution to the wind, or indeed to the whim, and see where your suggestions lead me. So where should I start with a bit of Beryl?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Do I Want To Read?