Tag Archives: The Orange Prize 2011

Repeat It Today With Tears – Anne Peile

I wasn’t too sure how I would deal with reading ‘Repeat It Today With Tears’ by Anne Peile when I found out that the main plot of the story would be incest. Something about the very idea of it made me feel rather uncomfortable before even opening the first page. It’s odd I had this reaction because I am the first to say that I do think that reading shouldn’t always be a comfortable experience and so bearing that in mind I opened the pages and started it. I am glad that I risked the subject matter because, whilst uncomfortable, Anne Peile’s debut novel is very accomplished and holds much promise for her future works.

Susanna, the main protagonist of ‘Repeat It Today With Tears’, is a rather quiet and subdued young woman. Growing up with an overbearing mother, rebellious sister who her grandmother much prefers over Susanna and lets her know as much, the one thing missing from her life is her father who we learn left when Susanna was very young. What starts off as general inquisitiveness soon becomes an obsession that leads to a rather dark opening of the book from the first line. “The first time I kissed my father on the mouth it was the Easter holiday.” From the very start we know we are in rather unchartered territory and from here on Anne Peile takes us on a rather a dark journey of Susanna from that point, whilst also taking us through her past.

I am sure many people will be put off the book, as I admit I was a little, from the subject this book brings up. Yet I have to say Anne Peile writes fantastically and really gets into the mindset of her leading character. In many ways it makes the story all the darker that a girl who you start of thinking is rather innocent and lost becomes more and more deceitful and manipulative as the book goes on, for her father has no clue that the woman he is having an affair with, behind his wife Olive’s back, is his own flesh and blood. You know from the very start of the book this is dark territory and as the book goes on things get worse and worse.

Despite its generally dark tone there is, interestingly enough, also great humour in this book. The people that Susanna meets once she starts to work in 1970’s Chelsea are a mixed bunch of ‘free loving’ spirits, and the women in her home territory of Clapham and the gossip and foul mouthed tittle-tattle they come out with is hilarious. It nicely adds a sense of place and atmosphere in the book, whilst breaking up the darkness with some light and often saucy blunt relief.

‘Here it comes.’ The bench women were nodding at a younger woman who was entering, pulling her wash behind her in a basket on wheels. Her heels tapped on the mosaic and her newly dressed hair was swept back and lacquered into curls. She eyed the seated women critically for a moment and then said to one, ‘Blimey, close your legs, girl, your meats smelling.’
 The other women guffawed and the superintendent clicked her tongue in disapproval.
 Alison said, ‘They’re such dirty old bags in here, they make me sick. Come on, lets go and tap the phone instead while the wash is doing.’

‘Repeat It Today With Tears’ is a dark and tightly woven ‘coming of age’ tale with a huge twist and one that could lose it some of the audience that I think it deserves. It’s also a very hard book to write about because its short and not knowing what’s coming makes the pay off all the greater. It’s not always comfortable, it gets pretty bleak, and yet it’s written in such a way that you find yourself turning the pages, often despite yourself, up until the final word. It’s a very accomplished debut novel, with one of the best first narrative voices I have read for some time – even if she is a bit bonkers and rather unreliable, that I would recommend people give a try… just brace yourself a little first. 8.5/10

This book was kindly sent by the publisher.

The Orange long list is proving most fruitful (do you see what I did there) in pushing forward books that I would not necessarily have rushed to read. It’s also making me ask a lot of questions about my own reading habits and attitudes. Have you ever been put off by a book because of its subject matter, and if so which one? Has anyone else given ‘Repeat It Today With Tears’ a go, what did you think? Anyone now tempted on reading it at some point?

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Filed under Anne Peile, Orange Prize, Review, Serpent's Tail

Great House – Nicole Krauss

When I saw that ‘Great House’ by Nicole Krauss (which in my head rhymes, should it?) had made the Orange long list I went off and did some research on it and though ‘eurgh’. The reasons for this were thrice fold, first was the fact every review seemed to say it was a book about a desk (which didn’t fill me intrigue or hope), second was a mention that it jumped from strand to strand like one of my nemesis reads ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell and thirdly its scope seemed to wide. How could a book manage to cover the gaps of New York, London, Jerusalem, Paris, Nuremberg, Chile whilst also fitting in the subjects of holocaust, Alzheimer’s, incest and much more? It was going to be a brick of a book that I was going to really, really struggle with wasn’t it? Well I was wrong on both counts, as I discovered when it arrived in the post and I read it only pausing to catch my breath with a cup of tea now and then.

