Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Clothes on their Backs - Linda Grant

  • A novel with a strong focus on seeking to know and understand personal identity - which comes through both the clothes people choose to wear and their ties to their family and background. Vivien grows up by learning her place within her family and within its secrets.
  • The clothes theme ran throughout - a gentle but persistent theme can work very well, and tie the novel together as whole. In this it reminded me of the previous Booker nomination Sixty Lights (Gail Jones). Clothes are like fashionable archaeology, uncovering layers to discover what lies beneath - the clothes tell you as much, if not more, when they are vacated as when worn.
  • I enjoyed the parts about Benson Court as I have lived in a block of flats its fair share of eccentrics and lives overseen.
  • Collected quotes - ‘Without her, he filled himself up with the gas of his own thoughts and floated off into another dimension.’ & ‘A woman passed in an electric blue sequined gown and matching shoes whose sequins had been stuck on the white silk with glue and they fell away from her as she walked, leaving a trail like blue dandruff.’
  • Characters were individual, well drawn and warm. The story within a story worked well, we learn of the life of Sandor through his dictation to Vivien. I liked the 70’s London setting. At times the prose felt a little clunky, but when Grant was on form it flowed well.
  • My favourite Booker ’08 read so far - 7 out of 10 hangers

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Lost Dog - Michelle de Kretser

  • The eponymous dog is lost early on, and perhaps I would run away from Tom too given the chance? The writing reminded me of Edward St. Aubyn and John Banville in that I liked the writing but not necessarily the characters
  • Tom being an art loving writer allowed for some striking prose as we see his world through his eye. [‘The air over the paddocks was a substance between liquid and paper. It held, on the horizon, the trace of a mountain: a watercolour blotted while wet into almost blankness.’] Although as the novel drew on I found the writing overly rich and at times cloying.
  • We visit India again, this time from a distance, framed through childhood memory. We also briefly witness the event of 9/11 - interesting how many contemporary novels now mention that day.
  • Nelly hoards strange items in her gallery and sometimes this book reminded me of her collections. A beguiling jumble that delights but keeps its overall purpose vague.
  • The art scene scenes irritated me. Perhaps artists are interesting on their own but put them together and they easily annoy. (Art based book I liked = Port Mungo (Patrick McGrath), art based book I didn’t = Life Class (Pat Barker)) But I liked the man and dog stuff, and the man and mother stuff, and would have preferred to focus more on these.
  • Tom is defined largely through his relations with others, his mother, Nelly, his friends, acquaintances, colleagues but perhaps most importantly by his friendship with the dog - ‘Love without limits was reserved for his own species. To display great affection for an animal invariably provoked censure. Tom felt ashamed to admit to it. It was judged excessive: overflowing a limit that was couched as a philosophical distinction, as the line that divided the rational, human creature from all others. Animals, deemed incapable of reason, did not deserve the same degree of love.’ 7 out of 10 orange knots

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

As previously threatened I am abandoning the traditional review - these are the notes I made as I read, they create a vague impression of how I responded to the novel.

  • Pleasing matt finish sleeve and bright white pages.
  • Reads almost like a monologue, anecdotal, confessional. Adiga, and through him, Balram are great storytellers. They keep the narrative lively and flowing.
  • I like the way the chapters are the consecutive nights on which Balram sends his email - this creates a strong sense of time passing.
  • Animals important throughout. Is this a theme for this years Booker nominees as I notice they appear in some of the other books? is there any animal lover on the judging panel?
  • Do my first Booker reads always have a penis fixation? Last year it was the Irish length courtesy of Anne Enright this year Balram’s ever mentioned beak!
  • Reminders of The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Animal’s People and Shantaram.
  • Collected quotes -
    ‘things that drop into your mind, like lizards from the ceiling, in the half-hour before falling asleep’
    ‘stamping on the goat turds which had spread like a constellation of black stars on the ground.’
  • This is scratch and sniff India. That familiar chewing of paan and spitting of red juices but making a new kind of mess this time. Not the best Indian novel I’ve read (which would probably be something by Raj Kamal Jha) but far from the worst. Six out of ten silver whistles!