Pondering the Bookers

in

I've been reading nothing but Booker nominees for the last 8 weeks. I managed to read 8 of the 13 nominees and was lucky enough to finish the entire shortlist. It's been an interesting journey into many different worlds; from suburban Australia to a prison garden shed in Canada; from revolutionary America to jewish life in modern London; from the end of Jamaican slavery to airport bars at Gatwick; from backpacking in Lesotho to Egyptian grave excavations in the 1920s... Amazing how much thought has gone into all these works of fiction.

My two favourites were I think The Slap and above all the Alan Warner book. Neither of these made the shortlist, and I'm not sure what that says about me or the judges. Probably nothing. I will stop now. The final five longlist nominees will not be read by me at this point. I think I tried to bite off more than I could chew, but then I often do. Perhaps next year if I try this again in some form, some more of you will join me? Like a Booker support group?

Now I'm going to read a few good crime novels. The new Lehane is top of the list (but it's been stolen by my staff!!!)

Howard Jacobson - The Finkler Question

Howard Jacobson - The Finkler Question (The Booker Prize Winner 2010)

I was about halfway through Howard Jacobson's The Finkler Question when the prize was announced last week. It's the story of Julian Treslove, a 49-year-old Englishman who experiences a kind of crisis triggered by an epiphany in the form of a mugging. It is very much a novel about identity, but perhaps even more a novel about what it means to be jewish today in Britain and the world. This novel has been called the first comic novel to win the Booker, and it is true that the language is quite witty, but the story itself is more tragicomic than comic. 
I felt it was interesting and I really enjoyed his language, but it wasn't my favourite nominee. He did go on a bit. 

Howard Jacobson - The Finkler Question  in the bookshop 

Tom McCarthy - C

Tom McCarthy - C

I found this novel challenging. It's the story of Serge Carrefax, his entire brief life at the turn of the last century, a time brimming with new technology and the clash and intermingling of the old with the new. The bare bones of the story are interesting, but the text is so dense with subtexts and references that it took me a long time to finish it, and to be honest I didn't enjoy it much. Which probably means it's a novel that will come back to haunt me for a very long time... It is currently the favourite to win the prize, of course... 

Tom McCarthy - C  in the bookshop 

Damon Galgut - In a Strange Room

Damon Galgut - In a Strange Room

This is a brief book retelling three episodes in the life of a traveller eponymously called Damon... He's South African and the stories take place mostly in southern Africa, India and in Europe. Galgut's writing is very sparse, thoughtful. The narrator is somewhere in the future from the events and keeps switching from describing himself as 'he' or 'I'. The writing feels very honest, very real. I liked this, the feel of it. 

Damon Galgut - In a Strange Room  in the bookshop 

Alan Warner - The Stars in the Bright Sky

Alan Warner - The Stars in the Bright Sky

This is such an amazing book, my favourite of the longlist so far. The story is about five lassies from a small town in northern Scotland going on a holiday. They meet up at Gatwick to decide where to go, and along tags one girl's posh London uni friend Ava. The book is beautifully constructed and the wonderful writing works very well in contrast with the often crass dialogue. It's quite literary, with several nods to Beckett, and at the same time the storyline could almost be chick-lit. I was very surprised by this and I do enjoy being surprised. I'll read more of Mr Warner I'm sure. You should too. And you have to get acquainted with Manda Tassy, one of literature's most amazing characters in a long time. 

Alan Warner - The Stars in the Bright Sky  in the bookshop 

Andrea Levy - The Long Song

Andrea Levy - The Long Song

The tale of a Jamaican sugar plantation during the 1800s, or actually the tale of slavery during that period. Told from the perspective of house slave Miss July, we get insights into the daily life and tribulations of the estate and how it is viewed by both sides, but mostly it is the slaves' story. Many dramatic events both in the personal lives of the characters and in Jamaican 19th century history are woven into the telling. It has everything, but I found it felt like something I'd read many times before (except for the setting) and that because of that it didn't quite reach me. Quite a feat though, and probably an important book. 

Andrea Levy - The Long Song in the bookshop 

Peter Carey - Parrot and Olivier in America

Peter Carey - Parrot and Olivier in America

This is a romp of a tale. It reminded me a bit of Suskind's Perfume (the character of Parrot) but also of Stephenson's Quicksilver (the lusty telling of the story). Olivier is a french aristocrat trying to understand his world after the revolution. Parrot is an English orphan with a great skill for mimicry. Fate brings these two together and sends them on a mission to study the young nation of America and in particular its prison system. But this book is about so much more! And it's quite humourous. If I have any complaints it might be that it ran a bit long. But - quite enjoyable!
Now on to the next one! Three down, nine to go! 

Peter Carey - Parrot and Olivier in America in the bookshop 

Emma Donoghue - Room

Emma Donoghue - Room

This book almost made me put it down after the first few pages, it's that emotionally strong. It's told through the voice of 5-year-old Jack who has spent his entire life in captivity with his Ma, locked up in a tiny Room by a man who kidnapped Ma seven years ago up to keep as a slave. It's a very very small world in their Room and Jack telling about his existence is excruciating. But it's completely fascinating. I couldn't put it down. And it's very nicely realized. Sometimes it's difficult to interpret Jack's thoughts, shaped as they are by his specific limits of experience, but you always understand in the end. One to remember. Like a much darker Dog in the Night-time in a sense.
Emma Donoghue - Room in the bookshop 

Chris Tsiolkas - The Slap

Chris Tsiolkas - The Slap

Very well written, cleverly constructed novel on suburban angst; this has already won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, The Australian Literary Society Gold Medal AND is on the Man Booker Prize 2010 longlist. At a barbecue on a summer lawn a man slaps a child who is not his and this starts off a series of events in the concerned families. The story is told from 8 points of view: eight quite different voices; young and old, male and female, pro and con, all carry the story forward. I found this intriguing and utterly captivating, although I thought perhaps some characteristics were surprisingly shared by very disparate people.... But do read, and be challenged.
Chris Tsiolkas - The Slap in the bookshop 


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