I was expecting that when ‘Great House’ arrived through my letter box it would make itself known with a loud thud that would leave a dent in the hall. Instead a much slimmer volume of 289 pages arrived leaving me slightly non-plussed, yet Nicole Krauss’s latest novel is a book where its size is extremely deceptive and has so much in its 289 pages that I already know I am going to be struggling really hard to convey just how much happens and just how clever this novel is in any form of ‘book thoughts’ I now type.

I have to address the thoughts I had read, prior to picking up the book itself, that this book evolves around a 19 drawer desk. The idea that any item of furniture could hold four very different stories across decades and continents both intrigued me and completely put me off in one go. Yet actually this is possible, every heirloom has a tale and so therefore does every antique. I personally couldn’t go as far as to say that ‘Great House’ is a book about a desk or that the desk is the lead character, in fact the desk gets a mere sentence in the first half of one of the books inner tales ‘True Kindness’.

What I would say is that Nicole Krauss has used a desk to draw, if you will excuse the pun, four compelling tales together – which in their own ways do weave in and out of each other anyway, well, sort of! Krauss only hints at how in each of the parts initial halves but in such a way it teased me to read on and see if I could grab the lose threads and for a fuller picture. This is a clever and compelling tool; a literary book where you find yourself turning the pages in need of finding out more.

So what are these stories? Well the first tells of a novelist Nadia, living in New York, and how she (back before her career really took off) came to be the owner, through a friend of a friend, of all the Chilean poet Daniel Varsky’s furniture including his desk, the desk that she then goes on to write her many novels on thereafter. She also spends a single night with Daniel, a night that stays with her long after as he sends postcards until suddenly they stop and she discovers he has been taken, arrested and tortured by Pinochet back in Chile. From there Daniel goes on to haunt her and when she receives a call asking for his furniture back Nadia begins to unravel and we are left on a cliff hanger as Nadia contemplates a huge change in her life which we will come back to later, this is the narrative jumping I feared would leave me cold, it hooked me in.

Next we find ourselves in Israel as a father talks internally to his son, a son who has returned from England where he is a judge for his mother’s funeral after leaving the family behind several years before. It’s a bitter and occasionally rather uncomfortable narrative looking at how parents don’t always love the children that they have, in fact sometimes it can be quite the opposite. From here we then move to England where the final two narrators, and in some ways pieces of Krauss’s carefully crafted puzzle, are based.

We have Arnold who is looking back on the life of his wife, another author, Lotte. A woman who always wanted her freedom to be hers and her past, she hails from 1930’s Germany, to remain a secret if at all possible – in fact she rarely mentions it in her work, interviews or personal conversations, even with her husband. Slowly secrets of hers are unlocked in stops and starts as her husband learns much more about her when her Alzheimer’s starts to reveal all as they grow old together. Finally there is Izzy who tells her tale of the relationship she has with brother Yoav Weisz, one which seemed doomed from the start with his domineering father George (and antique collector) and the unusually close relationship with his rather jealous sister Leah. You couldn’t get four more different stories and yet Krauss magically and, to put it frankly, effortlessly does make them connect.

How exactly? Well if I told you that you wouldn’t read the book now would you, and I am going to urge that you do so but it might have something to do with the desk! It also has a lot to do with doubt, what we pass on to others and how we move forward in life!

It’s interesting that I love the idea of books that tell completely different stories that have an underlying arch between them all, why do I therefore dread them at the same time, well because often they don’t work. ‘Great House’ works, in fact it works wonderfully. The characters Krauss creates all instantly lend themselves as storytellers who you want to listen to the narrations and memories of, several of them are writers so that could help but then again Aaron, who is one of the strongest narratives for his bitterness, doesn’t like writing. In fact he is very insular which only made his narrative all the more interesting for me. The writing is compelling and also lyrical with sparkles of humour in unlikely places. I was expecting a much more subdued book and while it’s not laugh out loud funny, it is quite sombre really, or an easy read it’s very readable too.

