Tag Archives: The Orange Prize 2011

The Tiger’s Wife – Téa Obreht

You could be forgiven for thinking that as it won the Orange Prize on Wednesday I have banged out a review of ‘The Tigers Wife’ by Téa Obreht quick sharp. You would also be half right. I’ve speeded up finally publishing my thoughts about it, which have been rewritten, edited and rewritten and then edited again and again on and off since I finished it. You see myself and this book felt like we had unfinished business and thoughts, not necessarily bad ones, just puzzling ones. But in the name of it winning said prize I thought I should write about it sooner rather than later.

I probably would have wanted to read Téa Obreht’s debut novel at some point regardless of its inclusion on the Orange Prize long and short lists and then winning it because, regardless of the hype of her being claimed a young writer to watch, I like books that are rather magical and ‘fairytale for grown ups’ was one of the things I kept hearing in regard to ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ when it was mentioned. It is also a novel about the country formerly known as Yugoslavia and its break up, a subject which fascinates me. I actually holidayed there as a child and was fascinated by the news as this country was torn apart. So its interesting that while aspects of it were brilliance, overall I was left a tiny bit let down. Let me explain…

For me one of the greatest charms of ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ was the story of the relationship between grandfather and grandchild.  Our narrator, Natalia a doctor, tells us the tale of her grandfather’s life from the memories she has of him and the tales that he told her of his former life after she learns from her grandmother that he has died in mysterious circumstances and after he disappeared telling everyone he was going to see Natalia. It’s the mystery, the fact some of his possessions are missing and the need to understand him that sets Natalia on a mental, rather than physical, journey to work out just who her grandfather was.

“Everything necessary to understand my grandfather lies between two stories: the story of the tiger’s wife, and the story of the deathless man. These stories run like secret rivers through all the other stories of his life – of my grandfather’s days in the army; his great love for my grandmother; the years he spent as a surgeon and a tyrant of the University. One, which I learned after his death, is the story of how my grandfather became a man; the other, which he told to me, is of how he became a child again.”

The thing I loved about the novel also became the thing that I didn’t love so much about it. As the story goes on we are introduced to the myths and fables of her grandfather’s life. Whilst I love these sort of ‘fairytales for adults’, sometimes I was just confused by them. I would read them, like the tale of the deathless man, really enjoy them and yet be left wondering as to their relevance as a whole. In being rather surreal I felt that Téa Obreht lost me in places no matter how enjoyable, funny and magical the mini story which creates the overall story (anyone else getting a bit confused?) was I couldn’t get it to work overall.

“I would be insane to stay here,” he says to me in an exasperated voice. “Any minute now your Hungarian is going to go outside and call the others, and then there will be business with garlic and stakes and things. And even though I cannot die, I have to tell you that I do not enjoy having a tent peg put in my ribs. I’ve had it before, and I do not want it again.”

The same applied to the title character/fable of ‘The Tiger’s Wife’, it was all wonderfully written and inventive but… but… but… something wasn’t quite working for me. It seemed in some ways to be a book made up of many things, yes I know most books are but these things didn’t quite connect. It seemed to want to be a book of myth and of storytelling, a book of war and a book of love – both of the family and a love story in some ways. I thought the way Obreht discussed how the country was fracturing and yet no one initially sensed danger until loved ones went missing was superb. It was only a part of the book though. In some ways there were two books in one. In fact the best way to summarise this novel would be to say that I think the sum of its parts are fantastic, and would have made a great short story collection yet as a body of work it didn’t quite gel in the way I was hoping or maybe even expecting, that could be me more than the book or the author.

That said I did like this novel a lot. I particularly enjoyed the mini-stories, and would happily read a collection of fables should Téa Obreht write one, in fact I am hoping she does. As for the hype around Téa Obreht being one of the finest young authors around, I would agree to an extent. I found the writing in ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ was impressive, funny, dark, honest, and quite compelling in many respects. I just didn’t quite connect with it personally (where emotion is occasionally lacking imagination is certainly in abundance) yet I certainly enjoyed getting lost, and occasionally confused by it. I will definitely read her next novel or collection. 7.5/10

This book was kindly sent by the publisher.

Do I think that ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ should have won the Orange prize? I wouldn’t want to take anything away from Téa Obreht who must be the happiest 25 year old (seriously, though it is a little sickening how young she is, ha) at the moment, plus I wasn’t asked to judge the prize. It’s great to see a young, clearly talented, author celebrated like this too. What do you think? Has anyone else read ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ and what did you make of it? If you haven’t, will you be in the near future, or does the whole hype put you off?

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Filed under Orange Prize, Orion Publishing, Review, Téa Obreht, Weidenfeld & Nicolson

And The Winner of The Orange Prize 2011 is…

…Well we will know in just a few hours. I think this is the year that I have done the most Orange Reading ever. Sadly it has seemed I suffered a citrus book based burn out and the initial excitement of reading the whole longlist at one point became borderline frustration with having set myself such a task. The thing was though it brought forward some absolute gems, along with a few books I loathed (see this post for more longlist details), and its two of those gems, which I would have missed, that I would be equally overjoyed to see win the prize…

Yes, if Annabel’ by Kathleen Winter or ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ by Emma Henderson win (interestingly both debut novels) then I would be very pleased indeed. I have a strange feeling about the latter which niggled and niggled at me when I didn’t include it in my original guessing post, so hence why I put £1 on it at the bookies. I wouldn’t be surprised if any of the other four won, and no not just because they are on the short list, because they are all good in varying ways. Emma Donoghue’s ‘Room’ is the favourite, I wouldn’t be shocked if ‘Great House’ by Nicole Krauss went and did it though, or Aminatta Forna’s ‘Memory of Love’, or ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ by Téa Obreht. Oh is mentioning them all not allowed? I am aware that I still haven’t put all of my longlist and shortlist reviews up. I just got orange’d out (I’m all about Green Carnations at the moment prize-wise) but they will come, I will get round to it. They are all worthy winners… I do have those two favourites though.

Good luck to the six finalists, I will update this post when the announcement has been and gone. Does anyone know what time that might be? Who do you think will win and/or who do you want to win?

