It’s an exciting time of the year when the Man Booker prize shortlist is released. Today is that day!
Here are the 6 shortlisted novels:
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (Viking) by Joshua Ferris (US)
Paul O’Rourke is a man made of contradictions: he loves the world, but doesn’t know how to live in it. He’s a Luddite addicted to his iPhone, a dentist with a nicotine habit, a rabid Red Sox fan devastated by their victories, and an atheist not quite willing to let go of God. Then someone begins to impersonate Paul online, and he watches in horror as a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account are created in his name. What begins as an outrageous violation of his privacy soon becomes something more soul-frightening: the possibility that the online “Paul” might be a better version of the real thing. As Paul’s quest to learn why his identity has been stolen deepens, he is forced to confront his troubled past and his uncertain future in a life disturbingly split between the real and the virtual. At once laugh-out-loud funny about the absurdities of the modern world, and indelibly profound about the eternal questions of the meaning of life, love and truth, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is a deeply moving and constantly surprising tour de force. (GoodReads)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Chatto & Windus) by Richard Flanagan (Australian)
Richard Flanagan’s story — of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor haunted by a love affair with his uncle’s wife — journeys from the caves of Tasmanian trappers in the early twentieth century to a crumbling pre-war beachside hotel, from a Thai jungle prison to a Japanese snow festival, from the Changi gallows to a chance meeting of lovers on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Taking its title from 17th-century haiku poet Basho’s travel journal, The Narrow Road To The Deep North is about the impossibility of love. At its heart is one day in a Japanese slave labour camp in August 1943. As the day builds to its horrific climax, Dorrigo Evans battles and fails in his quest to save the lives of his fellow POWs, a man is killed for no reason, and a love story unfolds. (GoodReads)
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Serpent’s Tail) by Karen Joy Fowler (US)
Meet the Cooke family. Our narrator is Rosemary Cooke. As a child, she never stopped talking; as a young woman, she has wrapped herself in silence: the silence of intentional forgetting, of protective cover. Something happened, something so awful she has buried it in the recesses of her mind. Now her adored older brother is a fugitive, wanted by the FBI for domestic terrorism. And her once lively mother is a shell of her former self, her clever and imperious father now a distant, brooding man. And Fern, Rosemary’s beloved sister, her accomplice in all their childhood mischief? Fern’s is a fate the family, in all their innocence, could never have imagined. (GoodReads)
J (Jonathan Cape) by Howard Jacobson (British)
Set in the future – a world where the past is a dangerous country, not to be talked about or visited – J is a love story of incomparable strangeness, both tender and terrifying. Two people fall in love, not yet knowing where they have come from or where they are going. Kevern doesn’t know why his father always drew two fingers across his lips when he said a world starting with a J. It wasn’t then, and isn’t now, the time or place to be asking questions. Ailinn too has grown up in the dark about who she was or where she came from. On their first date Kevern kisses the bruises under her eyes. He doesn’t ask who hurt her. Brutality has grown commonplace. They aren’t sure if they have fallen in love of their own accord, or whether they’ve been pushed into each other’s arms. But who would have pushed them, and why? Hanging over the lives of all the characters in this novel is a momentous catastrophe – a past event shrouded in suspicion, denial and apology, now referred to as What Happened, If It Happened. (GoodReads)
The Lives of Others (Chatto & Windus) by Neel Mukherjee (British)
Calcutta, 1967. Unnoticed by his family, Supratik has become dangerously involved in extremist political activism. Compelled by an idealistic desire to change his life and the world around him, all he leaves behind before disappearing is this note. The ageing patriarch and matriarch of his family, the Ghoshes, preside over their large household, unaware that beneath the barely ruffled surface of their lives the sands are shifting. More than poisonous rivalries among sisters-in-law, destructive secrets, and the implosion of the family business, this is a family unravelling as the society around it fractures. For this is a moment of turbulence, of inevitable and unstoppable change: the chasm between the generations, and between those who have and those who have not, has never been wider. Ambitious, rich and compassionate The Lives of Others anatomises the soul of a nation as it unfolds a family history. A novel about many things, including the limits of empathy and the nature of political action, it asks: how do we imagine our place amongst others in the world? Can that be reimagined? And at what cost? This is a novel of unflinching power and emotional force. (GoodReads)
How to be Both (Hamish Hamilton) by Ali Smith (British)
