2014 Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist

The 2014 Women’s Prize for fiction shortlist:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“A wonderful book from a writer who makes words do extraordinary things. On almost every page there’s a sentence that makes you want to stop, think and read it again.”  Mary Beard, Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 Judge

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As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu – beautiful, self-assured – departs for America to study. She experiences defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race.  Obinze – the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor – had hoped to join her, but post 9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Years later, he is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu decides to return home, she and Obinze will face the toughest decisions of their lives.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

“A stunning, haunting debut by this young Australian writer. It tells the story of Agnes, condemned to death for murder in Iceland in the 1820s. Beautiful prose, evocative imagery, Hannah Kent transports you effortlessly back to the bleak landscape of northern Iceland 2 centuries ago.  I couldn’t put it down, yet I didn’t want it to come to an end. It’s a book that will stay with you for a long time.“
Sophie Raworth, Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 Judge

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In Northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of her lover.  Agnes is sent to wait out her final months on the farm of district officer Jon Jonsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderer in their midst, the family avoid contact with Agnes. Only Toti, the young assistant priest appointed Agnes’s spiritual guardian, is compelled to try and understand her. As the year progresses and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’s story begins to emerge – and with it the terrible realization that all is not as they had assumed…

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

“Moving and vivid, an unforgettable story of two brothers and the different paths they take.  A novel about how political passion can destroy lives”
Helen Fraser, Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 Chair

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From Subhash’s earliest memories, at every point, his brother was there. In the suburban streets of Calcutta where they wandered before dusk and in the hyacinth-strewn ponds where they played for hours on end, Udayan was always in his older brother’s sight.  So close in the age, they were inseparable in childhood and yet, as the years pass – as US tanks roll into Vietnam and riots sweep across India – their brotherly bond can do nothing to forestall the tragedy that will end up as their lives. Udayan – charismatic and impulsive – finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequality and poverty. He will give everything, risk all, for what he believes, and in doing so, will transform the futures of those dearest to him.

The Undertaking by Audrey Magee

“An extraordinarily startling, hypnotic debut novel, both sparse and rich, bringing a brutal era to life. So vivid it leaves the reader with a lingering sense of having been present at world events and hiding in the shadows of private rooms.”
Denise Mina, Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 Judge

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Desperate to escape the Eastern front, Peter Faber, an ordinary German soldier, marries Katharina Spinell, a woman he has never met; it is a marriage of convenience that promises honeymoon leave for him and a pension for her should he die on the front. With ten days’ leave secured, Peter visits his new wife in Berlin; both are surprised by the attraction that develops between them.  When Peter returns to the horror of the front, it is only the dream of his wife that sustains him as he approaches Stalingrad. Back in Berlin, Katharina, goaded on by her desperate and delusional parents, ruthlessly works her way into the Nazi party hierarchy, wedding herself, her young husband and their unborn child to the regime. But when the tide of war turns and Berlin falls, Peter and Katharina, ordinary people stained with their small share of an extraordinary guilt, find their simple dream of family increasingly hard to hold on to.

A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

“This is a proper tingles-up-the-spine, call all your friends shouting “A new writer has arrived, and she’s it – she’s got the thing, the very thing we’re all waiting for.” An astonishing debut novel of risk, energy and creative dazzle – half-sound, half-colour, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing puts you in the head of a clever, troubled Irish girl and her rapidly collapsing life, and leaves you there weeks after you’ve finished it. The kind of book that makes you proselytise to friends, strangers and random cold-callers to the house.”
Caitlin Moran, Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 Judge

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Eimear McBride’s debut tells the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour. It is not so much a stream of consciousness as an unconsciousness railing against a life that makes little sense, forming a shocking and intimate insight into the thoughts, feelings and chaotic sexuality of a young and isolated protagonist. To read A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is to plunge inside into the narrator’s head, experiencing her world first-hand. This isn’t always comfortable – but it is always a revelation.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

“A novel with Dickensian breadth, which grips from the first page and explores loss, grief, rescue and love brilliantly”
Helen Fraser, Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014 Chair

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Aged 13, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, miraculously survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is bewildered by his new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years he clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the criminal underworld.  As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love – and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

http://www.womensprizeforfiction.co.uk/2014-prize/shortlist-2014

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2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction Winner

The 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction went to:

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Awarded to “The Goldfinch,” by Donna Tartt (Little, Brown), a beautifully written coming-of-age novel with exquisitely drawn characters that follows a grieving boy’s entanglement with a small famous painting that has eluded destruction, a book that stimulates the mind and touches the heart. (pulitzer prize)

The Goldfinch“Composed with the skills of a master, The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present day America and a drama of enthralling force and acuity.

It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.

