Tag Archives: Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013

May We Be Forgiven – A.M. Homes

A while back I asked you about the Great American novel and how I would like to read more of them be they classic or modern (indeed so much so I asked you about them not once but twice, oops). One of the reasons for this was that I had been discussing it on The Readers, with my new guest American co-host, and also because I had not long finished May We Be Forgiven, A. M. Homes Women’s Prize winning novel, as October’s book club choice. I have taken this long to write about it because I have had to really mull over my rather mixed thoughts on it. Plus as the book starts and finishes on a thanksgiving I thought it might be apt to discuss today, after yesterday.

Granta Books, 2012, hardback, fiction, 368 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

May We Be Forgiven takes place from one thanksgiving to another as Harry Silver’s life is turned completely upside down in the space of a single year. All it takes is a single kiss to set the ‘chaos ball’ rolling in Harry’s life after his sister-in-law Jane kisses him between washing up the remains of the turkey dinner. A few weeks later when his brother, George, is arrested after a fatal motor incident and promptly has a breakdown (that seems may have been looming for a while) and Harry and Jane start an affair. This is soon followed by a murder, a divorce and suddenly Harry is left as the guardian of his brother’s children. You are left feeling rather breathless after just fifty pages, yes that is right we are only fifty pages in here and all this has already happened, what could possibly follow?

Drenched in her scent, but too shaken to shower or fall asleep in their bed, I wait until she is asleep and then go downstairs, to the kitchen, and wash myself with dish soap. I am in my brother’s kitchen at three in the morning, soaping my cock in his sink, drying myself with a towel that says “Home Sweet Home.” It happens again in the morning, when she finds me on the sofa, and then again in the afternoon, after we visit George. “What’s the story with your hand?” George asks Jane the next day, noticing her bandages. He’s back in his room, with no memory of the night before.
Jane starts to cry.

That was the question I found myself asking as I read on, where on earth will Homes take me next? The answer is that, pretty much, anything you could think imaginable may well be on the cards. We watch as Harry tries to cope with enforced parenthood, divorce, becoming addicted to random sexual encounters through the internet with frustrated (and occasionally crazy) housewives, children with disabilities, even American’s political past via Harry’s obsession with Nixon. Anything it seems that Homes can use to create a satire of the American dream and how delicate it really is and how easily it can all fall apart.

There are some wonderful set pieces here; an unwanted dog who doesn’t want to be walked for good reason, the bumping into a previous casual sexual encounter who now wants to date, a holiday away with three children who aren’t yours and all get violently ill. I could go on, in fact on occasion I was thinking this was a series of short stories (which is how this book started in Granta in 2007) that had all been interlinked to make a tapestry of American life. The problem for me with this was that it what held it together seemed to be less tightly knitted as I went on and the loose threads started to show. There is almost too much going on and too much happening to one man, and the background and fibre of the piece seems to be missing.

As Harry’s ‘new life’ developed the less I started to believe in him. How could so much stuff happen to one man? Seriously, Harry can barely garden without some tool almost decapitating him of inadvertently getting cat poo in his eye. He is really rather an ineffectual character, everything happens to him and he began to feel less and less like a character and more and more like a plot device and one which was simply there to hold the story together and give us some belly laughs along the way. Yet as with all good things – yes, even doughnuts – too much of a good thing can leave you feeling a little queasy. I wanted less of Harry’s antics (I also wanted the whole Nixon stuff to be taken out; I didn’t see the need for it personally) and more of a look at why Harry and his brother George were the way they were which is only ever hinted at on the odd occasion.

The soup warms me, reminding me that I’ve not eaten since last night. A man with two black eyes passes, lunch tray in hand, and I think of how my father once knocked my brother out, flattened him, for not much of a reason. “Don’t be confused who’s the boss.”  

The thing that vexed me the most was that I loved (and I mean really loved) Homes’ writing. I think she is a genius. Every paragraph has some form of genius in it or simply ‘a moment’, every character has some essence of the familiar and real whilst flawed. Every dark moment has some light and laughter to it. Brilliant. Yet it gets too much. A book which is constantly on ‘max power’ doesn’t seem to know where to stop. The clever satire becomes an overdone farce, as I read on I started to find I was getting annoyed by how brilliant it was, because I felt it knew how brilliant it was and was showing off. Not the intention I am sure but there was something in the delivery (and a big edit/shortening would have helped) that jarred and it lost me through the middle. Like with Zoe Venditozzi’s  Anywhere’s Better Than Here after it changed tempo in the second half, I found myself wanting to say to Homes too as the author ‘it’s alright you have me, I think you are a genius, just stop with all the bells and whistles you don’t need it’.

However May We Be Forgiven’s main theme was what won me round again towards the end as it is less a book about the American dream and how it can crack and actually all about what the word ‘family’ means and what a family is. At the start we have the stereotypical ‘blood linked’ family which is clearly fractured and falling apart, quite probably because of the generation above, unwittingly. By the end of the novel we have a very different family, one by no means ‘the norm’ yet one that feels like a true family all the same and I think that is what is at the heart of May We Be Forgiven and is what resonated with me and so its soul saved it. I am certainly left wanting to read much more of Homes work because as I mention, she is a stunning writer.

