Tag Archives: Booker

Bookers

I’m not sure how I’m feeling about book prizes at the moment.   I picked up a couple more books from the Man Booker Prize longlist at my library, read them and didn’t enjoy them half as much as the last two books I read and reviewed.    They’re good but I didn’t think they were that good.  I found KevinfromCanada’s post  and the comments about the list helpful.  There is a lot of interesting discussion happening around the choices and the process of choosing books for prize lists.  Fascinating.

A Cupboard Full of Coats By Yvvette Edwards

One World Books, Oxford, 2011

Jinx is trying to live her life but carries the memory of  living with abuse and of her mother, murdered when Jinx was fourteen.  When an old family friend comes to visit they spend a weekend trying to deal with and honor the past.

Jinx is closed off from her ex-husband and her son.  She has walled herself in and it takes honesty and hard work, facing the truth of her past, to break down the walls.  This book is well-written, filled with the sights and sounds of the immigrant West Indian community living in London.  I have to say it never really grabbed me.

Snowdrops by A.D. Miller

Doubleday, New York, 2011

I heard about this one way back in January on the Guardian Books page, wanted to read it and waited for it to be released in the U.S.

I found the structure of this small novel interesting.  The protagonist is writing to his fiance, telling her about his past in Russsia.  He is writing because he wants her to know a truth about whom she is planning to marry.  As he tells this story we learn how during his time in Russia he constantly lied to himself about what was going on around him.  It reminded me a lot of how blind people can be to their own actions, even when they know better.  It is a snapshot of an amoral society, one we may be on the edge of falling into.

Nicholas Platt is a lawyer.  Leaving what he considers a dull life in England he has travels to Moscow and joins a law firm.  Nick is questioning his life and all he believes in when he helps two women who have been robbed.  Maybe one of these women is “the one”.  He is drawn into a love affair and imagines bringing Masha home to England.

The smell of the poplar trees crept in through the open windows of my kitchen, along with the sounds of sirens and breaking glass.  Some of me wanted her to be my future, and some other me wanted to do what I should have done, and throw the ticket with the phone number out the kitchen window and into the pink and promising evening air.  from page 19.

There are signs all around him,  a deal his firm is cutting that is not as sound as it should be.  His neighbor’s best friend disappearing.  But it is just easier to ignore the signs, to go along with it all, after all that is live in Moscow.

He opened his bag and took out a card with a double-headed eagle on one side and on the other a photo I.D.  It stated that he worked for the economic affairs secretariat at the Kremlin.  He twirled his contraband card between his fingers.  “Forbidden,” he said, “only means expensive.”  from page 192.

I actually enjoyed this one, felt is was an honest portrayal of a man adrift in modern culture.  I just wanted to scream at him, tell him to wake up.

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Filed under Booker, ContemporaryFiction

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2011

Borrowed from my library.   I’ve been waiting for it to come in  since I heard about it on the Guardian website, back in early spring.  It is now on the longlist for the 2011 Man Booker Prize.

Harri Opuku, eleven years old and recently emigrated from Ghana, lives in a huge London housing project and loves to run.  When he finds himself standing near the body of a classmate whose blood has covered the walkway, stabbed by someone who probably lives in the same area.  He is driven, along with his friend Dean, to find the killer.

Stephen Kelman has created a character straight out of his personal history.  Harri is very like many eleven year old boys I know, curious, filled with excitement and the desire to grow up.  My favorite parts were his memories of life in Ghana, and the comparison with Harri’s present life.

Harri worked for me but other parts of this novel just didn’t hold together.  The other characters seem shallow, as if lifted out of a bad TV  series, and the inclusion of Harri’s pigeon seemed odd and out-of-place.  I’d love to have a glimpse of Kelman’s thinking behind that, and his need to write from Harri’s point-of view in the first place.

I think Pigeon English reads like a novel for young adults and I don’t quite understand why it made the Booker long list in the first place.  But that’s just me.  Have you read it?  What do you think?

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Filed under Booker, LiteraryFiction, Review

The Inheritance of Loss By Kiran Desai

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

Grove Press, New York, 2006

From my own TBR pile. This novel won the 2006 Man Booker Prize and was shortlisted for the 2007 Orange Prize.  I read this book for Orange July.  Desai begins her novel with a poem by Jorge Luis Borges.  It’s themes wind throughout The Inheritance of Loss.