I am sure you can easily tell, from the amount I have already written, that I could go on and on about ‘Great House’. I will stop and simply say read it. It’s a clever and insightful novel, a tale with four tales to tell, and one that will stick with you once you have turned the final page. Not only is it incredible for all its subject matters and the characters but for the fact you might have just read a near perfect novel. 9.5/10

This book was kindly sent by the publishers.

So one of the books I was, if I am totally honest, rather fearful of has become one of my favourite reads of the year. It would be easy for me to know say ‘this should win the Orange’ but actually I am only 4/20 down, I can only hope the long list throws many more books like this in my direction. Books that get you fired up and excited about reading. I haven’t read either of her other novels and am now thinking I should… should I? Is she as an exciting author as this book promises? Has anyone else read ‘Great House’? I know it has received a mixed bag of reviews so would be interested in hearing more thoughts from you all, has anyone been as nervous/wary of it as I was?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Nicole Krauss, Orange Prize, Penguin Books, Review, Viking Books

Lyrics Alley – Leila Aboulela

I don’t like to start of my thoughts on a book too negatively, in fact I don’t even like doing negative reviews (not that this might be one), but I do like to talk honestly about how I come to read a book and what makes me rush to a particular title and what doesn’t. I don’t think if it hadn’t been for its Orange long-listing, and subsequent arrival through my letter box, I would have picked ‘Lyrics Alley’ by Leila Aboulela up, especially based on the cover alone. Its not that it looks cheap, thought the title font is a little basic, its just it looks a bit obvious maybe a bit blandly so. That being my initial thoughts I decided it would be the next Orange long listed title that I would attempt, my thoughts have been hitting the ones I am initially the least excited about or look the hardest work first. Is ‘Lyrics Alley’ a book that should have judged from the cover or not?

What intrigued me about ‘Lyrics Alley’ before I started reading it was the time and place of its setting. I don’t know very much about the 1950’s and I certainly know nothing about Sudan. However this is the scene we find ourselves in as we are thrown into the lives of the Abuzeid family, a rather renowned and sprawling dynasty in their time yet a family also slightly at odds with one another. In some ways an incredibly close family, in fact brothers Mahmoud and Idris marry their offspring off to each other they are also at war with power struggles occasionally between brothers and fathers and sons.

Yet it’s the story of the men of the household Mahmoud, his sons Nassir and Nur and Mahmoud’s brother Idris that left me feeling somewhat cold. As their family business develops and the world they find themselves changes with the sun setting on British rule and self government on the horizon I should have been gripped by their changing circumstance and all it brought, yet I wasn’t really. I mean I read it happily enough, I liked how the story spread through Sudan, Egypt and England, I just wasn’t hooked.

The opposite was the case with the women though. In particular the story of Idris’s daughter Soraya, who is the first female in the family to get a full education despite her forthcoming enforced betrothal to her cousin Nur, and her storyline thereafter called out to me. As did the stories and relationships of Mahmoud’s first forced wife Waheeba and his second self chosen bride Nabilah. The latter being from Cairo and of a new age which frowns upon the idea of female circumcision and the ways of old, which is the complete polar opposite of Waheeba. This for me was where the story really lay and indeed it felt like it was where the author’s heart lay, it read truer, it had more passion.

‘Lyrics Alley’ is a true family saga. It has a huge scope and Aboulela manages to pull a rather complicated family together and make you interested in them. I did think that there was a forewarning you might as a reader be confused by the family tree in the front, and indeed I did occasionally need it. She also captures a very interesting period in the history of Sudan, its just that the atmosphere and true impact of it all only seemed to come alive when the women were in charge, and if they had been I think ‘Lyrics Alley’ would have gone from being a rather good book to an incredible one. 7.5/10

This book was kindly sent by the publisher.

I have wondered if it is the story of the female situations in this book that got it on the Orange long list, and I don’t mean that to sound like Leila Aboulela can’t write as she clearly can, it’s just a point to ponder. Has anyone else given this a whirl? I only wonder as I hadn’t heard about it at all until last week. Are you reading any of the Orange long listed titles? If so which ones and how are you getting on? Has anyone read any of Leila Aboulela’s other novels?