Who else has read May We Be Forgiven and what did you make of it? I am expecting some interesting mixed responses as we had quite the debate at book group (over whether it depicted a real true America or was a farce, I was in the latter camp), with some of the Green Carnation judges and also recently on the phone to my mother! Have any of you ever found a book where the authors writing is so brilliant and so full on that as it doesn’t let up you find you struggle, or is that just me? Which of Homes’ previous novels should I give a whirl?

Advertisements

24 Comments

Filed under A. M. Homes, Book Group, Granta Books, Review

The Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist 2013

So here are the six books that have made the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist 2013…

Womens-Prize-Shortlist-News-Item-2

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson (Doubleday)
May We Be Forgiven – A.M. Holmes (Granta)
Flight Behaviour – Barbara Kingsolver (Faber and Faber)
Bring Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate)
Where’d You Go, Bernadette – Maria Semple (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
NW – Zadie Smith (Hamilton)

Alas this year I couldn’t play ‘guess the shortlist’ as I knew it in advance so that I could do a feature for We Love This Book from ‘the man’s perspective’, along with my initial thoughts on the short listed books which you can see here on the website (not a Mantel bashing in site). You will also learn there that, yes indeed, I am going to read the whole of the shortlist, including re-reading A.M. Holmes and trying again with Zadie Smith, this year.

Obviously not having read them all I am in no real position to say which one I think will win, however I did randomly decide that it would be Kate Atkinson that would win this year, and so far the signs are good. I have decided that will be the last of the shortlist I read. I am going to start with Kingsolver, partly because it is the one I am the most daunted by and also because I am at Gran’s and she has a copy and I don’t, ha.

Who else is thinking of reading the short list? I am not going to suggest an official read-a-long but if anyone is reading them might be nice to have some support and people to swap notes with. Even if you aren’t planning on reading all of them what do you make of the list? Which have you read and which do you fancy reading?

19 Comments

Filed under Women's Prize for Fiction

The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 Longlist

So they have been announced, the twenty titles that make the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 Longlist, and after my guesses yesterday I can reveal that I guessed a whopping… four! More on that shortly, first though here is the list of the twenty titles…

Kitty Aldridge – A Trick I Learned From Dead Men (Jonathan Cape)
Kate Atkinson – Life After Life (Doubleday)
Ros Barber – The Marlow Papers (Sceptre)
Shani Boianjiu – The People of Forever are Not Afraid (Hogarth)
Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Sheila Heti – How Should a Person Be? (Harvill Secker)
A M Homes – May We Be Forgiven (Granta)
Barbara Kingsolver – Flight Behaviour (Faber & Faber)
Deborah Copaken Kogen – The Red Book (Virago)
Hilary Mantel – Bring Up the Bodies (Fourth Estate)
Bonnie Nadzam – Lamb (Hutchinson)
Emily Perkins – The Forrests (Bloomsbury Circus)
Michèle Roberts – Ignorance (Bloomsbury)
Francesca Segal – The Innocents (Chatto & Windus)
Maria Semple – Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Elif Shafak – Honour (Viking)
Zadie Smith – NW (Hamish Hamilton)
M L Stedman – The Light Between Oceans (Doubleday)
Carrie Tiffany – Mateship with Birds (Picador)
G Willow Wilson – Alif the Unseen (Corvus Books)

I have made the ones I have read in bold and linked to them if I have reviewed them, I have also put all the ones I have in mount TBR in italics. What you possibly might want to know is what I think of the list overall though maybe? Well, I have to say that I rather like it.

The talking points are of course going to be, firstly, Hilary Mantel. I can only imagine that there will be lots of people groaning about how she is up for yet another award and isn’t it unfair she is winning all these awards because she wrote such a brilliant book – honestly this whole attitude of slating someone for writing something that apparently, I haven’t read it yet though now I am more tempted, many people think is one of the very best books of the year is just mean. She has written a great book, the best books are meant to win prizes, let her enjoy it and please shut the **** up moaning about it and say something positive. Alas in the same vein I think the second point will be the ‘oh my god a crime book is on the list’ with Gillian Flynn and ‘Gone Girl’, a book I loved and am delighted is on the list – indeed I guessed it might be.

Speaking of guesses, yes I am sad that Kerry Hudson, Nell Leyshon, Maggie O’Farrell etc have missed out, especially as the Emily Perkins novel that I really didn’t get on with is on the list, but yippee Kate Atkinson is on it, and I predicted she would win it back on January the 1st in an episode of the Readers podcast. Let us continue on that positive note and look at the thing that really excites me about the list… The books I have never bloody heard of! These are, for me, what a longlist is all about – well, apart from the fact longlists make us look at books and talk about them, a lot.

