Friday, October 14, 2011
Tuesday, September 06, 2011
Friday, August 12, 2011
In Snowdrops the relevance of the title doesn’t appear until near the end, whereas Edwards introduces the eponymous cupboard by page 20. From the first pages we are dragged into the story, its past and its present and plenty of suggestions that we will be shown how one becomes the other. This foreshadowing never kills the story though, never spoils what will come.
Edwards manipulates Jinx in a way that allows her to slide effortlessly through time, making a bed will allow a lengthy digression about her marriage breakdown and when she snaps back to the present we feel little sense of dislocation. It feels realistic, true to how our thoughts can roam. At other times Lemon will lead Jinx down memory’s lanes, while at other times she knows the way herself.
The characters are guarded and vulnerable at the same time, they are warm blooded and we feel a genuine sense of intimacy, of their desire to share their story in a way that Nicholas Snowdrop never quite achieved. Jinx is more than willing to let us judge her, but will we?
Cultural details form a foundation for the A Cupboard Full of Coats, they are never merely used as colour and flavour. Much like Lemon’s cooking, we are not just impressed at first taste, but left satisfied and full by the portrait Edwards offers. We don’t just witness a girl growing into a woman and the incidental things that happen to her, instead we witness blow by blow the cuts that shape the distinct individual she becomes, complete with smooth and jagged edges.
The first two novels I read from this years Booker longlist both dealt with the narrator offering the reader a confession - a tale of their downfall and the part they played in it.
In Miller’s Snowdrops the reader is positioned alongside the ‘you’ that is the narrators fiancé - the one he is confessing all to in the hope that she will still stand by him. We are left to wonder what we would do if we were in her shoes? I felt like we learned quite a bit about the silent English girlfriend, to the degree where I felt I’d like to meet her, to hear her response to Nicholas’ tale.
As backdrop for the confession we get a swift portrait of Russian, mostly
It is a novel of people more than politics – towards the end it is the lies about childhood and background and the little things that bite more deeply than the bigger deceptions. Love, friendship and the stories we share matter far more than money.
The atmosphere is one of wall to wall suspicion, in Miller’s
Monday, February 08, 2010
Yesterday I rearranged my to-be-read bookshelf. For no other reason than I wondered what it would look like laid out by colour. I was pleased with the results, despite the dominance of black, and the sorry lack of green spines.
Faithful Tamara recently questioned my lack of posts. I am an avid reader, but a lazy reviewer. Whenever I make notes on a book as I read I notice how much that act deepens my appreciation of the book. But I quickly forget this fact.
I’ve read some great books over the last few months. I’ve just forgotten to share them here. But I’m reading a book at the moment, that is causing me great excitement and pleasure, and I’m making lots of notes, and hope to deposit them here soon.
In the meantime, my top ten reads of 2009 – in no particular order.
Oystercatchers – Susan Fletcher
The Romantic – Barbara Gowdy
Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout
Dear Everybody – Michael Kimball
The Transformation – Catherine Chidgey
The Glass Room – Simon Mawer
The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson
Be Near Me – Andrew O’Hagan
Plainsong – Kent Haruf
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
This year I’ve struggled to find enough time to devote to my Booker experience. I’ve kept up with my reading aims, but not the consequent blogging. And here we are, on the day of the big announcement, and here I am, cracking out a quick post to give me some sense of last minute involvement.
You’ll have to take it on trust when I tell you that my shortlist predictions were very accurate this year. I guessed 5 out of 6 of the judges choices. I wonder if that might help me in guessing the winner again this year?
Since my last post I read The Little Stranger and didn’t think that much of it. I conclude once again that I just don’t get Waters. I read The Glass Room which I loved and has jumped out as one of my best reads of 2009. I read Summertime which excited me and made me think a lot, and made me realize Coetzee is really quite cool. And I’m currently ploughing on through The Children’s Book - which I’m liking quite a bit, but I’d enjoy far more if it was in paperback and not such a killer to hold.