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Filed under Leila Aboulela, Orange Prize, Orion Publishing, Review, Weidenfeld & Nicolson

The Seas – Samantha Hunt

It’s interesting to me that the last time I made a concerted effort to read The Orange Long/Short List brought about my first experience of Samantha Hunt’s writing with ‘The Invention of Everything Else’, and now as I try and read all the Oranges I can again I have had the pleasure of Samantha’s writing once more with ‘The Seas’. What I have found doubly interesting is that I have enjoyed this book more out of the two (my mother has read both and thinks the opposite way round, though like me she liked them both a lot) and yet ‘The Seas’ was Samantha Hunt’s debut novel it just didn’t get picked up and published in the UK until last year.

‘The Seas’ is the tale of a young girl as she grows to young woman, with the ongoing possibility of being a mermaid if what her father told her as a young girl is true, in a remote seaside town nobody wants to live in, most have become alcoholics or suicidal, and yet a place that no one seems to be able to escape from. Except that her father did escape in his own way when one day he took a walk straight into the sea and never came back. Most would assume that he was dead yet our narrator, and occasionally her mother, sit and wait on the beach for his return in hope.  Living mainly in her head, we follow her obsession with both her father, and the fact she believes she sees him and occasionally finds wet footprints around the house, and her obsession with an older man who is not long back from fighting in Iraq and who has Post Traumatic Stress disorder.

“People often suggest that it would be better if we knew for certain whether or not my father is dead rather than just disappeared. That to me seems cruel, as if they want me to abandon all hope. That is how dreary people try to keep things here on dry land.”

Looking at the book like that you could think that the scope of the book is too big, especially as the novel is a slim one, and somewhat surreal. Yet Samantha Hunt has created a rather magical, if a little melancholic, tale about loss and coming to terms with your own situation especially when it is not one of your choosing. As you read along you begin to realise that you aren’t been given the straight forward story from the narrator, for example when people start to melt before her eyes, and so reality and her imagination inform your readers view of her world and just how she is coping with it, which doesn’t always make sense initially but soon rings very true. There is also a real fluidity to her voice, and this is of course through the prose, which adds to the books watery and ethereal feel. I’m not sure that makes sense but if you read the book it might… maybe?

What I found rather surprising with this novel and what added incredible element was the story of Jude, the man our narrator obsesses over. Amongst all the named chapters it is ‘War Among The Mayflies’ which is Jude’s first hand telling of his time in Iraq and another mini short story of sorts within a story. I found this incredibly shocking and moving all in one. It seemed a very debut novel thing to do and cram a book with all an author’s ideas and topics, yet it did feel very much part of the story and added a further dimension and poignancy to a stunningly written book.

‘The Seas’ may not have a whacking great plot running through it, and certainly not a linear one, yet it certainly has a heck of a lot to say and sometimes no plot is needed in a novel. It’s a book filled with emotions which manages to say so much and affect its reader whilst being quite silent and subtle. It’s a debut that takes several risks, the characters aren’t instantly likeable, the feeling of melancholy throughout (though its not depressing there’s very few comic breaks, but then why should there be?) and the sudden strand change of isolated North America to a war torn Iraq, yet all these risks pay off creating a rather brilliant and beautifully bizarre piece of fiction. 8.5/10

If reading the Orange Longlist over the next few weeks is going to be as interesting as this then its not going to be quite the struggle I thought it might. I’m trying very hard not to compare them all to ‘Mr Chartwell’ though (funny how two Hunt’s debut novels have been so good) I have to admit. Has anyone else read ‘The Seas’ and if so what did you think? If not, are you tempted?

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Filed under Corsair Books, Review, Samantha Hunt

Come See Me in Cambridge, Oranges & Favourite Female Writers

A few bits and bobs today, that all evolve around female writers. First up is the exciting announcement I have been hankering to tell you for a little while, and that is where I am going to be talking about ‘female fiction’ in the Summer at a literary festival I hinted at a while ago (after which a small Orange update will make perfect sense)…  

