Wednesday, July 04, 2007


Wednesday, October 11, 2006 at 11:09 AM BST

So. The winner of the 2006 Man Booker Prize is Kiran Desai with The Inheritance of Loss. The one I haven’t read.

A disappointing lack of coverage of the Prize on BBC. Despite an array of channels catering to all manner of tastes they cant even schedule the usual one hour show. Instead just a brief announcement on the news.

Obviously reading and books are hopelessly out of fashion. As such I shall crawl off under my book pile. Bury myself among the paper leaves. Hibernate till next year.

waiting, anticipating

Monday, October 09, 2006 at 6:15 PM BST

Only a day to go until this years Booker Prize winner is announced.

My reading experience is coming to a close.

I originally intended to read 9 titles from the longlist. I have read 6 of those. I addition I am currently reading the David Mitchell and still have to Jon McGregor to read next. From the shortlist I also read the Matar and the Grenville. A couple of books fell by the wayside never to pass my way. The only shortlister I didn’t get to read was the Desai - I shall save a curse in case it wins unread by me.

I have enjoyed all of the books in their own way - and have found reading them critically adds an extra dimension of connection with each novel.

Its hard to pick favourites when many repel comparison. But this would be my order of merit for the novels.

1) The Testament of Gideon Mack - James Robertson

2) The Perfect Man - Naeem Murr

3) Mother’s Milk - Edward St. Aubyn

4) Carry Me Down - M. J. Hyland

5) The Secret River - Kate Grenville

6) In the Country of Men - Hisham Matar

7) Theft: A Love Story - Peter Carey

8) The Night Watch - Sarah Waters

I mentioned before that my opinion often differs from that of the judging panel and no change this year. My two favourite books never made the shortlist cut. My favourite that stands a chance of the prize is therefore Mother’s Milk, but if either that or Carry Me Down win I will rest content for another year.

Until tomorrow then…

a great emptiness

Friday, October 06, 2006 at 12:33 PM BST

Perhaps because I am coming to the end of my Booker reading, or because I know that in a few days these books will be compared and judged, I find it hard to read The Secret River in isolation. My thoughts constantly turn to how it connects or contrasts with the other novels I have read.

Immediate comparisons to Carey come to mind. And with humour I note how Grenville writes of the original inhabitants of Australia - the convicts arriving and trying to make good - whereas Carey brings this full circle by showing his characters, generations later, making their fortunes illicitly.

‘Up so high, he could feel the rising vapours of those below him in the court: all those bodies encased in their clothes, all those chests breathing in and out, and all those words, passing around through the air.’

Contrasts to Murr come to mind when we consider the issues of race. He showed the reactions of Americans to an Indian arriving among them. Whereas Grenville presents us with the British arrivals reactions to the native Australians.

‘Something about the way their skins were shadows among the shadows of the trees made it hard to see them straight.’

I also consider the style that Grenville has adopted. It strikes me as almost Dickensian, and I wonder if some would say that she is a woman writing with a mans style. Some feminist literary criticism suggests that women should try to forge their own style - and I wonder if some might suggest that Waters achieves this more in The Night Watch. Although if she succeeds with style it is at the expense of depth.

But most strikingly I notice how many of the other novels have been about individuals and their relations with one another, whereas The Secret River seems to focus more on the characters interactions with their surroundings. The setting and landscape are fore-grounded to a greater degree and I was left with a far stronger sense of where this novel was about as much as who. And this was its greatest strength for me.

‘He came out into a clearing where trees held an open space in a play of shifting light and shade: a room made of leaves and air…. He felt the way the trees stood around him in a quiet crowd, their limbs stopped in the middle of a gesture, their pale bark splitting in long cracks to show the bright pink skin beneath.’

scene from above

Friday, September 29, 2006 at 12:23 PM BST

It seems perfect that I read this straight after Carry Me Down. The parallels between the two novels are striking. Both present a child trying to uncover the truths of the adult world. Both involve parents withholding information. Both feature a boy who tends to climb into bed with his mother in the middle of the night. We see the same bonds between parent and child - the love, dependency, truth, lies, protection and rejection.