And so to winners and thereby losers. My personal pick for the Booker Prize 2009 would be The Quickening Maze. It’s stuck with me long after reading, and I think it has a lot of hidden depths. It would be great to get it to a wider readership, who might find unexpected pleasure in reading the prose of a poet. But if I can’t have that I’d be very happy if Mawer took the prize.
But I feel, as ever, that the judging panel won’t agree with me. Sod’s Law would have Wolf Hall win as I haven’t read that one (and doubt I will). I doubt they’ll give it to Byatt or Coetzee again. Overall I’ve got a nasty feeling that Sarah Waters will win this year…
Wednesday, September 02, 2009
A strange thing happened with The Quickening Maze in that the novel has seemed to get better the further away I’ve got from actually reading it.
A relatively short book, it tried to pack a great deal into it’s pages, mainly through the multiple character threads we jumped between. This reinforced a sense of confusion, perhaps echoing characters who don’t always have a firm grip on who they are. The reader is pulled in as one of the many confused souls, but after a while the charm of the maze began to lose it’s appeal. However with the safety of distance I realise I actually quite enjoyed myself!
I especially liked Fould’s emphasis on setting. The buildings and the forest were vivid and almost acted as characters in themselves, creating a strong rural gothic atmosphere throughout.
‘Even the building looked mad: plain, square and tight, with regular small barred windows that emitted shrieks.’
Dividing the novel into seasonal chapters gave a strong sense of time passing, and the actions in each chapter sat well within the intended season. The first Autumn section felt like trying to grasp at many tumbling leaves, but by Winter characters had begun to still and settle into their roles.
‘the stopped fish under their dirty window of ice.’
Whether because Foulds is a poet, or due to the historical setting of the novel at many times I almost forgot I was reading a contemporary novel. The dialogue and description felt like they genuinely reflected the 1840’s. In The Quickening Maze Foulds created a vehicle to deliver regular bursts of his poetic prose which makes this novel one of the more elegant for it’s language on this year's longlist.
‘Two crows cranked past with their slow labouring stroke when a wind caught them and swept them round like a finger turning a clock hand.’
It’s possible that The Quickening Maze needs the same attention that a poem requires and that further readings might better unravel it’s many layers. As the Booker judges will be re-reading these novels I think it’s highly likely that we might see this title on next weeks shortlist.
Sunday, August 23, 2009
One of the joys of the Booker Prize list is when I’m introduced to a novel I would not otherwise choose to read - and Me Cheeta certainly fits that bill. And a good job I took a chance on it because I was hooked after a just a few pages.
I know a fair bit about primates and next to nothing about the Golden Age of Hollywood but neither were a barrier to enjoying this book. Whilst specific names and films and incidents meant little to me the overall tone kept me engaged throughout. Cheeta’s story bears much relevance to our current celebrity obsessed culture, where hopefuls fling themselves at fame, and even minor celebrities update their autobiography every other year. At times I had to pinch myself to remember that this was fiction (sort of).
Cheeta, the ultimate unreliable narrator, played varied appealing roles within his life story, and I’m left with many memorable moments. There were scenes of innocence and experience - eating his first banana, seeing stuffed heads of walls and commenting on the animal loving nature of the home-owner. A master of faux naivety, the reader rapidly realises that Cheeta knows far more than he is letting on, such as when he calls a plane an ‘iron bird’ when knowing full well both it’s make and model.
There were moments of existential wisdom -
‘A human trying to act a chimpanzee is somehow pathetic, whereas a chimpanzee trying to act a human is funny because… well, why is that? Something to do with aspiration. You think we’re pure and want to be us. We know you’re not pure, but we still aspire to be you.’
and heartbreaking poetry -
‘I still felt scattered, like the golden light rippling on the underside of a bridge.’
Me Cheeta does what many of the best of the old films does, it makes you laugh, it makes you cry, and it sucks you in despite any reservations you may hold. Earlier copies of the novel name Cheeta as the author, and online articles talk of James Lever merely ghost-writing the autobiography, so it’s hard to know who to credit with the achievement. But it’s fun and unexpected and great to see such a banana skin slipped in amongst the more serious Booker longlisters.