I had an email from the lovely Sophie Hannah a while back asking if I would be up for joining a panel she is hosting on Sunday June 26th 2011 at Cambridge’s Lucy Cavendish College who host ‘Women’s Word’ each year. I will be on the panel talking about ‘Why Men Don’t Men Read Books By Women and Does It Matter That They Don’t’ and I’m literally be the good guy on the panel that does indeed read a lot of fiction by women writers. I will be up there with our host Sophie Hannah (as I mentioned), and the other confirmed panel members who are poet, playwright and short story writer Michelene Wandor along with writer and Persephone Books founder Nicola Beauman. As you might guess I am really, really excited (it’s the perfect pick me up with all this health nonsense) and already gearing up for it. Which is where the next part of this post might just come in handy…

I am sure you are all aware that The Orange Longlist 2011 was announced this week and I mentioned that I didn’t think I was going to read the longlist… well I am. I am also going to try and read all the books I hadn’t yet managed on my guess list. I have been quite lucky as some Oranges have already made it through my letter box and are now about to be read through (see there are some benefits to having a big operation on your birthday, this coming Thursday, and then having lots of recuperation time), I doubt very much I will manage the 19 I haven’t read yet, for ‘Room’ was devoured last year, but then I don’t have them all. I do have these to be getting on with…

I think this will be perfect reading material to get me thinking and bursting with ideas and thoughts for the talk. I will also be doing a post next week asking you for your help, but I think maybe that’s enough excitement for one day. If you do happen to be free on Sunday 26th of June I would love to see you in a hopefully sunny Cambridge. I will be making a weekend of it and going backstage and meeting everyone so will report back if you can’t! Oh, and on the subject of books by women, don’t forget you can win one of the best, in my opinion, female novelist debuts in recent years – so go have a gander at that.

In the meantime can you tell me who your favourite female author (alive or dead) is, why and what it is about them that simply means I have to go and read them now? I might just surprise some of you with some more goodies for this one too as would be very good research for me! You can probably all guess mine.

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Filed under Book Thoughts

The Orange Prize Longlist 2011

Even though there has yet to be an official announcement on their site it seems that The Guardian and The Independent have already announced, rather subtly, what the Orange Longlist 2011 is. I don’t think I am doing anything wrong in doing the same, though I also don’t think that Savidge Reads divulging what’s already out there in much wider read arenas already will make any difference. I tried guessing the Longlist yesterday (thought the post went up at silly o’clock this morning), do have a read, and you can see I did superbly badly in guessing only three (I will put stars next to those three, links to the ones I have read – all one of them – and italics under the ones I have in the TBR) of the titles, which are…

  • Lyrics Alley – Leila Aboulela (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
  • Jamrach’s Menagerie – Carol Birch (Canongate)
  • Room – Emma Donoghue (Picador)*
  • The Pleasure Seekers – Tishani Doshi (Bloomsbury)
  • Whatever You Love – Louise Doughty (Faber & Faber)
  • A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan (Corsair)*
  • The Memory of Love – Aminatta Forna (Bloomsbury)
  • The London Train – Tessa Hadley (Jonathan Cape)
  • Grace Williams Says it Loud – Emma Henderson (Sceptre)
  • The Seas – Samantha Hunt (Corsair)
  • The Birth of Love – Joanna Kavenna (Faber & Faber)
  • Great House – Nicole Krauss (Viking)
  • The Road to Wanting – Wendy Law-Yone (Chatto & Windus)
  • The Tiger’s Wife – Téa Obreht (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)*
  • The Invisible Bridge – Julie Orringer (Viking)
  • Repeat it Today with Tears – Anne Peile (Serpent’s Tail)
  • Swamplandia! – Karen Russell (Chatto & Windus)
  • The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives – Lola Shoneyin (Serpent’s Tail)
  • The Swimmer – Roma Tearne (Harper Press)
  • Annabel – Kathleen Winter (Jonathan Cape)

I mentioned earlier that actually the less that I got right the happier I would be as it means a whole list of potential delights to discover. I am kicking myself for not going with my Emma Henderson guess and also did a real ‘doh!’ moment when I saw Louise Doughty as I have ‘Whatever You Love’ in my top 5 bedside TBR books. I could focus on the ‘grrr, why didn’t that one get on the list’ feeling a bout a few titles I had read but there are a lot of books to excite me on the list to.