How to be both is a novel all about art’s versatility. Borrowing from painting’s fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it’s a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There’s a renaissance artist of the 1460s. There’s the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real – and all life’s givens get given a second chance. (GoodReads)
I thoroughly enjoyed Black’s previous book The Secret History of the World so when I came across The Sacred History of the World I knew I was going to enjoy it. Black writes his non fiction books in such a way that you can’t help but be drawn into them. Here is the blurb from GoodReads:
The Sacred History is an account of the workings of the supernatural in history. It tells the epic story of angels, from Creation, to Evolution through to the operations of the supernatural in the modern world. This tale of how people and peoples have been helped by angels and other angelic beings is woven into a spellbinding narrative that brings together Krishna, Moses, Buddha, Elijah, Mary and Jesus, Mohammed, Joan of Arc, the angels who helped Hungarian Jews persecuted by the Nazis, and stories from African, Native American and Celtic traditions. Told from the spiritual point of view, The Sacred History relates every betrayal, every change of heart, every twist and turn, everything that looks like a coincidence, every portent, every clue, every defeat, every rescue moments before the prison door clangs shut. This is the angelic version of events. (GoodReads)
Essentially this book is about looking at the world and its history from the perspective of idealism as opposed to the more prevalent perspective of materialism. This is the history of the world from a non secular outlook. I found it fascinating and again Black has succeeded in communicating a story that we may know but telling it from a perspective that I had not considered. What I found incredibly interesting was Black’s recounting of important cultural stories from the distant past all the way up to modern times. I have always found the creation stories of other cultures as well as their myths and legends very interesting and nowadays we tend to look at all those stories as nothing more than fiction. In this book Black presents these stories as a means to understanding the evolution of human consciousness, to see what these stories have to teach us from the perspective of idealism. I really enjoyed this book and took my time with it. If the blurb appeals to you, I’m pretty sure you’ll find this an interesting read.
This year the Hugo Award for Best Novel went to:
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
On a remote, icy planet, the soldier known as Breq is drawing closer to completing her quest. Once, she was the Justice of Toren – a colossal starship with an artificial intelligence linking thousands of soldiers in the service of the Radch, the empire that conquered the galaxy. Now, an act of treachery has ripped it all away, leaving her with one fragile human body, unanswered questions, and a burning desire for vengeance. (GoodReads)
July’s People was published in 1981 before the end of Apartheid in South Africa and tells the story of a fictional civil war as South Africa’s cities become battlegrounds. Here is the blurb from GoodReads:
For years, it had been what is called a “deteriorating situation.” Now all over South Africa the cities are battlegrounds. The members of the Smales family—liberal whites—are rescued from the terror by their servant, July, who leads them to refuge in his village. What happens to the Smaleses and to July—the shifts in character and relationships—gives us an unforgettable look into the terrifying, tacit understandings and misunderstandings between blacks and whites.
Gordimer is a Nobel Prize for Literature laureate and I was expecting a lot from this book. I was let down. It is clear Gordimer is a fantastic writer. The style she chose for this book, however, didn’t work for me. I can’t put my finger on what exactly didn’t feel right. The dialogue often disrupted the flow for me as it sometimes wasn’t immediately clear who was talking – there were descriptive paragraphs punctuated with bits of dialogue that indicated no particular speaker. The Smales were people I could not connect with. And though this book is said to deal with the misunderstandings between white and black people, which I thought was portrayed mostly through the relationship between Maureen and July, I found it just didn’t go there. I was looking for so much more but nothing really happened to anyone to provoke something meaningful. I couldn’t clearly see in Gordimer’s telling of this story what she intended for us to take away from it because it ended terribly, in my opinion, with no real resolution. The only reason I did not quit reading this short book is for two reasons; she really is a good writer, and I wanted to know how it ended. Despite my disappointment I will still be giving her other books a read in the hopes of finding something I like because, as I’ve said, Gordimer has a way with words, she does draw your attention to certain truths but in this case it just wasn’t enough to tie everything together well enough for me in this book. People feel differently about this novel so I would say if you’re dying to read it – go ahead. It’s short so you won’t need much time before you know if it’s for you or not. Sadly, this one’s not for me.
Okey Ndibe’s Foreign Gods, Inc is a very well written novel that was a breath of fresh air.