BOAST OF QUIETNESS
Writings of light assault the darkness, more prodigous than meteors.
The tall unknowable city takes over the countryside.
Sure of my life and death, I observe the ambitious
and would like to understand them.
Their day is greedy as a lariat in the air.
Their night is a rest from the rage within steel, quick to attack.
They speak of humanity.
My humanity is in feeling we are all voices of the same poverty.
They speak of homeland.
My homeland is the rythym of a guitar, a few portraits, an old sword,
the willow grove’s visible prayer as evening falls.
Time is living me.
More silent than my shadow, I pass through the loftily covetous multitude.
They are indispensible, singular, worthy of tomorrow.
My name is someone and anyone.
I walk slowly, like one who comes from so far away
he doesn’t expect to arrive.

JORGE LUIS BORGES

Recently orphaned, Sai arrives at her Grandfather’s isolated house, nestled at the foot of Kanchenjunga, the third highest peak in the Himalayas.  The cook fusses over, feeds her and cares for her and her Grandfather, an embittered retired Judge.  But Cook is distracted, thinking of his son, Biju, an illegal immigrant finding work in one restaurant after another deep in  New York City.

There are many others involved in this story, all of them portrayed with great humor and compassion.

Sai and cook trudged down the long path that traveled thin and black as a rat snake up and down the hills, and the cook showed her the landmarks of her new home, pointed out the houses and told her who lived where.  There was Uncle Potty, of course, their nearest neighbor, who had bought his land from the judge years ago, a gentleman farmer and a drunk; and his friend Father Booty of the Swiss dairy, who spent each evening drinking with Uncle Potty…Opposite the hen house, so they could get their eggs easily, lived a pair of Afghan princesses whose father had gone to Brighton on holiday and returned to find the British had seated someone else on his throne….

And finally there was Noni (Nonita), who lived with her sister Lola (Lalita) in a rose-covered cottage maned Mon Ami.  When Lola’s husband had died of a heart attack, Noni, the spinster, had moved in with her sister, the widow.  They lived on his pension, but still they needed more money, what with endless repairs being done to the house, the price of everything rising in the bazaar, and the wages of their maid, sweeper, watchman, and gardener.  From page 47.

The novel jumps between continents, between time periods and between peoples’ stories to unveil their personal and political histories.  It rushes, portraying the desires of those who wish to come to the United States and prosper, in a way that is unnerving. It shows that this dream can be a nightmare.   Then The Inheritance of Loss suddenly slows, stepping in to a forest below the Himalayas where you can feel the humid air and hear the rustle of leaves.  It is quite rich and beautifully written,  packed with humor and the excitement and terror that fills our world.  At times it is almost too much and I would have to stop reading, take a break, but I always went back for more.

Desai’s writing has inspired me to find out more about the geography and political history of this area of India.  I normally read with an atlas nearby but The Inheritance of Loss has me digging deeper. I want to read more history, both ancient and modern.   I would also like to read more fiction based in Bengal and Nepal.  Any Suggestions?

Other reviews:

Caribousmom

Musings

Shelf Life

The Book Lady’s Blog

The Magic Lasso

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Filed under Booker, India, LiteraryFiction, OrangePrize, Review

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt

The Children’s Book by A.S.Byatt

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2009

675 pages

Borrowed from the library.

There is no way to read this book quickly, it is just too dense and rich.  I want to read it again, right now, but have had to return it to my library as many people wish to read it.  I will have to have my own copy.

Hiding in the basement of the half-built Victoria and Albert museum is a young ragamuffin so enthralled by the objects he sees in those great halls that he must draw them.  This is Phillip.  Two boys, Julian, who’s father works there, and his friend Tom, see this strange boy.  There is a chase and Phillip is found out.  He is brought before Julian’s father and Tom’s mother, Olive Wellwood, a famous childrens book author.  So begins The Children’s Book.

This  is a magnificent confection, a multi-tiered wedding cake of a novel.  A.S. Byatt writes the densest, most tangled sentences I know of, and I love every one of them.  Taking place at the turn of the Twentieth Century and covering the time through World War One, The Children’s Book is a saga involving multiple families with multiple children, all intertwined.  There are different kinds of family dynamics, many kinds relationships and no way to write a synopsis of what happens.  There is no simple plot line, no single character to love or hate.   The story is a fabulous mingling of fairytales, summer parties, plays, puppets, pottery, politics, sex, the Paris Exposition of 1900, the Arts and Crafts movement,  the Back to Nature movement,  women’s suffrage, anarchists,  socialists,  aristocrats, education, labor and the European Royal families.  There’s more, so much more that some reviewers just can’t make sense of this book.

