Thursday, August 11, 2005

2005 Man Booker Long List

17 books have made it to the longlist, with an announcement of the shortlist in early September. The BBC is doing something interesting: they've gathered together half a dozen peeps who will read the entire shortlist in 28 days, so they can make their own predictions as to which books will make the cut. I can't say that I have even heard of all the books announced, let alone read them. In fact, I have only read one, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Of the others, I have seen but not felt inclined to pick up The Sea by John Banville or Ian McEwan's Saturday, but have been a little more intrigued by A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian byMarina Lewycka. To quote the Times:
Nadia prides herself on her left-wing views. It is these which are severely tested, when, to the dismay of both sisters, their 84-year-old widower father Nikolai decides to marry the voluptuous Valentina — an “economic migrant” less than half his age with breasts “like twin warheads”... What follows is, by turns, extremely funny and extremely dark, touching on subjects not usually treated as comedy, such as the abuse of the elderly and the hounding of asylum-seekers.

Then there are a whole bunch of books by authors whose previous books I have read and enjoyed before:

  • Arthur & George by Julian Barnes, who seems to have done for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle what Colm Toibin did for Hentry James in the Master - but doesn't quite sound my cup of tea;
  • Slow Man by JM Coetzee - paraphrasing Kirkus quite horribly, Elizabeth Costella is doppelganger and mentor to lonely and reclusive 60-year-old former photographer Paul Rayment, who has lost a leg in a bicycling accident. He rejects several home-care nurses, until hardworking Croatian immigrant Marijana Jokics earns his trust, his gratitude - and his unspoken love. Paul attempts to play God, offering to pay her teenaged son's college tuition, offending her husband in the process. Costello patiently pushes Paul toward fuller involvement in the world: as the lover of a sex-starved blind woman (is this her or him?), telling him to "Become major". But maybe he only actually exists as a character in her novel anyway. Hmmm - dunno about this;
  • Ali Smith (she of Hotel World fame) has produced The Accidental, which does sound very interesting. To paraphrase the Sunday Times this time, Alhambra was conceived in 1968 in a cinema, after which she is named. Smith seems to have borrowed her plot from a Terence Stamp film, Pasolini’s Theorem a sexually irresistible vagrant who may be an angel, or a criminal maniac (or both), makes an inexplicable appearance in the home of an apparently commonplace family. In the novel, Alhambra appears one hot August morning in 2003 on the door step of a “four-square” family — mother, father, 17-year-old son, 12-year-old daughter. The story is told from each of their points of view in turn, with a distinctive voice for each. I love this: "Michael, a teacher of English literature and serial seducer of students (or, while on holiday in Norfolk, supermarket checkout girls), holds forth as though to a lecture-room before lapsing suddenly, to his own and the readers’ delight, into Byronic ottava rima." The summary comments from the Sunday Times are that in each, "Smith produces a tour de force" and "there is probably nothing by way of fiction writing that Smith can’t do";
  • Zadie Smith (White Teeth) has produced her third work, On Beauty. Publisher's Weekly says it "gathers narrative steam from the clash between two radically different families, with a plot that explicitly parallels Howards End." We have "a soulful, transatlantic understanding between the families' matriarchs" and two art professor fathers getting ready for culture wars. "Everyone theorizes about art, and everyone searches for connections, sexual and otherwise." and so on. Worth checking out, when it is finally published - it does seem weird that several of the contenders have yet to be published;
  • Shalimar The Clown by Salman Rushdie - based in Kashmir, this has what the Village Voice calls an "overripe love story" of doomed lovers, overlaying "the history of a country corroded and soured by sectarian struggle". Muslims and Hindus had co-existed in peace, but the Pakistani invasion turns that on its head. As kids, the lovers are oblivious for a while, even get married with their familes hoping there really was a common bond that transcended all other differences. "But losing her virginity triggers something defiant and reckless in Boonyi that attracts the attentions of the suave U.S. ambassador to India" with whom she has a scandalous affair. Her formerly shy and romantic husband reacts by training as a terrorist - as you do. "One running theme is the donning of new identities" with only poor Boonyi lacking any ability to adapt.