The titles by Leila Aboulela, Carol Birch, Aminatta Forna, Tea Obreht, Karen Russell, Lola Shoneyin and Kathleen Winter are the instant standouts of the books I don’t own and would really like to read having just looked them all up very quickly on Waterstones website. There is a certain amount of ‘really?’ not because I think Tishani Doshi, Jennifer Egan, Samatha Hunt, Anne Peile and Roma Tearne deserve not to be on the list, they are just all books which have come through my doorway and then got lost in the only box that vanished on the move up north. Actually lets move on, I still can’t quite talk about that event as it gets to me a lot, though teaches me I should read faster maybe.

Will I be reading the longlist myself? No, because I don’t have them all, though there are a few I might see if the library has. For now though I will say I will try those titles that I have in the TBR and bring you my thoughts on them, and maybe any which arrive after, before the shortlist is announced on 12th of April. I don’t think I could read 19 books, remember I have only read one so far, in that time anyways, especially not the massive Orringer. Having said that though, I am going in for a big operation on my birthday next week, so there is lots of recovery time coming…

So what do you think of the list? Which ones have you read and are overjoyed to see on their? Any you have tried and didn’t quite get to grips with? Any books that you are rather miffed didn’t make it? What do you think about the official longlist compared to my rogue one? Any other Orange thoughts?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Orange Prize

Guessing The Orange Prize Longlist 2011…

It seems that the day when the Orange Longlist is announced for 2011, which is today and will be in a couple of hours of this post going live I am sure, has taken a really long time to come around and then has suddenly swooped down on us fast. In fact I commented pretty much that very thing on Dovegreyreader the other day. You see I always think it gets announced in February and then there is a big lead up to June. I do wonder how my head works sometimes. Anyway… soon we will know what the twenty books that make the Orange Prize Longlist for 2011 will be, and so it’s my annual Orange Prize guess also known as ‘Simon shows how wrong he can be about women’s writing in the last year’ (see my 2010 guesses for more)…

Initially I started off getting competitive with myself over trying to come up with a list which contained the winning lot. Then I sat back and thought that seriously who else apart from the judges would know what these might be as the options are endless as are the books that could have been put forward. This year I went through all the books eligible, books written in English in print in the UK between April 1st 2010 and March 31st 2011, and came up with my twenty based on what I had read (in blue as you can read my thoughts), what was on my TBR/on loan from the library (in italics) and books I have been wanting to get my mitts on and haven’t yet (in bold – as a birthday, which is 8 days away, hint). So without further waffle here is the Savidge Orange 20 in alphabetical surname order to make it fairer…

   
Started Early, Took My Dog – Kate Atkinson
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake – Aimee Bender
True Things About Me – Deborah Kay Davies

Scissors, Paper, Stone – Elizabeth Day

   
Room – Emma Donoghue
Theodora – Stella Duffy
The Cry of the Go-Away Bird – Andrea Eames
A Visit From The Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan (which I would have but it went missing in the move)

   
The Cookbook Collector – Allegra Goodman
We Had It So Good – Linda Grant
T
he History of History – Ida Hattemer-Higgins 
Mr Chartwell – Rebecca Hunt

   
The Report – Jessica Francis Kane

The Hand That First Held Mine – Maggie O’Farrell
The News Where You Are – Catherine O’Flynn
The Tigers Wife – Tea ObrehtDark Matter – Michelle Paver (which I would have but it went missing in the move)
The Fates Will Find Their Way – Hannah Pittard
Mr Rosenblum’s List – Natasha Solomons
When God Was A Rabbit – Sarah Winman

   

I did umm and ahhh about putting ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ by Emma Henderson on the list but I have seen that in the Orange Book Group displays in Waterstones (where I got the new Books Quarterly) so assumed that it would be off the list. I have it and will be reading it any way. I know that maybe Kate Atkinson is a random pick as its essentially a crime novel as I mentioned yesterday if Val McDermids latest is as good as ‘The Mermaids Singing’ that would be a welcome entry, I wondered also if Susan Hill’s ‘A Kind Man’ might be too short?

I wonder how I will do with this lot, can I bet my 8 out of 20 best from last year? In a weird way I hope I do the same as the last or a little worse, as one of the joys of a longlist is learning about the books you werent aware of. Which books would you bet on being in the list? Will anyone, sadly I don’t think I could, be trying to read them all?

I have of course updated the blog with the actual longlist now.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Orange Prize