They are similar but very different - both in their setting and their telling. In the Country of Men has a domestic setting, but one that appears exotic and dangerous - here the deceptions are political not playground. Such as the pink flowers that flash up on the screen to blot out the worst parts of the televised interrogations.

‘Nationalism is as thin as a thread, perhaps that’s why many feel it must be anxiously guarded.’

The narrator speaks with a wordy, descriptive tone - undeniably beautiful but inconsistent with a child narrator. We soon realise this voice does not come first hand from a child, but an adult looking back. Perhaps this is necessary to explain the complexities of a situation that a child wouldn’t grasp, but I wonder if I would have preferred the narration to stay purely with the realm of a childs understanding.

‘The moments before we cry the face tries to fold away, hide itself from the world.’

Maybe it took me reading Hisham Matar to know that I prefer the Hyland novel. The same amount happens in both stories - in different places, but to a different scale purely because this novel uses more words, and views through eyes that see more - but for that reason it reads as less to me.

‘Grief loves the hollow, all it wants is to hear its own echo.’

I also wonder if In the Country of Men stands a chance of winning the Booker due to its political timeliness? I hope not for that reason alone.

be careful what you wish for

Thursday, September 21, 2006 at 11:40 AM BST

Carry Me Down is the simplest novel so far on my Booker reading list. And at the moment I am still unsure if that is its strength or its weakness.

It tells the story of John Egan, and the results on him and his family from his uncanny ability to detect when someone is lying. We see those around him lie with alarming regularity - sometimes in the name of protecting him, but more often to protect themselves.

‘I wait for the sound of the stone, but it doesn’t come back down - at least, I don’t hear it land - and I stand in the laneway, puzzled about where it might have gone. And still the stone doesn’t land, and I smile at the sky.’

Before reading I think I hoped for a fantastical tale of his adventures, but got something much more solid and sad. You come to realise how many lies are told to children. You recall the childhood innocence of mostly believing what you are told. You mourn that John has lost this - his gift is his curse. You ponder what you would do if you were blessed with his gift for just one day. And with dawning horror you imagine the results…

‘It is as though my brain has decided to run its own dark film with the volume on high; a film of bad thoughts, of bad memories, and every thought is worse than the one before it, and nothing will stop the film from running.’

M. J. Hyland writes with a measured pace that reminds me of many Irish novels I have read. Nothing is rushed - there is time to talk, time to think. She gives a piercing portrayal of the mind of a child - the things they notice, the obsessions they focus on. This novel is not trying to be clever. It is not trying to wow us with descriptive prose or fancy reasoning of the mind. It just tells a story. And if the Booker judges are still receptive to novels that just tell a story, then this stands a fair chance of winning.

getting closer

Thursday, September 14, 2006 at 4:55 PM BST

So, the Booker 2006 shortlist has just been announced. The titles selected are -

o The Inheritance of Loss - Kiran Desai
o The Secret River - Kate Grenville
o Carry Me Down - M. J. Hyland
o In the Country of Men - Hisham Matar
o Mother’s Milk - Edward St. Aubyn
o The Night Watch - Sarah Waters

Two I have read, the St. Aubyn and the Waters - the latter of which I do not think deserves a place on the shortlist. And I am currently reading the Hyland, which looks promising so far.

Not content with spending the month between now and the prize announcement having only read half of the shortlist I have just ordered another couple of titles - the Matar and the Grenville. The Desai is too expensive and will have to stay unread and unreviewed.

a lesson in not judging a book by its cover

Thursday, September 14, 2006 at 11:50 AM BST

In Week Two I named Mother’s Milk as one of my least favourite covers from my selection. By dismissing the cover, in part I dismissed the book. The blurb didn’t encourage me either - I began to question why I had even selected this book.

‘A carefully threaded thought unstrung itself and scattered across the floor.’

I was wrong. I enjoyed reading it. I enjoyed it a lot. But - and this is where it gets strange - I don’t know why. There is nothing about the characters (semi-affluent family types) that appeals to me. Equally there is nothing much about their lives that I can relate to. Apart from the very basics that constitute a life - that being birth, living, death. In that order.