Update… The winner was ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ and you can see my thoughts, which are still all over the shop and in need of reigning in, on here soon.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Orange Prize

Grace Williams Says It Loud – Emma Henderson

Hindsight is a wonderful thing sometimes, and in the case of me and books it’s proving to be somewhat of a wonder above all wonders and a new way to write about the books I read. You see after I first read ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’, the debut novel by Emma Henderson which is now shortlisted for The Orange Prize this year, I thought that it was a very good book. The more time I have had away from it, letting it weave its magic after the turning of the final page, the more and more brilliant I have thought it is.

I think the most simplistic way of trying to describe ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ would be to call it both a melancholic tale and hopeful one of love and life in the face of obstacles. That might sound a bit pretentious but if I were to embody the book in one sentence that is how I would do so. Grace Williams is born disabled, or as she refers to herself ‘a spastic’, both physically and mentally in 1947. This was a time when the world, including those who love her, weren’t of the understanding and acceptance that we are today. After several years of seeing doctors and hoping for the best, when Grace’s mother becomes pregnant with her fourth child a decision is made (though it could be that both things just happened to coincide) that Grace should go and live in ‘The Briars’ mental institute. It is here that she meets the boy who is set to become the love of her life, Daniel, one day at playtime.

“I bit Daniel’s leg at playtime when he knelt and tried to steal the car I’d taken from the toy box. I was lying on my side, on the floor – a fish in the bottom of a bucket – curling and unfurling my limbs. I didn’t see Daniel coming. His bare skin felt, smelt and tasted rough and homely, like old bread. Daniel bit back, on my bad arm, but it didn’t hurt. It was more suck than bite. More kiss. More please.”

I have to say in the initial two parts I was feeling rather heartbroken, we are given an enormous clue that Emma Henderson is going to break our hearts in the end from the very first page as it is, but there is a rather melancholic tone as we learn Graces past – how her parents, siblings and even Grace herself come to terms with the situation that they are in. For example when the decision is made to send Grace to Briars, as I mentioned above, you are never quite sure if the doctors had suggested this before her mother was pregnant or if it was due to that, which adds a question mark in your mind going forward and makes you wonder about everyone’s motives. There is one scene involving Grace and her mother which comes from nowhere and had my jaw hitting the floor. Its this sinking in of the situation and its problems and possibilities that I found rather fascinating and the way Grace takes it all in so normally, even though some of it is hurtful and heartbreaking, like its just the way life is – making the reader feel empowered by her in a way whilst also feeling utterly horrified.

“Bedtime, playtime, poo-time. You-time, me-time, teatime. Bread before cake. You before me. Bread and butter sprinkled with pink, sugary hundreds and thousands. Boiled egg and Marmite fingers. Soldiers, said John. Chicken and egg. There were millions of eggs in Mother’s ovaries, he said. Why was Grace the rotten one?”

From here the story goes on, into the third and longest part of the book, and things become both much worse and much better. We have tales of the attitudes from the nurses to these children, not good ones; there are deaths, disappearances, cruelty and sexual abuse. Just when you are feeling utterly heartbroken thankfully Henderson adds hope in the form of Daniel, though his tale is triumphant initially we learn there is dark there too, and a rare few nurses and teachers at Briars. They are few and far between but they seem to give the book some rays of light and stop it from becoming a novel that just leaves you feeling miserable and nothing more, something I can find rather lazy and had Henderson only highlighted the awful I might not have responded in the emotive way I did oddly enough. There is dark and light in life and there is in this book, it doesn’t mean those two polar opposites have to be equal.

“’It’s ridiculous.’ Mr Maitland, in the lobby outside the classroom, with Miss Blackburn, was almost shouting. ‘Spastics – sitting exams. Your correspondence simply doesn’t convince.’
 ‘They may have spastic bodies, Mr Maitland,’ Miss Blackburn replied, ‘but some of them have the most plastic, malleable, marvellous minds I’ve ever come across – in more than twenty years of teaching.’”

I don’t want people thinking that this is a miserable book because its not. In fact Grace’s narrative saves the book from ever being too dark and too gloomy. Oh, I should mention here that one of the aspects of Grace’s varying disabilities means she can only ever communicate two words at once. I loved how Daniel reads between it all with her body language and facial gestures when others can’t. It seems her speech, or lack thereof outwardly, has weirdly been an issue for some readers. It’s almost like because she can’t speak Grace (see I am talking about her like she really exists, a sign of a great book) therefore can’t narrate? Of course she can and it’s the insular aspect of that which worked so well for me, along with her simple acceptance – not to say she doesn’t ever fight against it because she does – that worked incredibly for me and made it so vivid, visceral and emotive a read whilst also making it a strangely hopeful one.

I think ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ is an incredible and rather marvellous novel regardless of it being a debut novel. The passion of the authors experience with disabilities, through her sister Claire, adds a passion to the novel but this is not just a novel told from experience. It’s a novel that lives and breathes; it makes you utterly heartbroken and then laugh out loud. It’s a book that challenges people’s ideas, even if you have the most open of minds this novel will get you thinking outside the box. I can’t really recommend it anymore than that. I initially gave this book a 9/10 but it’s a book I have thought and thought and thought about more and more so I change my mind, this is definitely a 10/10

This book was kindly sent by the publisher.

With the Orange Prize looming in just a few days I have to say its ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ and ‘Annabel’ by Kathleen Winter that I am routing for I would be happy if either of these novels won it. I know I haven’t reported back on some of the long-listed reads, and two I won’t be as with this new hindsight outlook I just don’t haven’t anything exciting or interesting to say about them but the others will come in good time. I simply am not writing about everything in the order I read it anymore and its working because I can be 100% sure I want you to read books like ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ long after the initial flash of ‘just-read-joy’ has waned and the brilliance continues to shine through. I’ll shush now; I have gone on long enough.

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Filed under Books of 2011, Emma Henderson, Orange Prize, Review, Sceptre Publishing

Jamrach’s Menagerie – Carol Birch

Generally speaking any book that evokes the Victorian period is one that is going to win me over. Equally any book that is set one a boat is highly likely to be a complete failure with me. This therefore was an interesting dichotomy which faced me before I started reading ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ because I knew this book was a mixture of both my very favourite of settings in time and also one of my least favourites places to base a book. So before I had even turned a page of this book I knew that this was going to either be a book which I absolutely love or absolutely loathe.

‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ opens in 1857 as we meet Jaffy Brown aged eight years old as he gets born for the second time. Sounds odd, but when you have come close to death it is said you often feel reborn. You see Jaffy Brown is an inquisitive little fella, and on one of his wanderings through London’s streets he comes across ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ and a tiger, a creature he has never seen before and wants to befriend, only tiger’s don’t always want to be friends as he soon learns when it tries to eat him. This is the moment that Jaffy meets Jamrach himself (despite the title Jamrach is not really in the book much he is more a catalyst) and his life changes forever. He becomes one of the workers at the menagerie, an equally thrilling, surreal and slightly dark world filled with unknown creatures from all over the seven seas. It’s here he makes friends, and equal foes on occasion, with Tim Linver a friendship that is going to be tested and tried through their life time, especially when they both set sail on the hunt for a dragon for one of Jamrach’s wealthiest clients.

From here, as we set sail, I was expecting to either loath the book, or Carol Birch might do what several authors have failed to do before and have me captivated as we went to sea. I was hoping after such a stunning start to the book in the East End that Carol Birch would take me on an epic adventure, and guess what, she did. As Jaffy and Tim, alongside their new sea fairing friends including the wonderful but rather mad Skip whose story might just break your heart, start their three year voyage on The Lysander initially hunting for whales I was both thrilled at the chase and horrified at the event when it took place. The same applied as they then arrived in the Dutch East Indies and hunted the islands for dragons. I had thought that the book would lose its drive after this, but Birch has much more hidden up her sleeves, or should that be in the pages that follow, as the book continues.

There were two things that I would never initially have expected from a book like this. The first of which was to feel that I had actually lived the adventure and been with the crew on every step of the way. Can you say you felt camaraderie with a bunch of fictional sailors? If so then I did. The second was that I would find the book such an emotional one. Jaffy and Tim’s friendship which has turbulent times to begin with becomes one of equal comfort and malice a decade on as the wave’s crash around them. There is competition, one-upmanship and secrets. There is also one of the most heartbreaking twists when tragedy strikes, of course I am not sharing what the tragedies or twists are but never in a million years did I expect to be sat reading a book about a boat and being on the edge of tears for any reason other than boredom. Oh how wrong I was.

This is by no means ‘the’ perfect book, it could do with the tiniest of thinning out on the sea in between hunting for whales and the dragon, but it’s a gripping novel that is written utterly brilliantly. Birch never shows off how much research she has done, Jamrach was a real person and the event on The Lysander is based on a true life whale hunting boat in the early to mid 1800’s, but sometimes she does slightly over egg the Victorian descriptive pudding. For someone like me who loves that period too much is never enough, yet I did wonder if I wasn’t would I love how descriptive it was or feel the tiniest bit claustrophobic with the description? There were so many parts of the book I wanted to quote I have decided to quote none of them as this review would never end. It’s like a modern twist on the adventure stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and that to me is a great thing. I would heartily recommend everyone giving it ago.

Carol Birch’s ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ is a book that beguiles you with its cover (if awards for covers were being dished out on books published in 2011 then this one would have to win hands down in my personal opinion) and then leads you through the vivid city streets of Victorian London before taking you on an emotional adventure on the high seas. It’s an epic book, filled with surprises, twists and turns, and with characters you will route for. Yet it’s one which manages to achieve its status without having to be over 350 pages. I think this is an incredible achievement and one which should be widely read. 9/10

This book was kindly sent to me by the publisher.

I really enjoyed this book so was surprised that it didn’t make the Orange Prize Shortlist (I read it quite a while ago when I was reading the whole longlist). I was thrilled to learn that this was Carol Birch’s eleventh novel (after I went and did some research, I like to go into a book a little blindly and see what avenues I want to discover afterwards) so there are more for me to go and discover which I shall now be doing. Anyone got any recommendations of her earlier novels? Anyone else read ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’ and what did you make of it?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Canongate Publishing, Carol Birch, Orange Prize, Review

A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan

Every so often I read a book and wonder if I simply ‘don’t get it’ that I know everyone else seems to be loving, and that was the feeling that I had about a quarter of the way through ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ by Jennifer Egan and again somewhere not long after the middle and a little bit after I had finished it. Everyone has been calling it ‘original’ and ‘vibrant’ and I was thinking ‘really?’ Yet I did get through and finish reading this ‘very modern’ book, and rather a huge struggle of a book, in a ‘very modern’ way with the help of apps and audio’s. Yet before I get onto all that malarkey I really ought to try and set out the book and its premise and modernisms first really shouldn’t I?

Before I even opened the first page of ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ I had the impression that this was a book I would either be utterly won over by or would become the arch nemesis of. Interestingly having had some space and time to think about it I have managed to fall into both camps, and no that doesn’t mean I am sitting on the fence either. I should mention that myself and Jennifer Egan had fallen out with each other a few years ago, not in the flesh I hasten to add, in 2008 when I tried and failed to love her ‘modern ghost story in a castle’ novel ‘The Keep’, a book I never reviewed as back then I was more inclined to do so about books I loved not the ones that I didn’t. So imagine my surprise, and it was genuine, when I read the first chapter of the book and loved it.

As ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ opens we meet Sasha who is debating stealing a woman’s purse whilst also being on a date with a man called Alex in a rather nice hotel in New York City. It turns out that Sasha is a kleptomaniac, this in itself as we hear her discuss it with her psychoanalyst (or such like), and this filled me with hope… a character that I was really interested in. Imagine therefore my slight annoyance where after chapter two, in which she appears as the music mogul and gold eating addict Bennie Salazar’s PA, she vanishes for a few chapters. You see ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ is one of those novels that is a collection of short stories where characters interlink through time and places (and I don’t mean that in a mouthed/said behind the back or your hand/under your breath way) with one similar vein, in this case music, at the heart of their correlation to each other.

The thing was I was hoping after chapter three that another music mogul, this time a bit of a seedier one, Lou and the narrator Rhea wouldn’t turn up again. Where oh where was Sasha? I couldn’t bear the way that Rhea told her story, it grated on me, ok, I admit it, I wanted to give her a polite push and tell her to shush for a while. It was how she reported people’s speech back to the reader via ‘so he goes, and I go, and she goes and I go’… and I went ‘arrrrrghhhh’ and almost hurled the book at the wall a page or two into the chapter.

Normally this is the point at which I would have given up the ghost, however, I had also been sent the ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ app for my iPhone which not only comes with the book in digital form and lots of little additional gadgets, it also comes with the audio book and so I carried on listening through the bits that it sort of pained me to read and then reading again properly when it became interesting and digestible again. Which I have to admit it did, for example there is the story of Dolly/LA Dolly and her rise and fall and another favourite section towards the end, when the novel suddenly goes all dystopian and futuristic in 2020, when you need to read it as it is a 75 page, yes 75 of them, PowerPoint presentation.