Here is the blurb from GoodReads:
Foreign Gods, Inc., tells the story of Ike, a New York-based Nigerian cab driver who sets out to steal the statue of an ancient war deity from his home village and sell it to a New York gallery. Ike’s plan is fueled by desperation. Despite a degree in economics from a major American college, his strong accent has barred him from the corporate world. Forced to eke out a living as a cab driver, he is unable to manage the emotional and material needs of a temperamental African American bride and a widowed mother demanding financial support. When he turns to gambling, his mounting losses compound his woes. And so he travels back to Nigeria to steal the statue, where he has to deal with old friends, family, and a mounting conflict between those in the village who worship the deity, and those who practice Christianity. A meditation on the dreams, promises and frustrations of the immigrant life in America; the nature and impact of religious conflicts; an examination of the ways in which modern culture creates or heightens infatuation with the “exotic,” including the desire to own strange objects and hanker after ineffable illusions; and an exploration of the shifting nature of memory, Foreign Gods is a brilliant work of fiction that illuminates our globally interconnected world like no other.
I was drawn to this novel and was not disappointed. Ndibe is a talented writer who describes settings and emotions vividly. And really that is what this story was to me. The descriptions of a foreign man in a place far different from his home. The emotions he goes through fighting to fit in and be accepted. The feel of his home and the struggle of his family. I found Ike, the main character, easy to follow and easy to like. I felt his desperation as he ran out of money and tried to come up with ways to rectify his situation. The pressure of being an immigrant with a less fortunate family left behind. I particularly enjoyed the parts where Ike is back in Nigeria; the stories about the God Ngene, the descriptions of his home and his memories, and the battle between the followers of Ngene and those of Christianity. I was struck by Ike’s misfortune as a highly educated man being denied his chance for success purely based on an accent and I was saddened by his eventual lot. This isn’t a happy ending story. To me it was an honest look into the experience of so many people who move between completely different worlds and who must remain honourable to both but accepted in neither to some extent. I enjoyed reading this book and if the blurb speaks to you, I’m sure Ndibe’s writing will not let you down.
I finally got round to reading Nicholas Evans’ book The Divide. It came out a while ago and I’ve been meaning to read it for ages as he is one of my favourite authors. The books I most enjoyed of his were The Smoke Jumper and The Horse Whisperer. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy The Loop because it was great and I hadn’t read a story like that before so I would recommend all of his books. His great strength as a writer is being able to tell stories about the human heart in the face of difficult situations. He does so with such ease and completely without frills. His writing flows easily and is always right on the mark. He does dialogue like no other – I would say the most authentic dialogue I’ve ever read in books that take on these issues. He also seems to be able to take you to the heart of a relationship without overwriting it. He always gets me thinking about people and why they do what they do and shows me the truths of others’ lives different from my own. The Divide covers a number of different relationships although what struck me in this novel was how Ben and Sarah’s marriage broke down so suddenly…but don’t think this book is about marriage.
THE #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF THE HORSE WHISPERER… returns with an epic new novel of the human heart.
On a Montana morning, two skiers find the body of a woman embedded in the ice of a mountain creek. She’s identified as Abbie Cooper, a brilliant college student who was on the run from charges of murder. But what was the chain of events that led this golden child astray? The answers are in the secrets of an American family fractured by lies and reunited in a tragedy. (GoodReads)
I hate putting spoilers in my reviews because the reason I write these reviews is just to give a bit of info to those who may be interested in reading the book themselves. So no spoilers here. However, another relationship that really struck me was the relationship between Abbie Cooper and her ‘environmental terrorist’ boyfriend. The Divide is set in Montana mostly and this follows on from Evans’ other novels which are set in the same area of the US. It has that Evans Montana feel to it but is also different as it follows the lives of the family of a girl who made a decision that changed everybody’s future forever. It is part crime story, part love story. It deals with carrying on after your relationship fails and moving on after losing a loved one as well as exploring the different kinds of love in life against a backdrop of bad choices. It’s a great book to read to escape a bit. I recommend The Divide along with all his other books. Love them all! If you’ve read this or another of his books I’d love to hear what someone else thinks of them.