‘And if he just wanted to play with his thoughts, nobody could stop him.’

Perhaps the appeal comes solely from St Aubyns writing. His acute observations, always coming in from a sly and unexpected angle. Commentary on the kind of things that I am preoccupied with - even though they are happening to someone I couldn’t care less about.

And for his keen analysis of America alone I would recommend Mother’s Milk for a place on this years shortlist (to be announced later today).

‘So much road and so few places, so much friendliness and so little intimacy, so much flavour and so little taste.’

time, which scatters at angles

Friday, September 08, 2006 at 5:34 PM BST

The Perfect Man tallies with my definition of what a novel should be. Murr tells a timeless story, using vivid language and ideas suited to a contemporary novel.

We are treated to the story of Raj - an Indian boy growing up in the heart of rural America. Raj is central but not dominant - more a pivot for everyone else to revolve around.

The cast is made up of believable people. People that cry and sweat and bleed. There are lots of characters - but some are more significant to the tale than others. They connections are natural - the reader gets to know some better than others - just as in real life.

‘She was the kind of person you forgot was in the room. She was like the bad reception of her own life, at the point of breaking up into nothing but static.’

We mostly focus on children. Playing together at being the people they will become. Like young animals they play-fight and play-fuck. And then they grow up, perfectly imperfect individuals.

‘The world swallowed boys and regurgitated men in a painful, heaving articulation of bodies.’

These are normal lives of extra/ordinary people. Their stories are told with stunning beauty through the kind of striking thoughts that real people have when they take the time to truly look at themselves and those they care about.

‘Sometimes it seemed to Annie that her mom only smoked to help her remember to breathe.’

Murrs novel is my favourite so far and I will be sorely disappointed if it doesn’t make it onto the shortlist.

opposites attract

Friday, September 01, 2006 at 3:34 PM BST

I have previously read three novels by Peter Carey, and I still don't know if I like him. Reading Theft has not clarified the matter. There are moments of beauty in his writing that capture me and persuade me back for more. But I find his tone weighs heavy on me and can turn reading into a chore.

This novel is a story about art. About finding the path between art for arts sake and art for money. It is told in the first person (my least preferred narrative style) by the artist Butcher Bones, and his learning disabled brother, Hugh.

Butcher Bones had the Carey tone that pushes me away. Words for words sake, talk to sound clever, making lots of noise but saying very little. The only times he had me onside was when he enthused about colours and paints and techniques. I complained that Sarah Waters characters seemed somewhat dead - but perhaps Careys are too alive?

But while the plot didn't particularly captivate me - the chapters narrated by Hugh did. Perhaps I prefer the world perspective of an 'idiot savant' over an art criminal. Perhaps Hughs words resonate with a childs honest simplicity - seeing through all the cover-ups (emotional and artistic) perpetrated by his brother.

'As a boy I could never understand why nice clean sand would cause such terror in my dads bloodshot eyes, but I had never seen an hourglass and did not know that I would die.'

I don't think Theft will win the Booker Prize this year - Carey has won it twice already with better books that this - but it's quotes like these that leave me with the knowledge that I will continue to read Carey, still not knowing if I like him.

'I took a folding chair down to the footpath and witnessed all the human clocks passing me, pumping, sloshing - there is one, there another, and each one the centre of the world. You can go half mad looking at them, like gazing at the stars at night and thinking of infinity.'

more mermaids

Friday, August 25, 2006 at 12:56 PM BST

I have just read The Night Watch by Sarah Waters. A novel set during World War II focusing on a small group of interconnected people living in London.

‘She supposed that houses, after all - like the lives that were lived in them - were mostly made of space. It was the spaces, in fact, which counted, rather than the bricks.’

There were things I both liked and disliked about this book. The reverse chronology that Waters used (the story was divided into three chunks dated 1947, 1944 and finally 1941) was one of its main strengths. Knowing the outcome of events before encountering the events themselves encouraged questions that lingered throughout and allowed for a few genuine surprises in the plot.

