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. 

6. Half Blood Blues by Esi Egugyan
This was far and away my least favourite. I found it difficult to get into and rather a chore to read, not one I would have persevered with for so long were it not on the shortlist. I found the language distracting, the characters ranging between unconvincing and unlikeable and the story dull. Compared to the rest of the shortlist of which I read each in a day to three days maximum, I spent three weeks reading this before abandoning it as life it too short for books I don't enjoy. This was the only novel on the shortlist I didn't really like. 
5. Snowdrops by A. D. Miller
A good book, but in my opinion, not great. An unappealing hero and predictable plot detract from Miller’s capable writing style and unique ideas. However, I feel I should mention it was loved by a significant chunk of my shadowing group who enjoyed the ideas of everyday corruption and the Russian setting. Lots of potential that for me is never quite realised.
4. Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
The top four are all wonderful novels in my opinion and well deserving of a place on the shortlist. Pigeon English is a moving and engrossing story with a wonderfully written hero in Harri and an important and thought provoking theme. A slight misstep in the ‘guardian pigeon’ character and a certain lack of depth mean it’s not higher on my list of favourites. Whilst I was reading it I thought it might be my favourite and whilst it slipped down the list on reflection, it is a book that you love whilst you're involved in it.

3. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
This would have been in contention for the top if it weren’t for an ending that clashes with the tone of the rest of the novel. It features a twist which I didn’t think was clear enough although the idea of it was interesting and casts an interesting light back on the rest of the novel, fitting in with the theme of memory. Barnes writing is very strong and for a novel with not a lot of plot, I couldn’t put it down. I also think this might be the one that actually wins. Also, a beautiful cover.

2. Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
This book split opinion in my shadowing group but I thought it was remarkable. On a basic level it was exciting and a brilliant story but it also has all sorts going on beneath the surface with echoes and ideas that run throughout the book just under the main action and give you a lot to think about. In Jaffy, Birch has created an appealing hero and I really enjoyed the historical elements of it. For me, this was a more successful exploration of what humans do in desperate situations than Snowdrops and featured some images that really stuck with me in the days after I had finished it. 

1. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt                                                                                     
Definitely my favourite; this quirky, funny and dark novel of an assassin and his brother in the Californian gold rush is truly unique. It’s the winner for me as I would like to see the originality of this novel celebrated as well as DeWitts adept way with words to create his collection of surreal yet familiar characters and one of the best first person narratives I’ve read in Eli. A wonderful novel and a pleasure to get absorbed in. 

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