I completely missed the announcement of the winner of the 2014 Baileys’ Women’s Prize for Fiction on June 4th…as you may have noticed my blog has had to take a backseat recently but without further ado let me share with you what I believe was an unexpected winner given the other entries on the shortlist. And the winner is:
A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing by Eimear McBride
What the judges said:
Helen Fraser, chair of judges, says of McBride’s startling debut: “An amazing and ambitious first novel that impressed the judges with its inventiveness and energy. This is an extraordinary new voice – this novel will move and astonish the reader.” (read more)
Eimear McBride’s debut tells, with astonishing insight and in brutal detail, the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother, and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour. Not so much a stream of consciousness, as an unconscious railing against a life that makes little sense, and a shocking and intimate insight into the thoughts, feelings and chaotic sexuality of a vulnerable and isolated protagonist, to read A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing is to plunge inside its narrator’s head, experiencing her world first-hand. This isn’t always comfortable – but it is always a revelation. Touching on everything from family violence to sexuality and the personal struggle to remain intact in times of intense trauma, McBride writes with singular intensity, acute sensitivity and mordant wit. A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is moving, funny – and alarming. It is a book you will never forget. Eimear McBride was born in Liverpool but moved to Ireland when she was three. She grew up in Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo and Castlebar, Co. Mayo, before moving to London aged 17 to study at The Drama Centre. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing is her first novel. (read more on GoodReads)
I may not have the same reading preferences as Oprah all the time but I know that she often picks really great books for her readers. This is a list I particularly like. Oprah was asked to pick the top 10 books that have mattered to her during her magazine’s first decade (2000-2010) and this is what she chose…
A NEW EARTH By Eckhart Tolle
“There’s a reason Oprah picked this for her Book Club in 2008 – and that she gave audience members Post-It pens along with their copies. So much wisdom, so little time! A real-life guide to living your best life.”
In “A New Earth,” Tolle expands on these powerful ideas to show how transcending our ego-based state of consciousness is not only essential to personal happiness, but also the key to ending conflict and suffering throughout the world. Tolle describes how our attachment to the ego creates the dysfunction that leads to anger, jealousy, and unhappiness, and shows readers how to awaken to a new state of consciousness and follow the path to a truly fulfilling existence. “The Power of Now” was a question-and-answer handbook. “A New Earth” has been written as a traditional narrative, offering anecdotes and philosophies in a way that is accessible to all. Illuminating, enlightening, and uplifting, “A New Earth” is a profoundly spiritual manifesto for a better way of life?and for building a better world. (GoodReads)
NIGHT By Elie Wiesel
“A memoir of a childhood suffered in concentration camps during the Holocaust. It’s horrific but uplifting. “I gain courage from his courage,” says Oprah.”
Night is a work by Elie Wiesel about his experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945, at the height of the Holocaust and toward the end of the Second World War. In just over 100 pages of sparse and fragmented narrative, Wiesel writes about the death of God and his own increasing disgust with humanity, reflected in the inversion of the father–child relationship as his father declines to a helpless state and Wiesel becomes his resentful teenage caregiver. (GoodReads)
DISCOVER THE POWER WITHIN YOU By Eric Butterworth
“Advice from the internationally known spiritual teacher.”
One of the greatest challenges facing mankind today is the need to find a faith that will serve modern man and his problems. The lack of such a faith could explain why so many people are becoming drop-outs from Christianity. Eric Butterworth’s book is a result of the author’s personal search for a practical way-of-life Christianity. The greatest discovery of all time, he says in Discover The Power Within You, was that made by Jesus of the divine dimension in every human being. Christianity, says the author, has emphasized the divinity of Jesus, but Jesus Himself taught the divinity of man. His most vital mission on earth was to help man discover this. The entire Gospel message deals with techniques for unfolding this divine potential, and Eric Butterworth’s book, in its close relationship to the teachings of Jesus, is thus a valuable self-help book for modern men and women who are seeking a truly full way of life. Like Emmett Fox, the author asks, “What did Jesus really teach?”, and the direct and simple answers he presents should bring great comfort to many who have forgotten even to ask the question. This is a book in which the author tells us what Jesus Himself taught about such vital subjects as: How to succeed; How to pray; How to find confidence; How to overcome personal problems; How to find healing. (GoodReads)
EAST OF EDEN By John Steinbeck
“This classic is about good and evil as played out in a late-19th-century California ranch family. If you didn’t read it in high school, read it now. If you did, reread it.”
Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. Here Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love; and the murderous consequences of love’s absence. (GoodReads)
THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH By Ken Follett
“About the challenges of building cathedrals in 12th-century England, this novel couldn’t be more different in setting, time and plot from the author’s breakthrough success, Eye of the Needle. Oprah declares it simply “great.””
The spellbinding epic set in twelfth-century England, The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of the lives entwined in the building of the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known—and a struggle between good and evil that will turn church against state, and brother against brother. (GoodReads)
THE KNOWN WORLD By Edward P. Jones
“When this book was published in 2003, it shocked everybody with its depiction of slave-owning blacks before the Civil War. A daring, unusual examination of race.”