It was things like the PowerPoint moment, or the 75 of them not that it bothered me you understand and in fact sort of worked as a character is telling a story to their autistic sibling (yet at the same time kind of spoiled what could have been a much more poignant), plus the way the book hoped over time and people (which can work wonders in books like ‘Great House’) and the futuristic parts of the book which made me think how ‘very modern’ Jennifer Egan’s ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ was trying to be and also made me wonder if this an author who is genuinely following her creative path or doing something much more calculated and planned? I am hoping it’s the first of the two options and that maybe I am just missing out on the Goon Party and simply don’t get it.

Whilst I can see this books merits and the fact it bucks the trend for being quite innovative I would be lying if I said I was desperate to read a book like this again. I do think great books should be readable (which doesn’t mean easy), and whilst I loved the fact I could listen to this book when it all got a bit much, I shouldn’t have needed to turn to that if the prose had worked for me from the start as it did just sadly not throughout. It’s hard to give this book a rating, in parts I could say it’s a 7/10 with characters like Sasha and when the innovative style works, more often than not it was a 3/10 and I found myself frustrated and like the author was playing a game which I always lost (not that its always about the winning… it’s the taking part) so all in all a 5/10.

The book and the app were both kindly sent by the publisher.

I do feel despite the pitfalls of the novel that ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ has given me and interesting experience of flitting between book, app, audio, extras and back again. I am not sure if I will repeat the experience, and I certainly couldn’t read a whole book on my phone, but at least I can say I have tried it. I wrote this post a few weeks ago and my opinions sadly havent changed so I have to admit I wasn’t shocked (like half the world seemed to be) or that sorry that this wasnt on the Orange Prize shorlist though I know nearly everyone else who has read it has loved it. What am I missing? What about all of you? Who has read ‘A Visit from the Goon Squad’ and what did you think? Have any of you tried any ‘book apps’ and if so how was the experience?

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Filed under Constable & Robinson Publishing, Corsair Books, Jennifer Egan, Orange Prize, Review

One Read Stands… Are The Best Books The Ones You Re-Read or Just Read Once Only?

I’ve been meaning to discuss this subject for a while now but my post on Tuesday when you might have noticed that I really loved ‘Great House’ by Nicole Krauss, however I excluded it from My Orange Shortlist. There have also been some other things which brought it to my attention and I would LOVE your thoughts on it all!

The reason I didn’t pop ‘Great House’ on my version of an Orange Shortlist (I know I said I’d give the orange word a break but it inspired this post) was that though I loved it I wasn’t sure I could read it again, if I did the magic might be broken. That didn’t lessen my love for it the first time, it was just a one read thing but does that mean it’s not as good a book because I won’t go back to it again?

I’m in two minds about this one. One of my very favourite books is ‘American Psycho’ by Brett Easton Ellis, I couldn’t re-read it in part because the consumer passages and pieces about Phil Collins etc, which made the horror all the more vivid with their monotonousness, might bore me rigid but also because it’s a deeply uncomfortable reading experience but I’d still say it’s been one of my favourite books along side Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’, a novel I could probably re-read on repeat regardless. I know all the secrets it has hidden in it’s pages and yet I can return again and again, I can’t say that about some other books as once the secrets revealed you don’t need to go back. Despite my very different thoughts on going back to both these books they are both favourites.

Yet interesting enough, and one of the other reasons that I omitted ‘Great House’ in my guessing on Tuesday, was that when I was a judge on The Green Carnation Prize last year I agreed a (nameless) long listed book I’d loved shouldn’t be short listed because on a second read it all went wrong… And I certainly didn’t want to read it again a third time! It wasn’t an awful book it was just a certain magic spell weaved on read one was broken, I wouldn’t want that to happen with ‘Great House’ too! Had I only read this unnamed book once, in normal circumstances, it would have been one of my favourite reads of 2010. Odd isn’t it? In fact myself and Paul Magrs were discussing the very pros and cons of this at a Green Carnation Chair of Judges handover afternoon tea midweek of last outside on a sunny Manchester street. An excuse for a teapot picture I think…

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Interestingly on her blog Lynne of Dovegreyreader had the opposite feeling to me after equally loving ‘Great House’, she wished she was a judge who could read it again and again, so it’s all down to tastes! Jackie of Farmlanebooks left a comment on my post on Tuesday saying “I want the best books to win and so I’d hate to see my favourites all make the shortlist. I didn’t enjoy Great House or Memory of Love, but they are clearly the best books on the longlist and so I am rooting for them to make it.” Which, in a rather different way, brings the whole question of favourites and best books for a prize up. We all want our favourites to win (well I do) but should they?

So over to you… Are your very favourites books ones you read and re-read or can a book that completely envelops and affects you yet one you wouldn’t read again be of the same merit? Does a book that can’t be read again and again mean its a bad book really no matter how good it is the first time? Should a book that can’t be re-read win a book prize and be a ‘best book’? I’d be utterly fascinated to see your thoughts on this…

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Filed under Book Thoughts

The Orange Prize Shortlist 2011

So it has been announced and the six short listed titles by the Orange Prize 2011 judges are as follows…

My thoughts? Well I really like the list. Though its not the six I would have chosen, I had three of them in ‘My Orange Shortlist 2011’having read all the books on the long list this year from cover to cover. You will see I predicted ‘Room’ and ‘Great House’ might just make the final six. I am over the moon that ‘Annabel’ is in the mix because I loved that book so, so, so much. I am also really thrilled to see ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ by Emma Henderson on the list too, my thoughts on that one very soon, as it was a book that really took hold of me and has grown on me and stayed with me since. They are the two I would most like to see win at the moment, though I have loved all four of the others (for me ‘Swamplandia!’ just had the edge on a modern fairytale over ‘The Tiger’s Wife’ – reviews of both of these coming soon, though I think a little Orange rest is called for now) in their own ways.

