20 October 2011

Man Booker Prize Winner

So on Tuesday night the winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize was announced as Julian Barnes for The Sense of an Ending. In my summary post I had predicted this although it wasn't my favourite.

I did think his book was beautiful (although I thought the ending could have been more subtle) and wonderfully written. I also loved the physical cover of the book - Barnes commented that with ebooks being so popular he wanted to make sure his books were things that were physically appealing as well, a sentiment I agree with as someone who loves beautiful books on a purely physical level.

Whilst there were two books I preferred to Barnes, it is a wonderful book and Barnes' talent for writing is undeniable. The thing that dampens my pleasure is however Barnes' attitude towards the prize. He hardly did any publicity and didn't attend the event the night before the announcement which all the other shortlisted authors did. Speaking to one of the organisers, this wasn't because he couldn't but because he didn't want to.

When he speaks, he gives the impression that he's above it all which is hardly appealing. When he won, he didn't mention the other novelists in his speech and thanked the judges 'for their wisdom'. Needless to say, he did accept the £50 000 prize.

16 October 2011

The Man Booker Prize Summary

The winner of the prize is announced on Tuesday so I wanted to get my summary in before it was tainted by knowing the outcome. All in all a strong shortlist in my opinion. Some have accused the judging panel of 'dumbing down' and have criticised the weight that readibility was given in the criteria. Whilst there is obviously worth in literary novels and clever explorations of language where plot is a secondary concern, I am a great believer that whether a book is deemed good or not should very much take into consideration how much people want to read it and how much they enjoy reading it. I found the shortlist accessible but still intelligent and personally think the panel struck an excellent balance. I am going down to London tomorrow night to a Man Booker event where all the author (except Barnes) will be there to discuss and sign their novels so hopefully I will get some photos to add into a post about the winner on Tuesday or Wednesday. 

Review 44: Snowdrops by A. D. Miller (Man Booker Shortlist)

I think that my review of this novel is a cautionary tale about reading a novel with high expectations. My colleague had read and loved this book and I was looking forward to reading it, I also knew a fair bit about the setting and the plot. This unfortunately meant that I was disappointed with what is ultimately a good novel due to perhaps unrealistically high expectations. I believe that if I had read this book blind I would have enjoyed it more. Nonetheless, here is my review, tainted as it may be by it not living up to expectations.

Snowdrops is the story of Nick, an English property lawyer who has moved to Russia. The story is narrated by him as he relates what happened to him to his English fiancee, we will get to my opinions on that narrative choice later. He meets the glamorous Masha and her sister Katya who show him the high life in Moscow and also introduce him to an old lady, Tatiana, who is looking to move from her central city apartment to a more rural setting in the large Moscow suburbs. The title refers to what the Russians call a body that is discovered long after death, normally murder, due to it being hidden in the snow and ice; it is only discovered when the snow melts.

Review 43: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt (Man Booker Shortlist)

To put it plainly, this story of Eli and Charlie Sisters, hired assassins is my favourite (so far) on the Man Booker shortlist. This is the first Western to be included on the Man Booker shortlist but whilst the book is unmistakeably a western, it's genre doesn't really define it. It seems to defy descriptions to a large extent; it's easy to read but not an easy read, it makes you laugh but it's not a comedy, it's not a complicated novel but it's characters certainly are. In fact it's real strength lies in the incredibly strong narrative voice of Eli Sisters.

Eli and Charlie have been sent by the mysterious Commodore to assassinate Hermann Kermit Warm for an unidentified theft from the Commodore. The brothers set out from Oregon to a Californian gold mining town to meet their contact there and track down Warm. Along the way they encounter various characters from a perpetually weeping man to a dentist who introduces Eli to toothbrushes.

4 October 2011

Review 42: Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch (Man Booker Shortlist)

This is the third book from the Man Booker shortlist I have read and it has only made it harder to decide which my favourite is. So far all three have been really good and also really different making it challenging to compare them. We have had a contemplative thinkpiece, perhaps most typical of your Man Booker expectations and a modern novel about knife crime. Added to this is Jamrach's Menagerie which is a grown up adventure story that dips into darker waters and probably the book that least matched my expectations of it.

Jamrach's Menagerie is the story of Jaffy Brown who lives in Victorian England amidst the dirt and grime of Ratcliffe Highway until he is snatched up in the jaws of an escaped Bengal tiger. The owner of this tiger is Jamrach who buys and sells exotic animals and impressed by Jaffy's lack of fear (Jaffy is taken by the tiger only because he goes to try and stroke his nose) he offers him a job in his menagerie. This leads Jaffy onto the Lysander, a whaling boat where the crew is also trying to catch a 'dragon' where the story moves from a Sarah Waters-esque historical London the novels darker section.
I really liked this book, contrary to the feelings of the sixth formers and teacher am I'm doing a shadowing group with. I found it fast-paced, exciting, disturbing and very emotionally involving.