The Known World tells the story of Henry Townsend, a black farmer and former slave who falls under the tutelage of William Robbins, the most powerful man in Manchester County, Virginia. Making certain he never circumvents the law, Townsend runs his affairs with unusual discipline. But when death takes him unexpectedly, his widow, Caldonia, can’t uphold the estate’s order, and chaos ensues. Jones has woven a footnote of history into an epic that takes an unflinching look at slavery in all its moral complexities. (GoodReads)
THE BLUEST EYE By Toni Morrison
“How to choose among the great Morrison’s novels? Start with this one about a girl who thinks she has to have blue eyes to be beautiful. Oprah considers it one of the best in a crowded Morrison field.”
THE BLUEST EYE chronicles the tragic, torn lives of a poor black family in 1940s Ohio: Pauline, Cholly, Sam and Pecola. Pecola, unlovely and unloved, prays each night for blue eyes like those of her privileged blond white schoolfellows. She becomes the focus of the mingled love and hatred engendered by her family’s frailty and the world’s cruelty as the novel moves toward a savage but poignant resolution. (GoodReads)
THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE By David Wroblewski
“A kind of Hamlet on the prairie, this is the wrenching story of a mute boy and his dog. Oprah compares it to East of Eden and To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Born mute, speaking only in sign, Edgar Sawtelle leads an idyllic life with his parents on their farm in remote northern Wisconsin. For generations, the Sawtelles have raised and trained a fictional breed of dog whose remarkable gift for companionship is epitomized by Almondine, Edgar’s lifelong friend and ally. Edgar seems poised to carry on his family’s traditions, but when catastrophe strikes, he finds his once-peaceful home engulfed in turmoil. Forced to flee into the vast wilderness lying beyond the Sawtelle farm, Edgar comes of age in the wild, fighting for his survival and that of the three yearling dogs who accompany him, until the day he is forced to choose between leaving forever or returning home to confront the mysteries he has left unsolved. Filled with breathtaking scenes—the elemental north woods, the sweep of seasons, an iconic American barn, a fateful vision rendered in the falling rain—The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a meditation on the limits of language and what lies beyond, a brilliantly inventive retelling of an ancient story, and an epic tale of devotion, betrayal, and courage in the American heartland. (GoodReads)
A FINE BALANCE By Rohinton Mistry
“A Dickensian novel about India during the Emergency. Like the aftermath of September 11, it teaches us about cultures we haven’t understood. “It takes us out of our own little shell and exposes us to a whole other world out there,” Oprah says.”
With a compassionate realism and narrative sweep that recall the work of Charles Dickens, this magnificent novel captures all the cruelty and corruption, dignity and heroism, of India. The time is 1975. The place is an unnamed city by the sea. The government has just declared a State of Emergency, in whose upheavals four strangers–a spirited widow, a young student uprooted from his idyllic hill station, and two tailors who have fled the caste violence of their native village–will be thrust together, forced to share one cramped apartment and an uncertain future. As the characters move from distrust to friendship and from friendship to love, A Fine Balance creates an enduring panorama of the human spirit in an inhuman state. (GoodReads)
THE POISONWOOD BIBLE By Barbara Kingsolver
“This novel is about a family embroiled in the political turmoil of postcolonial Africa. It established Kingsolver as one of our wisest observers of history, politics and human nature.”
The Poisonwood Bible is a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it — from garden seeds to Scripture — is calamitously transformed on African soil. What follows is a suspenseful epic of one family’s tragic undoing and remarkable reconstruction over the course of three decades in postcolonial Africa. (GoodReads)
The winner of the 2014 Sunday Times Prize for Fiction is:
The Spiral House by Claire Robertson
Sunday Times books editor Ben Williams said, “The Spiral House emerged as the unanimous winner in the tightly contested Fiction category. The judges called it an astonishingly adept and richly imagined novel, a layered, subtle story that resonates with important ideas about history. We applaud the sensuous quality of the writing and were amazed by its remarkable language.” (read more)
Katrijn van der Caab, freed slave and wigmaker’s apprentice, travels with her eccentric employer from Cape Town to Vogelzang, a remote farm where a hairless girl needs their services. The year is 1794, it is the age of enlightenment, and on Vogelzang the master is conducting strange experiments in human breeding and classification. It is also here that Trijn falls in love. Two hundred years later and a thousand miles away, Sister Vergilius, a nun at a mission hospital, wants to free herself from an austere order. It is 1961 and her life intertwines with that of a gentleman farmer – an Englishman and suspected Communist – who collects and studies insects and lives a solitary life. While a group of Americans arrive in a cavalcade of caravans and a new republic is about to be born, desire is unfurling slowly. (read more on GoodReads)