Enough of my thoughts on The Orange Prize 2011 so far, what do you all think about it? What do you make of the short list?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Orange Prize

My Orange Shortlist 2011…

Today will see the announcement of The Orange Prize Short List 2011 and I think it’s the most excited I have been about a prizes short list, other than The Green Carnation Prize of course, in quite some time. I was going to call this post ‘guessing the Orange short list 2011’ but I simply can’t second guess what the panel of judges will have chosen as the final six books, even if I have read the entire Orange long list for 2011 (and I did manage it, thanks to my latest stint in the hospital). I can only go on what I would put forward for my six personal choices after having read the lot. So before I make my guesses here are the 20 books long listed once more, all with my score out of ten and links to the ones have posted already, others are from posts pending which will be up over the next week or so (I’m spacing them out in case you are oranged out, as I almost was at one point)…

So like I said rather than guessing what the judges might or might not have in their short list, no one can do that as five individuals will all love very different books (a few of my favourite submissions for The Green Carnation Prize last year didn’t make the longlist as I was out voted, that’s the way it goes sometimes), I looked at my marks out of ten. Did I still rate those books as highly as I did at the time, how did they compare, had some favourites faded and some books stayed with me when I thought they wouldn’t? I then thought about which of the 20 books I would want to have to read again two or more times and which ones I really loved first time but I am not sure I could read again (something I will be discussing on the blog soon). I also ignored hype, and would hope the judges are too. These are the six that I would have chosen if I was a judge, in order of preference…

  

  

It was a really, really tough decision to make because this years twenty books, ok apart from two of them for me personally, were all really strong and reading them has been brilliant on the whole. You might be shocked as two of my favourite books from the list haven’t made my final six. ‘Room’ because though I loved it last year I feel like I have seen and heard too much about it since. ‘Great House’, which is a book that really surprised me with how much I loved it when I least expected it to, could I read it again though? Probably not, though I would be happy if both of these were on the shortlist too and have a feeling they both with be on the real one.I almost popped ‘Repeat It Today With Tears’ on there too as that has really grown on me, and I liked it a lot to start with, but I couldn’t choose seven titles so had to be tough!

The six I have chosen have stayed with me, I’ve connected with them all in some way and most of all really, really enjoyed them. Will I get it right? I am sure that I won’t, I was rubbish at guessing the long list and am sure it will be the same in this instance. It’s the taking part that’s the fun bit though isn’t it? Which books do you think will make the final six? Which ones have you read, or which ones are you really tempted to read? Will you be reading the short listed titles?

P.S This will be my last post on all things Orange for a while, apart from the actual long list of course which I will post later, I am aware Savidge Reads has been quite orangey in the last week or so, so my missing long list reviews will be sporadic over the next few weeks/months leading up to the winner being announced.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Orange Prize

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives – Lola Shoneyin

A while back I wrote about my thoughts on debut novels and the fact that I don’t tend to run out and buy them. Well imagine my surprise that during my Orange Longlist reading it’s the debuts on the whole that have really shone out for me, no wonder there were so many (nine out of twenty) on the list. ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’ by Lola Shoneyin is one of these debuts. I hadn’t heard of it before the longlist was announced but if I had been browsing in a bookshop and seen the cover and read the title (which is one of my favourites of the year so far) and blurb I think it’s a book I’d have walked away with, and if you see it in your local book shop you should get it sharpish too.

In the roughly modern day we meet Nigerian businessman Baba Segi during a chronic stomach ache. He believes the cause of his problem is down to the fact that his most recent wife Bolanle does not appear to be able to carry a child. When I say recent I do not mean that Baba Segi is a rich divorcee, for the household of Baba Segi is a polygamous one and Bolanle is in fact his fourth wife, one which the other three were not happy to see enter the house. More wives equals less time with their husband, and with every new wife comes the threat that their lives could change forever as each previous wife has a secret and there is also one big secret running through the whole family. What the hostile three don’t realise is that Bolanle has secrets too.

What of course these secrets are I shall keep to myself, because as I read a long I had no idea what was coming and that made the book really enjoyable as a first time read. I have to say that I could happily read it all over again knowing everything as I now do because of the wonderful, and the wicked, characters that appear in the book. Despite the fact you might not like them all, Baba Segi is a bit of a pig really, I think some might find that a mild accusation, and the first wife Iya Segi and third wife Iya Femi aren’t two of the nicest ladies though as you read on you learn why they are the way they are and how they ended up as one of Baba Segi’s wives. Dare I say the more you read to them and discover their desperation the more you understand them?

I think one of the most clever aspects of ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’ is that the novel is told in over six or seven narratives and the third person, the latter which fills in the gaps on and off. This could have been a risk because any book where you have more than three or four voices, which doesn’t happen that often, can become confusing. This is not the case in Lola Shoneyin’s debut novel. Every voice is totally different and within a line or two you can tell just which wife is talking as their narratives are so individual and distinctive and it is the women’s voices, as Baba Segi only gets a chapter or two in first person and his driver one, that could have all sounded rather samey.

The other great aspect of the novel is the way that Shoneyin captures Nigeria. Through the wives and how they go about their lives in the present and let the reader into their pasts we glimpse all aspects, and walks of life, in Nigeria over the past few decades. It doesn’t always make for comfortable reading (these wives are hiding things after all) but its very thought provoking and yet written in, and I don’t use this term very often as I think it’s a bit of a cliché but in this case is true, a very compassionate tone.

I loved ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’ from the very first chapter. It is a book which manages to say a heck of a lot in fewer than 250 pages, it is brimming with characters, will make you angry, laugh (especially when the women discuss Baba Segi’s anatomy), gasp and possibly cry in equal measure, and is simply a book that you really need to read if you haven’t already. I will definitely read whatever Lola Shoneyin writes next, I hope there are many books to come from her. 9.5/10

This book was kindly sent by the publisher.

This is the last review of any Orange longlisted novels before the big announcement of the short list tomorrow. At the time this post was scheduled (with my health and hospital visits scheduling is proving most useful) I had half a book left from the longlist to finish so will be guessing tomorrow though I can tell you in advance of that I have everything crossed for Lola Shoneyin and the four wives of Baba Segi’s as its just a wonderful read. Which books are you hoping make the short list? I find it really exciting and promising so many of the debut novels on the list have been excellent, what excellent debut have you read recently? Who else has read ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’ and what did you make of it?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Lola Shoneyin, Orange Prize, Review, Serpent's Tail

Annabel – Kathleen Winter

Sometimes the only way you can describe the effect that a book has on you is to say you were bowled over and that is exactly how I felt when I had turned the last page of ‘Annabel’ the debut novel by Kathleen Winter. I was hoping that it might be something quite special when I first saw it on this years Orange Prize Longlist. I then went off and looked at some reviews and it seemed that on the whole people had loved it. Initially I planned to save it until later on in my Orange reading but after changing my approach to the list I picked this one up next and to sum it up in a word I found it incredible, so much so I have lots and lots to say about it.