I am really keen to find out more about the ones I don’t have here at home, especially the authors that I haven’t heard of, I tried the Smith and the Kingsolver and they didn’t grab me when I got them. I have heard of all the books or the authors bar three and those are the ones which really strike me as books I might need to get my mitts on. They are Deborah Copaken Kogen’s ‘The Red Book’, Carrie Tiffany’s ‘Mateship With Birds’ and ‘The People of Forever are Not Afraid’ by Shani Boianjiu. The latter two in particular as the Tiffany sounds right up my street as I love books set in the middle of the countryside/nowhere and how that effects people, the Boianjiu also sounds like it would be outside my normal reading remit which is something I am desperately looking for at the moment. In fact I will be discussing reading diets, and the fact I think I need to change my reading tastes a bit later today.

In the meantime though, what do you make of the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist above? Which of the books have you read and what did you make of them? Are there any books you are shocked to see on there or missing from there? Do you think Flynn vs. Mantel will be the big story? Is anyone planning on reading them all (I am going to read some if the whim takes, probably the two I mentioned I know nothing about, maybe) at all?

12 Comments

Filed under Women's Prize for Fiction

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 Longlist?

So tomorrow is the announcement of the first, yet technically eighteenth, Women’s Prize for Literature. As has become the routine in the last few years, I do love to have a go at guessing what books might be on it. This isn’t based on what people ‘in the trade’ might be thinking or any of that gubbins, though I love all the speculation, it is simply based on books I have loved, am desperate to read or simply think might be on the list, though I am sure I will be proven delightfully wrong once again this year and a million miles off in my guesses.

The first four of my guesses are some of my favourite books of 2012, well, those that fall into the submission guidelines, they are…

The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon
Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole Me Ma – Kerry Hudson
The Lighthouse – Alison Moore
The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

Next up some books that I have read, or in the case of the Atkinson am reading, and am yet to review but have thoroughly enjoyed…

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson
Instructions for a Heatwave – Maggie O’Farrell
Past the Shallows – Favel Parrett
May We Be Forgiven – A. M. Holmes

Next up another four more books that are on the bedside table at the moment…

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie – Ayana Mathis
A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki
Tell The Wolves I Am Home – Carol Rifka Brunt
Origins of Love – Kishwar Desai

Three more books that I am keen to read very soon and also one which I have been mulling over reading or not because of the Jesus factor, if it gets long listed will definitely read it…

The Palace of Curiosities – Rosie Garland
Tigers in Red Weather – Liza Klaussmann
Above All Things – Tanis Rideout
The Liar’s Gospel – Naomi Alderman

Finally a mix of four books that would cause some talking points if they were listed (well one would for me particularly)…

Bring Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel
The Casual Vacancy – J. K. Rowling
Bitter Greens – Kate Forsyth
Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

I am pretty much sure that Hilary Mantel is going to be on the list and, unlike the general consensus I have heard of late, I have no grumbles about that at all. It has been really annoying me that people are now laying into her, everyone was really celebratory of her Booker double, after winning the Costa Prize too. Surely great books of the year should be able to win as many book prizes as they are eligible for, no? I can’t be doing with all the gripers, yes I know too much talk can put you off a book but don’t be mean about it. Rant over.

As for the other three, well I don’t think many people are predicting that J.K. Rowling will be on the list yet I would be quite chuffed if she was – it would get people talking, the book deals with current themes and it might get me to finally read it which I have been saying I will for ages. If ‘Bitter Greens’ gets on the longlist I will be talking about it to everyone because it is the retelling of Rapunzel and we all know that is my favourite fairytale and I named my duck after her when I was four. I have just had this in the post and have been sooooooooo excited, I am saving it for some long journeys I have coming up. Finally, the Flynn, why not? It has been a huge seller, everyone has been talking about it and the twists and turns and characters, even if you love to loathe them, are great. Though of course it is a crime novel and so may be written off for that, it could be a dark horse though.

I know I have missed out some of the big hitters like Barbara Kingsolver, Tracy Chevalier, Aminatta Forna, Nicola Barker and Rose Tremain (who I now desperately want to read the works of as though Gran and my mother love her I haven’t but The Beard’s mother yesterday was raving about her and we seem to be on an authorish wavelength) but I wanted to have a different and varied list overall. I wouldn’t be upset if any of them were on it. I also debated ‘The Friday Gospels’ by Jenn Ashworth, yet didn’t think there would be two books with ‘gospel’ in the title, why I don’t know and ‘Red Joan’ by Jennie Rooney. I mulled over some other debuts like  ‘The Innocents’ by Francesca Segal and I couldn’t work out if Katherine Boo was eligible, though I really want to read it but then decided I just couldn’t second guess it could I?

Yet that is part of the fun isn’t it, the fact that no one could guess the longlist because there are so many eligible books that have come out in the last twelve months and we have no idea how many books have been put forward. Plus how dull would it be if we could guess? One of the things that is great about the longlist is finding a whole new selection of books and authors you have never heard of before and want to go and find out more about. I am getting even more excited about the prize now.

I will report back when the list is announced at some point tomorrow, I am hoping really early. In the meantime which books do you think might just make the longlist, which ones would you be particularly thrilled to see?

8 Comments

Filed under Random Savidgeness, Women's Prize for Fiction