Mostly,  it’s a novel about the stories families tell each other and about memory, but, oh, there is really no simple way to describe it.  Here’s some bits about family:

Everyone, old and young, now gathered for a kind of sumptuous picnic.  As happens at such gatherings, where those whose lives are shaped, fortunately or unfortunately, are surrounded by those whose lives are almost entirely to come, the elders began asking the young what they meant to do with their lives, and to project futures for them. From page 56.

A family, and a human being inside a family, put together a picture of their past in voluntary and involuntary ways, carefully constructed, arbitrarily dictated.  A mother remembers one particular summer gathering on a lawn, with iced lemonade in a jug, and everyone smiling — as she puts in the album the one photograph where everyone is smiling, and keeps the scowling faces of the unsuccessful snapshots hidden in a box.  A child remembers one scramble over the Downs, or zigzag trot through the woods, one of many, many forgotten ones, and shapes his identity around it.  “I remember when I saw the yaffle.” And the memory changes when he is twelve, and fourteen, and twenty, and forty, and eighty, and prehaps never at any of those points representing precisely anything that really happened.  Odd things persist for inexplicable reasons.  A pair of shoes that never quite fitted.  A party dress in which a girl always felt awkward, though the photographs were pretty enough.  One violent quarrel of many arising from the unjust division of a cake, or the desperately disappointing decision not to go to the seaside.  There are things, also, that are memories as essential and structural  as bones in toes and fingers.  A red leather belt.  A dark pantry full of obscene and lovely jars.  From page 329.

And about puppetry and the theater:

An illusion is a complicated thing, and an audience is a complicated creature.  Both need to be brought from flyaway parts to a smooth, composite whole.  The world inside the box, a world made of silk, satin, china mouldings, wires, hinges, painted backcloths, moving lights and musical notes, must come alive with its own laws of movement, its own rules of story.  And the watchers, wide-eyed and greedy, distracted and supercilious, preoccupied, uncomfortable, tense, must become one, as a shoal of fishes with huge eyes and flickering fins becomes one, wheeling this way and that in response to messages of hunger, fear or delight.  August’s flute was heard, and some were ready to listen and some were not.  The curtains opened on a child’s bedroom.  He sat against his pillows.  His nurse, in comfortable grey, bustled about him, and her shadow loomed over him on the white wall.  From page 80.

And about women’s lives:

“I want to think.  Just as much as Charles does, but no one cares what I want to think about, as they do with him, whether they are for or against what he thinks is important.”

“I want to think, too, ” said Florence, slowly.  “I want a life of my own, that I choose.  I want to be someone, not someone’s wife.  But I don’t know much about the someone I want to be.”

“Nor do I.  Dorothy does.  She’s got a vocation.  She’s got her future all planned out, general science exams, medical exams, surgical exams, a place in a hospital.  It’s like an iron corset, I think, but she seems to need it.  I think she is prepared to give up on the marriage thing.  I don’t know that I would be.  It would seem unnatural.  But surely so does not thinking.

“Some women do both.” From page 495.

And a beautiful bit about walking on the seashore:

You have to think about walking on pebbles.  Every time you put your feet down, the pebble impress themselves, hard and recalcitrant, through the soles of your shoes.  They slide treacherously in front of you, to your side, you bow and recover yourself, you lean your body forward in the wind, which is usually fierce onto the shore, which takes your hair back over your head, which goes in and through the spiralling channels of you ears, feeling for your brain.  Tom like the pebbles.  They were fragments of huge boulders from the cliffs at the edge of England, boulders which had been soft chalk and hard flint, and were now rounded by water throwing them up and grinding them together.  They are all the same and none of them exactly the same, Tom thought, pleased with this idea, like human beings — was it innumerable as stars, or innumerable as sands, and where did it come from?  It didn’t matter… From page 585.

I could just keep quoting.  I am in awe of the amount of research and work A.S. Byatt put into this novel.  I honor her love of the tale.  I have only read her short stories.  Now I must read everything she has written, and wait for the next novel.

Here is a wonderful article about The Children’s Book from the New York Times.

Palissy Pitcher

A Pitcher by Palissy 1520-1590

Other reviews:

book i done read

Boston Bibliophile

Eve’s Alexandria

Savidge Reads

The Indextrious Reader

things mean a lot

Did I miss your review?  Leave a comment.

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Filed under Booker, Historical Fiction, Notable Books, Review