I have to admit from reading the prologue of ‘Annabel’ I wasn’t sure that this would be the book for me. It’s a short and rather final encounter between a young girl called Annabel and her blind father as they take a canoe ride to see white caribou in the Canadian wilderness. This proves to be their final outing together and is told in a rather dreamy and magical realist way. Interestingly it’s not reflective of the rest of the book, and yet in its way it has a pivotal place in the rest of the book.

As the book itself opens proper we join Jacinta Blake in the final painful moments of giving birth surrounded by the many of the women of the small town of Croydon Harbour in the Canadian region of Labrador in 1968. Once the child, named Wayne, is born it is local women Thomasina Baikie that notices something different about the child. Wayne has been born with both sexes genitalia, he is there for a hermaphrodite, or ‘intersex’ as I believe the term is now preferred.

“Thomasina hooked a plug of slime out of the baby’s mouth with her pinky, slicked her big hand over face, belly, buttocks like butter over one of her hot loaves, and slipped the baby back to its mother. It was as the baby latched on to Jacinta’s breast that Thomasina caught sight of something slight, flower-like; one testicle had not descended, but there was something else. She waited the eternal instant that women wait when a horror jumps out at them. It is an instant that men do not use for waiting, an instant that opens a door to life and death.”

From the moment Thomasina tells Jacinta, who up until that point has been her best friend something which then is occasionally tested, a secret is born but one that the baby’s father Treadway isn’t as oblivious to as the women might think. Treadway is a silent man who disappears into the woodland and wilderness for half the year to earn his families keep, a man who talks to nature and through nature learns more than people would give him credit for – this brings occasional moments of magical realism throughout the book as it goes forward. He knows his child is of two worlds, a woman’s and a man’s, he also believes that a decision must me made  one way or the other. However life is never that black and white nor is it that easy.

From here we follow how this all changes the lives of the three main people at Wayne’s birth. Treadway and how he forces his fatherly role on Wayne, and Wayne taking part always wanting his fathers approval which he feels he never quite gets, thinking its for the best (there is one sequence of events involving a childrens den which almost made me cry in frustration). Thomasina as she struggles to go along with Wayne’s parents decision and then how she deals with grief after her family die tragically. Jacinta as she copes with the fact that once the decision is made she gains a son but also looses a daughter, something that is wonderfully brought to life when she goes to one of her friends Eliza’s houses (we also see here what a wonderful job Kathleen Winter does of fleshing out some of the smaller characters in a paragraph) for a sociable lunch.

“No matter how outrageous Eliza’s reasoning, Jacinta had tried to understand it. Even now Jacinta did not argue about the Valium, though she felt Eliza’s new outlook was chemically induced illusion. This is my problem, Jacinta thought. I am dishonest. I never tell the truth about anything important. And as a result, there is an ocean inside me of unexpressed truth. My face is a mask, and I have murdered my own daughter.”

You might all be wondering about Wayne Blake, do we not follow him too? Yes of course we do from his first few years and into his childhood. During this time though we see how he, unaware of the female half of him, is rather different from all the other children of both sexes but through the eyes of his parents and Thomasina. Its not until he gets older and how naturally his other self, who he addresses as Annabel as Thomasina does after the death of her daughter (see the beginning does bear a huge relevance), starts to show herself in the smallest of ways. It is as he learns the truth, in a rather shocking sequence of events, that we see things through his eyes and his narrative, through the third person, in the second half of the book.

“Where did she go? She was in his body but she escaped him. Maybe she gets out through my eyes, he thought, when I open them. Or my ears. He lay in bed and waited. Annabel was close enough to touch; she was himself, yet unattainable.”

I don’t think I have read a book that uses the third person in such a way that you see every person’s viewpoint so vividly. Every character, no matter how small a part they play, springs to life walking straight off the page and I honestly felt I was living in Croydon Harbour (atmosphere and descriptions are pitch perfect), whilst also being shocked that such a palce still exists in modern times, and went along with Wayne’s journey every step of the way. It is incredible to think that ‘Annabel’ is Kathleen Winter’s debut novel; I was utterly blown away by it and will be urging everyone I know to rush out and read this book. It is just superb and possibly my favourite read of the year so far. 10/10

This book was kindly sent by the publisher.

I don’t think I can say anymore than that really. I just loved it. I am wondering if, as well as hoping it makes the Orange shortlist, it will be eligible for this years Booker Prize? Regardless of that, I am hoping that lots of other people will read it, if they haven’t already, as I am busting to discuss it to death. Has anyone else given this a whirl?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Kathleen Winter, Orange Prize, Random House Publishing, Review

Oranges Are Not The Only Books…

I think I mentioned the other day that I was starting to feel the beginnings of Orange Overload. I am fully aware that I gave myself the challenge of reading every word of the longlist and so really I shouldn’t be moaning, and actually you will see once I get back on track and stop rambling that I am not. I love the Orange Prize, in fact I love book prizes in general, as it opens my eyes to lots of books and authors that I might not have come across before or maybe ones I have in the TBR and not yet got around to. I think though so far with the Orange Longlist 2011 reading I might have been at fault with the method I have used to attack the challenge (maybe the use of the word attack is a little strong but until earlier this week it was the way I felt) itself.

Rather than read the ones that I really, really fancy reading first, I have saved them up until the end. I do this with dinners too, eat all the bits I am less of a fan of and then reveal in all my favourite flavours at the end, this isn’t just something I am alone in doing I don’t think, or is it? Yet this isn’t working, instead I am finding that I have been looking longingly at the ones I really wanted to read instantly whilst reading the others I didn’t know of or, if I am honest, didnt really fancy that much. My head started to feel like exploding orange!


You might think this has made me harsher on the books that I have read so far (and I must change the currently reading image as I haven’t started ‘The Invisible Bridge’ by Julie Orringer yet because, despite how great everyone is telling me it is, the size of it intimidates me along with the subject of The Holocaust, I will read it in due course though) and actually its not been the case, I have found some absolute corkers so far I wasn’t expecting, such as ‘Great House’ by Nicole Krauss and ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’ by Lola Shoneyin a review of the latter is coming soon, and I think have enjoyed them all the more because they have surprised me.