Then a bunch of books I've never noticed by authors I have never heard of.
  • Aw, Tash -- The Harmony Silk Factory. I don't think I recall any Malaysian fiction ever crossing my path, so this is a first. Its a story using three narrators to give different perspectives of one Jonny Lim, a merchant and political force with an intensely inquiring mind and a taste for the irregular - a Malaysian Gatsby, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. "From poor boy to laborer to shop owner who marries into the local aristocracy, to political force and collaborator during the Japanese occupation, Johnny Lim rises in the world in a rather covert and elliptical fashion, and the three linked sections of the novel mirror the simplicities and complexities of his career as father, husband, businessman, political figure, murderer, traitor and friend."
  • Barry, Sebastian -- A Long Long Way. My book club has just decided to read Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong, about a fellow going off to fight in World War One in France. This is in a similar vein, except that Willie is Irish, very Catholic and doomed from the very beginning of the book to die.
  • Cusk, Rachel -- In the Fold. I can't even find much information about this one - some library website says it is "a tantalizing and darkly comic new novel of lust and deception" - it could mean damn near anything.
  • Jacobson, Dan -- All For Love. Another historical fiction, this time involving a romance between the daughter of King Leopold II and a lieutenant. When their passion gets the better of them and they're caught out, they go on the run. She ends up in some insane asylum, he's put in jail, but then some other chick falls for him, and so tries to get them both out. I think if publishers want me to read this, they need a better blurb! Two reviews I read said this would make a good opera. Enough, already.
  • Mantel, Hilary -- Beyond Black. This one has promise - the Washington Post says it is "original and deeply dark" and is a "daring and extravagant book, filled with as much wit as darkness". I love this review from an Amazon reader: "Alison is fat, single, the daughter of a prostitute, and psychic. I mean really psychic. The dead speak to her of all kinds of trivia, and her "spirit guide," Morris, is a (dead) lowlife dwarf who used to work at a circus. Alison will do anything to get rid of Morris, who is crude and stinky and pops up at inconvenient moments, but nothing works. And when Morris starts hanging out with fiends [I don't think this is a typo!] from Alison's old neighborhood, she begins to get really worried. Much of this novel is funny. Alison's assistant, Colette, a skinny, nasty, divorced control freak who books Al's appointments at psychic fairs, is a good foil for the casual Alison. She eventually becomes so obsessed with her management role that she even tries to control Alison's diet."
  • Meek, James -- The People’s Act of Love. Must be serious - there is a London Review of Books review of it. Its a Siberian Russian Revolution novel, with the Times saying its "theme is a great one: the horror of watching political or spiritual extremism extinguish common sense and common humanity". Samarin turns up dirty and unshaven in Yazyk, claiming to be an escaped political prisoner. Its a fantasy - he is a man who will willingly "hack people to pieces and eat them". On the other hand, Yazyk is in the hands of an extreme Christian sect - they express their faith through self- mutilation. Its leader "has chosen to have his own genitals, the “Keys to Hell”, cut off and thrown into the fire" - all men have been castrated! Some can still "love things of the earth" - Lieutenant Mutz and Anna Petrovna Lutova, the sexually desirous, un-prudish wife of the castrate Balashov.
  • Thompson, Harry -- This Thing Of Darkness. A true story - the voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin and Captain Robert FitzRoy, their friendship, their arguments, the theory of natural selection. Not exactly what I'd have expected from the fellow who produced the Harry Enfield show and Baddiel. The tragic thing is that release of the book was overwhelmed by the news that he had cancer - the Guardian review by his former girl friend makes for a sad sort of read.
  • Wall, William -- This Is The Country. This one sounds interesting and all. The Guardian comes through with a great review. We have here a story of a man escaping drugs, losing his wife to gangsters and his daughter to the social services, and plotting to get her back. It is "a masterful, ironic book of loss and bitter optimism, money and poverty, the impossible divide between city and country", "the story of someone desperately but resolutely straightening himself out, and how ragged and forever incomplete a thing that may be. By focusing on something real for the first time in his life (the workings of engines), he becomes real."


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