The Goldfinch is a novel of shocking narrative energy and power. It combines unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and breathtaking suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher’s calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is a beautiful, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.” (from publisher)

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2013 NBCC Award Finalists

The NBCC Award Finalists for the 2013 publishing year have been announced.  Here are the finalists for the Fiction category:

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah

As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu—beautiful, self-assured—departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze—the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor—had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.  Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion—for their homeland and for each other—they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.  (GoodReads)

Someone by Alice McDermott

Someone

Our first glimpse of Marie is as a child: a girl in glasses waiting on a Brooklyn stoop for her beloved father to come home from work. A seemingly innocuous encounter with a young woman named Pegeen sets the bittersweet tone of this remarkable novel. Pegeen describes herself as an “amadan,” a fool; indeed, soon after her chat with Marie, Pegeen tumbles down her own basement stairs. The magic of McDermott’s novel lies in how it reveals us all as fools for this or that, in one way or another.
Marie’s first heartbreak and her eventual marriage; her brother’s brief stint as a Catholic priest, subsequent loss of faith, and eventual breakdown; the Second World War; her parents’ deaths; the births and lives of Marie’s children; the changing world of her Irish-American enclave in Brooklyn—McDermott sketches all of it with sympathy and insight. This is a novel that speaks of life as it is daily lived; a crowning achievement by one of the finest American writers at work today.  (GoodReads)

The Infatuations by Javier Marias

The Infatuations

Every day, Maria Dolz stops for breakfast at the same cafe. And everyday she enjoys watching a handsome couple who follow the same routine. Then one day they aren’t there, and she feels obscurely bereft.  It is only later, when she comes across a newspaper photograph of the man, lying stabbed in the street, his shirt half off, that she discovers who the couple are. Some time afterwards, when the woman returns to the cafe with her children, who are then collected by a different man, and Maria approaches her to offer her condolences, an entanglement begins which sheds new light on this apparently random, pointless death.  (GoodReads)

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A Tale for the Time Being

In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.  Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.  (GoodReads)

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch

A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and determined to avoid being taken in by the city as an orphan, Theo scrambles between nights in friends’ apartments and on the city streets. He becomes entranced by the one thing that reminds him of his mother, a small, mysteriously captivating painting that soon draws Theo into the art underworld.  (GoodReads)

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Writer Spotlight: Donna Tartt

I decided to share with you information about Donna Tartt and her other novels – I recently finished The Goldfinch (2013) by Tartt and since I really enjoyed the novel I would like TARTTto read more by her.  As it turns out Tartt publishes a novel once every decade more or less so there are only 3 novels to read by her.  The fact that she publishes so rarely makes me feel even more intrigued in her other works as she obviously spends a great deal of time on each novel, perfecting it.  If The Goldfinch is anything to go by that means there is great reading held within the pages of the other 2 novels for sure.

Tartt was born in Mississippi, US, in 1963.  She went to the University of Mississippi in 1981 where Barry Hannah, writer in residence at the university at the time, was her teacher.  In a Paris Review interview – The Art of Fiction no 184 – he praised her talent:

“The writing was so bad here [Ole Miss] I almost went right back to Iowa, but I got one genius, Donna Tartt. Willie Morris was a writer-in-residence in journalism and he said, “Hannah, I got a little genius for you.” She was a freshman in my graduate workshop. She was well read; all she needed was life and a story. She says I was her best teacher—introduced me that way in New York at a reading—but if you come here that loaded, not much teaching is required. Most people at eighteen haven’t read much. They haven’t read Keats or the French poets as she had. Poe. She was deeply literary when she got here. I wasn’t like that and I hardly ever see the species. Perhaps in the East, where they go to boarding school. Just a rare genius, really. A literary star.”

The Secret History

Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History, was published in 1992 and became a bestseller.  The novel is described as an inverted detective story as it reveals the murder, location, and perpetrators in the opening pages.  Not a whodunnit but a whydunnit.

“Richard Papen arrived at Hampden College in New England and was quickly seduced by an elite group of five students, all Greek scholars, all worldly, self-assured, and, at first glance, all highly unapproachable. As Richard is drawn into their inner circle, he learns a terrifying secret that binds them to one another…a secret about an incident in the woods in the dead of night where an ancient rite was brought to brutal life…and led to a gruesome death. And that was just the beginning…”

Tartt’s second novel, The Little Friend, was published in 2002 and won Tartt the WH Smith Literary Award in 2003.  The Little Friend is a different kind of The Little Friendnovel from her first and she talks to Katharine Viner of the Guardian about how she wanted to write something technically different:

“After The Secret History I wanted to write a different kind of book on every single level,” she says. “I wanted to take on a completely different set of technical problems. The Secret History was all from the point of view of Richard, a single camera, but the new book is symphonic, like War And Peace. That’s widely thought to be the most difficult form.” She reiterates this throughout the interview – that what drives her novel-writing is purely technical, a labour for new writerly challenges, rather than particular concerns or fascinations, such as the return to the south of her childhood, or a search for truth.”