In fact maybe this is time to let you know what I have read so far, I have linked the reviews already up though some are coming soon. I’m not putting the marks out of ten given to each one as I think I need a rethink as some have grown on me and some have faded faster overtime…

So only another nine to go, but this is where things have changed. After finishing of ‘The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives’ I thought to myself ‘hang on a minute, this is the fun you can have reading, stop reading the ones you don’t know or don’t fancy so much and just head to the ones you do, hence why ‘Annabel’ was next.  I also reminded myself that ‘oranges are not the only books’ and so I have been reading a random book I fancy between them, or even two if the mood takes me. This is working much better so far and gives me high hope I might just have read them all (especially with the third operation of four tomorrow and lots more recovery time after) by short listing day. Though if all the reviews of them haven’t quite gone up by then… so what? I have decided though, no more long list and short list challenges in the future though.

Have you read any of the Orange Longlist this year? Are trying to read them all? Are you just not bothered about The Orange Prize or longlist and if not why not (so sorry if you aren’t, normal service will be resummed soon)? What are your thoughts on reading challenges be they self set or a collective venture?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Orange Prize

The Road To Wanting – Wendy Law-Yone

A book that had arrived and intrigued me enough to pop high on my TBR pile before it was announced on the Orange Longlist 2011 was ‘The Road To Wanting’ by Wendy Law-Yone. I don’t know specifically what it was that drew me to it, maybe a mix of the title, cover and the fact it featured China (a country I do love reading about) all made it a future must read. The only thing that was putting me off slightly was the tag line under the title stating ‘sometimes the hardest journey is the road home’ this made me think it was going to be a really heavy tale and so I braced myself for heartache ahead.

‘The Road To Wanting’ is a book that you can undoubtedly say has one of those rare mixtures of being rather literary, a book with a big story that sometimes isn’t easy to read and yet it is a book that is rather readable. I was pulled in from the rather mysterious opening where we find our protagonist Na Ga trying to hang herself in a hotel room, only to be interrupted by the receptionist saying that Mr Jiang her current guardian of sorts has just killed himself. I don’t think I have read such an instantly fascinating opening which opens so many questions for quite sometime.

As we read on Wendy Law-Yone very, very slowly allows the fog of confusion to clear. We don’t get Na Ga’s past, present or future in any cohesive order rather in little glimpses as we are taken back to her wild childhood catching eels, the times when she though she had been saved by an American family, her dark times in Thailand after that. All this is told whilst Na Ga also lets us know how she got to Wanting, a small and dingy town on the Chinese-Burmese borders.

There is so much that Wendy Law-Yone encompasses in what is quite a short and concise yet incredibly atmospheric novel that I feel rather bad to add that something was missing for me. The book had a great pace, plenty of characters and yet for some reason I found myself rather distanced from it. I wondered if this might be because Na Ga is a rather passive and in many ways accidental heroine. She seems to just accept life has it in for her and blindly go wherever it leads and whilst this I am sure is the case for many people I don’t know if a lead character in a novel suits it so well. I also think the short burst, which make the book so readable, slightly lessen the impact of all the events that unfold or are revealed. I felt I should have had more of an emotional reaction to this book than I did.

Reading ‘The Road To Wanting’ was an eye opening experience that threw me into a world I knew very little about. I just wish my narrator had been filled with more emotions than just apathy as she described her colourful and sometimes painful past. It could have made what is a very good book a complete page turning literary stunner, though her indifference could of course be the whole point which I am simply missing. 7/10

Should this make the Orange Shortlist then I may give it a re-read as I am sure I have missed something about this book and its nagging at me. I should have liked it more, so why didn’t I? What did I miss? I thought for some reason that this was Wendy Law-Yone’s debut novel, however I have read that there are two more ‘The Coffin Tree’ and ‘Irrawaddy Tango’ which have rather intriguing titles. Has anyone read either of those or indeed ‘The Road To Wanting’? If you have read the latter, did I miss the point of the protagonist’s apathy?

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Filed under Orange Prize, Review, Vintage Books, Wendy Law-Yone

The London Train – Tessa Hadley

I am going to do something today that I really tend not to do. Mind you when I asked you all for your feedback on Savidge Reads moving forward (and do feel free to fill in the form if you haven’t already) you pretty much all said you wanted me to do it and so I therefore hold you all responsible for what is coming. A negative review! I sort of find myself wanting to apologise for doing it before I have even begun, but hopefully (and I am sorry to the author who probably took months and months to write it and the publisher who kindly sent it) I will give valid reasons why and not just simply, which would be rather lazy, to slag it off. In fact really the person to blame for my dislike of ‘The London Train’ by Tessa Hadley is me… for finishing the thing frankly.

I think in all honesty I should have stopped reading Tessa Hadley’s at about page 70 of the ‘The London Train’ but what kept me going was hope and a little bit of faith in the blurb that it was ‘a vivid and absorbing account of the impulses and accidents that can change our lives’ and what kept me going, again from the blurb, that ‘connecting both stories is the London train, and a chance meeting that will have immediate and far reaching consequences for Paul and Cora’ those being our two protagonists. In fact it was the promise of Cora’s tale, in the second of what is really two novellas co-joined by the slimmest (and we are talking really slim) of moments that seems to be the longest one of the very few moments that any of the London trains get a mention, that kept me going as Paul’s story was not only boring me silly but becoming more and more ridiculous as it went on.

Credit where credit is due, I have no question that Tessa Hadley knows how to write and from the start she had me gripped. As ‘The London Train’ opens we meet Paul who by the time he gets ‘to the Home, the undertakers had removed his mother’s body.’ This had me full of intrigue and questions such as what did she die of, what was their relationship like, why was she in a home? All very promising and it continued to be, before she was soon buried and Paul’s ex wife was phoning him to tell him their daughter Pia had gone missing. Again I was intrigued and wondering all sorts such as were daughter and father estranged, why did his first marriage end, where on earth could Pia be, will this be a mystery? Yet when Paul finds her it’s the start of a ludicrous storyline, read no further if you don’t want any PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD until I say they have finished.