It was also pleasant to read a war novel focusing on non-service people, and indeed mostly women. These were active, working, involved women. These women did not stand nervously by the kitchen sink waiting for their men to return home. However I found the characterisation too be a little too rigid. It was as if each person had a set role and persona to fit that role and they showed little deviation or development as the pages turned.

The novel also read a little on the safe side for me. It felt predictable and old-fashioned in style. It broke no new ground, and did not seem to challenge itself. I feel that my grandmother could enjoy this novel. It was simple book in terms of character and language. Sometimes I enjoy simplicity, but this book read more like a snack than a balanced meal and I doubt it works hard enough to be a Booker winner.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006 at 11:38 AM BST

These are the novels I have chosen to read from the longlist -
o Peter Carey - Theft: A Love Story
o M.J. Hyland - Carry Me Down
o Jon McGregor - So Many Ways to Begin
o David Mitchell - Black Swan Green
o Naeem Murr - The Perfect Man
o Andrew O’Hagan - Be Near Me
o James Robertson - The Testament of Gideon Mack
o Edward St Aubyn - Mother’s Milk
o Sarah Waters - The Night Watch

7 have now arrived. One is still on order from the library. One I am yet to order.

In total I have read 8 books by six of these authors before. I am somewhat familiar with their style, so should have a fair idea whether their latest offering is up to scratch.

They say don’t judge a book by its cover - but its hard to ignore whats staring you in the face. On first impressions my favourite covers are the McGregor and the Mitchell, and those I am least pleased to carry in public are the Carey and the St Aubyn.

Anyway - time to stop waffling and start reading.

finger on the pulse

Tuesday, August 15, 2006 at 3:20 PM BST

Yesterday I spent most of the day hitting my F5 key, waiting for Man Booker to announce their long-list for this year.

Early evening I was rewarded with a list of the 19 books the panel had chosen.

I then began to filter through the list, reading up on each book, and deciding which titles I would read. [If stamina and money allowed I would aim to read them all, but at this point in my life I have neither in sufficient quantity.]

I have chosen 9 that I will aim to read in the time between now and the prize award ceremony (October 10th 2006).

I then proceeded to track down where I would obtain my 9 chosen titles. 4 have been ordered from tried and trusted online suppliers, and a further 4 have been reserved from my local library, for collection when they become available. 1 remains elusive at this time.

At this point I am waiting for the first book to arrive so my reading can commence.

what lies beneath

Tuesday, August 15, 2006 at 3:10 PM BST

For a good few years I have taken a keen interest in The Man Booker prize. I am intrigued by which books get chosen to be judged, and which is decided to be the best. I like to see if my own opinions of the books agree or not with the apparently knowledgeable judges decisions.

I have read 15 of the winning novels from the previous 37 years. A few of them I enjoyed immensely and rated highly enough to deserve such a prize. Others were quite forgettable. My all-time favourites have been Disgrace (JM Coetzee), The Blind Assassin (Margaret Atwood), Life of Pi (Yann Martel) and Vernon God Little (DBC Pierre).

In 2004 I decided to try to read a selection of the long-listed books while the prize was being judged. Through September and October I read 10 long-listed novels. Five out of six of those making the short-list were ones I had chosen to read. My favourites were Cloud Atlas (David Mitchell) and The Electric Michelangelo (Sarah Hall). The winner was The Line of Beauty (Alan Hollinghurst) - which I hadn’t particularly enjoyed.

Summer 2005 was a fallow season for Booker reading - I managed only two titles - both short-listed, Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro) and The Accidental (Ali Smith). Both were superb. The winner was The Sea (John Banville) which I have yet to read.

This year I am planning to return to avid Booker reading form.

time to fly

Tuesday, August 15, 2006 at 2:35 PM BST

The Kingfisher Scrapbook has been a temporary roost for far too long.

I have been too content to sit amid my colours and watch my fellows as they drink tea and chat and trade feathers.

But now I spy a tree with leaves that interest me. I push myself off from the branch. I take to the sky.