On GoodReads The Little Friend is described as set “in a small Mississippi town, [where] Harriet Cleve Dufresnes grows up in the shadow of her brother, who – when she was only a baby – was found hanging dead from a black-tupelo tree in their yard. His killer was never identified, nor has his family, in the years since, recovered from the tragedy.” For Harriet, who has grown up largely unsupervised, in a world of her own imagination, her brother is a link to a glorious past she has only heard stories about or glimpsed in photograph albums. Fiercely determined, precocious far beyond her twelve years, and steeped in the adventurous literature of Stevenson, Kipling, and Conan Doyle, she resolves, one summer, to solve the murder and exact her revenge. Harriet’s sole ally in this quest, her friend Hely, is devoted to her, but what they soon encounter has nothing to do with child’s play: it is dark, adult, and all too menacing.”

Tartt also explained to Viner, after The Little Friend‘s publication, the decade it took to write the second novel:

“It took a full decade to write The Little Friend. “I can’t think of anything worse than having to turn out a book every year. It would be hell,” she says. “Part of the problem with success is that it seduces people into overproduction. When my first book came out, I was very confused because I was thrown into a world that I knew nothing about. I just kind of lived like a student, worked like a student. And then all of a sudden – well, the metaphor that comes to mind is a shark tank. It wasn’t quite that bad. But it was a shock. It was a bucket of cold water. People you’d meet and talk to and journalists would say, ‘Oh, what are you going to do to top this one? If your name’s not out there in two years, people will forget all about you.’ I mean, jeez, what are they talking about? William Styron said, when he was about my age, that he realised he had about five books in him, and that was OK. I think I have about the same number. Five.”

The GoldfinchAnd with this in mind it comes as no surprise that it was 11 years before Tartt’s third book, The Goldfinch, was published in 2013.

“A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and determined to avoid being taken in by the city as an orphan, Theo scrambles between nights in friends’ apartments and on the city streets. He becomes entranced by the one thing that reminds him of his mother, a small, mysteriously captivating painting that soon draws Theo into the art underworld.”

Read my review of The Goldfinch here.

Have you read any of Donna Tartt’s novels?  What are your thoughts?

Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The description below from GoodReads does not describe what this book is about very well.

“A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother.  Alone The Goldfinchand determined to avoid being taken in by the city as an orphan, Theo scrambles between nights in friends’ apartments and on the city streets. He becomes entranced by the one thing that reminds him of his mother, a small, mysteriously captivating painting that soon draws Theo into the art underworld.” (GoodReads)

Nevertheless, what is true is that Theo’s journey in this book, The Goldfinch, does begin with him surviving an attack on a museum which takes the life of his mother – the most beautiful thing in his life.  And what happens to him immediately after her death is tragic in my opinion.  I was so taken by the sadness and, in a sense, brutality of what this boy has to deal with emotionally so early on in his life and worse so in the wake of his mother’s death.

The second phase of his life is totally destructive and shocking in its clear detail.  Tartt is an incredible writer and these scenes which I found both a bit dark and captivating could, without her skill to write simply but full of detail, have turned into a depressing mess of weirdness.  And you may well read it and wonder what this has to do with him, the painting, or the art underworld but it’s an integral part.  The Goldfinch follows Theo through his turbulent life, through every painful detail of what makes Theo the man he becomes in the end.  He is a testament to Tartt’s skill as a writer because there is plenty reason throughout for you to become less enamoured by Theo but you never do. You’re with him ’til the end because despite everything he has a good heart.

Set against the often ugliness of his life or circumstances you realise why the painting is so important to him not only because it reminds him of his mother but because in a sense it is his mother to him, the only beautiful thing he has in his life.  There’s a lot of action in this novel as well as a lot of introspection from Theo and I enjoyed both. The characters were all wonderfully fleshed and real to me.  I could imagine every one of them clearly, not just how they looked but more the way they were, their mannerisms, their speech, their reactions.  In fact I’m not sure I can put my finger on exactly what made these characters so like real people just that they were. Tartt is skilled.

In the third phase of his life, albeit less destructive than previously, you wonder if Theo is finally settling into a ‘normal’ life until he’s plunged into the art underworld and everything and everyone comes together.  There are some revelations that were unexpected.  In the end though there is resolution.  The only thing I could say to the negative is that the book could have been a bit shorter.  At 700 pages it’s fairly long but honestly I didn’t find it difficult to read at all.  In fact I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was immersed.  There were a few moments especially in the introspective moments where I thought maybe some could have been left out without affecting the overall mood of the book or the storyline.  All in all, the book is a great one.  Character driven and plot driven.  Very well written – I would say some of the best writing I have read this year.  I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it.

 

lilolia review rating 4 stars great