What followed was the most clichéd tale of Paul finding his daughter pregnant living a council (though apparently it was rebuilt, as if) high rise with her lover and his sister, not that there was any room, and after much secret visiting he suddenly moves in with them all after a row with his current wife Elise, leaving her and her kids behind and having some kind of jolly jaunt living a carefree poor hand to mouth existence aka middle class twaddle as the poorer people in London do not live like that. I was angry, what had started off as such a great book filled with promise had turned into something that simply made me peeved. But hey it’s certainly a reaction isn’t it?

END OF PLOT SPOILERS

This is where Tessa Hadley lost me and yet I continued in the hope that Cora’s promising storyline, a forlorn librarian leaving London for Cardiff and to the house she has inherited where she hears her estranged husband has gone missing, sounded really promising. But sadly, and fear not I am not going to spoil any plots of go on about why, this again started interestingly enough before swiftly alienating me as much as the first novella did. Again threads of storyline got picked up and thrown away, characters remained one dimensional, self-obsessed, a bit smug and all in all dislikeable. I know some dislikeable characters can be brilliant in novels, not these ones though. In fact I really shouldn’t have read to the end of Cora’s story because it made me even more annoyed with its triteness.

Naturally I wouldn’t want to put anyone off reading ‘The London Train’ if it’s a book they really think they want to give a whirl, its certainly won over the judges of this years Orange Prize it just completely lost me. The writing was good, but sometimes that’s not enough, it doesn’t matter what revelations come at the end of a book or that there could be some promise just around the corner if an author alienates and looses its reader then it doesn’t really reach its target, and sadly it missed me by a mile or several of train line. 3.5/10

This book was kindly sent by the publisher.

Like I said there is clearly an audience for this book as before The Orange Longlist 2011 was announced (and reading the whole list from cover to cover as a challenge to myself was the main reason I persevered to the last line with this book) people were saying this would be on the list, and I have seen some rave reviews here and there, plus it got long listed by the judges as I mentioned so they must have all liked it in some way. The fact it got long listed and ‘Mr Chartwell’ didn’t is rather a travesty in my personal, and I happily admit often wrong, opinion. Is it my fault for persevering? Should I have just given up on it and moved on? Why do we have an ingrained gene to finish a book we start? Has anyone else read this or another Tessa Hadley and what did you think?

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Filed under Jonathan Cape Publishers, Orange Prize, Random House Publishing, Review, Tessa Hadley

The Birth of Love – Joanna Kavenna

Isn’t it funny how the title of a book can put your off it a little? I have to admit that when I saw that Joanna Kavenna, an author I had prior heard very little about, was on the Orange long list with her second novel ‘The Birth of Love’ its very title made me think ‘hmmm, maybe that one will be tricky’. Its not that I am squeamish about birth, in fact I have been a complete addict of ‘One Born Every Minute’, and find pregnancy rather fascinating. In fact whenever relatives (have I said I am soon to be an uncle of sorts?) and friends get pregnant I have endless questions and want to know all the ins and outs of it all. The title just sounded a little saccharine and so it was therefore one of the first books that I thought I should tackle as it would be a bit of a difficult read for me, oh how wrong I turned out to be.

It is four initially disparate stories which make up ‘The Birth of Love’. We first have the story, in forms of letters to a Dr Wilson, of the incarceration of Herr S in a Viennese asylum in the 1800’s. This is a man wracked with guilt over the amount of women he believes he has murdered and the never ending dreams and visions of blood that he is the subject to. Secondly is the tale of Brigid whose second child, she is what is now deemed as a mature mother, is overdue and we join her as her mother arrives and so it seems do her contractions. Thirdly is the narrative of Michael, and author whose works on a doctor from the 1800’s has just been published and on the day of release learns his mother is ill with dementia. Fourthly, and finally, we have the unnamed Prisoner 730004 in the year 2153 who has been captured after leaving the ‘safety’ (which we soon learn are confines) of Darwin C and has escaped to an island where the ‘Magna Mater’ Birgitta is rumoured to have given birth, a quite impossible act in the times of egg and sperm harvesting and offspring farming.

You might think that merely from its title this is a book solely about birth; in fact it’s also about the bonds of motherhood. Michael has a very distant and angry relationship with his mother and the news of her illness seems to completely pass him by, Brigid’s relationship with her overbearing mother leaves her to think about her future mothering of her own children, Prisoner 730004 feels she has lost something by being denied the right to be a mother and Herr S feels he has stolen mothers from there children.

It is a real cacophony of tales and one which could have seemed too far fetched and with too much scope yet Kavenna pulls these four strands together and creates four worlds which are all very real and tangible despite their vast differences. Whilst reading this, and I don’t think its because one of the strands is rather like ‘The Handmaids Tale’, I often found myself thinking of Margaret Atwood’s writing. You constantly feel that Kavenna has you following the exact path she wants you to, observing things and similarities as you go along, almost as if she is connecting with her reader as she writes. This is a quality you don’t find often in books and certainly not ones with so much scope which ask the reader to ‘hold on, it will all come together’ yet you never question that they won’t.

My only small issue with the book was that whilst I liked the way it’s written, and Kavenna’s style of phrase and prose in short bursts with breaks between paragraphs, in the case of Michael’s narrative it seemed to distant me from him some what and on occasion his being an author almost preached as to how clever authors are. I am sure that wasn’t the intention, but something in his sections lost the flow of the novel as a whole for me a little now and again. This however is a small blip in a novel that I found rather exciting to read.

If you haven’t read ‘The Birth of Love’ yet or have been debating reading it then I would say delve in. It’s a fascinating book about child birth, motherhood and has a great humour just as it has a great darkness. It’s interesting that it’s a book that reflects the past, the now and the future as I think in time this could become a modern classic from an author that is certainly one to watch. 8/10

This book was kindly sent by the publishers.

So I am now a quarter of the way through The Orange Longlist 2011 (though of course these posts being scheduled I am possibly much further on that that now – I hope so) and they are all proving to be incredibly varied reads. It is making me think just how many books I miss out on each year, which then makes my head hurt, and shows just why prizes should be followed, we may not agree with the winner or the shortlists but how great is it that such an array of writing can be highlighted to us? Has anyone else read ‘The Birth of Love’? What about Kavenna’s debut novel ‘Inglorious’, which also won ‘The Orange Award for New Writers’? Have any of you read the any of the other Orange long listed books? Is anyone oranged out yet? Sorry if you are… just another 15 to go but fear not there are some non Orange book thoughts coming after tomorrow!

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Filed under Faber & Faber, Joanna Kavenna, Orange Prize, Review