Tag Archives: Man Booker

My Year In Books: Best Reads of 2014

It’s that time of year again: the last day before New Year. As with last year, it’s time to look back and consider the books I’ve read.

This post will deal with my favourite reads this year. Worst reads (of which there weren’t that many!) will come later – follow this link to see them! So this is, I suppose, like the Booker Prize… Except that there’s no money on offer… And that these are books read in rather than published in the last year.

So not very much like the Man Booker at all really! Although there will be some overlapping books.

Right let’s aim for a top five.

#5 The Golem and The Djinni by Helene Wecker was actually my first read of the year! Beautiful depictions of immigrant cultures to New York and compelling on many levels: sociological, fantastical, personal and a rollicking good plot!

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#4 Room by Emma Donoghue. A powerful and poignant story of a mother and child brought up in the most appalling situation as captives. Donoghue said she wanted to create that story at a distance from the horror and terror of the kidnapping when rituals had been established and tedium set in. And the most beautifully realised child’s voice I’ve read.

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#3 Harvest by Jim Crace which was a Man Booker nominee in 2013 – as Room was in 2010. An absolutely astounding evocation of a moment in time and a wonderfully breathy summery feel to it which makes it wonderful to recall in this grey weather.

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#2 The History Of The Rain by Niall Williams.

I really did love this book, a Man Booker longlist nominee. I loved the poetry of the language, the literariness of it, the humour and humanity.

Just absolutely wonderful.

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#1 The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton.

I only came upon this book and Catton because of her Booker-winning The Luminaries which was also wonderful. But for me The Rehearsal was sublime. It was coruscating and complex and writhed like a snake under the reader’s eyes. Exquisitely discomforting.

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Ahhh… But now I’m already worrying about this list. Am I happy with the order? Should The Luminaries have been included? What of all the other books that were great but I’ve not included.

So a handful of honourable mentions, perhaps?

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

More Than This by Patrick Ness

Good Omens by Messrs Pratchett and Gaiman

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Back to the blog…

Good golly it’s been a long time since I added to this blog!

Blame a hectic – nay, traumatic – time at work.

Blame the demands placed on time by a nearly eleven-month old baby.

Blame anything but my own laziness!

Perhaps an excess of humility made me doubt whether anyone was actually reading my blog; and whether it was fair to impose my thoughts and ramblings and meanderings on anyone else.

Anyway, it is now half term and the weather is starting to feel distinctly summery. Currently, to finish my half term, I am sitting in the sun, outside Costa nursing both a Red Berry Cooler and The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, Man Booker winner, and looking forward to the chocolate fudge cake waiting at home.

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Now, on the subject of The Luminaries, I am absolutely loving it! There are some negative reviews around complaining that Catton tells rather than shows us her characters – which she does – but that’s not been a barrier to her characters for me. The New Zealand township is one of the most vivid, alive settings I’ve come across. Not necessarily realistic. But vivid and alive.

And I adore the way the narrator – who is very self-aware – piggybacks the point of view if one individual character at a time so we get to see these twelve men circling around each other and we piece together the history and relationships and interconnected stories. It really is a tapestry of a novel, woven rather than written.

Currently, I’m reaching the end of Part One where our main protagonist, Walter Moody, has happened upon a meeting of the twelve main characters and is discovering their involvement in the death of the hermit Crosbie Wells, the subsequent discovery of a fortune in his cottage, the overdose and apparent suicide attempt of the whore Anna Wetherell and the disappearance of the magnate Emery Staines. Catton has her twelve actors narrate their parts to Moody which her narrative voice then edits and conveys to us: a very self aware story-within-a-story which fit perfectly the title of this part, A Sphere Within A Sphere.

On that structural point, I’m given to understand that there’s a parallel between the story and phases of the moon and the influence of the stars and things like that. That intention is patent from the character “chart“:

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Personally, I can appreciate the effort and thought behind that, and at some intellectual level I may make a wry half-smile. But that structural approach holds very little emotional sway for me and, certainly so far, has not encroached on the plot or the characters who – in my opinion and in contrast to some reviews – I do feel are engaging and more than two dimensional.

So, currently, the sphere that is part one is coming to an end and there’s the distinct satisfaction of watching the narrative return to the point where we first encountered it.

And now I intend to finish my holiday by finishing Part One and joining our luminaries in uncovering the secrets of hidden fortunes in gold, disturbed whores, sinister ships’ captains and mysterious things haunting their vessels.

2013 in Books

2013 drags itself damply and limply to an end this week. Unlike Dr Who, whose Matt Smith incarnation went out on Christmas Day with a bang, the final days of 2013 remind me of the lines from Eliot

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Anyway, I thought that I would bring the year to a close with a review of 2013 in books. And, to preface, this is books read by me in 2013 rather than written in 2013. There are still some 2013 books I’ve not got round to reading yet: The Luminaries and Jim Crace’s Harvest among them.

So. Here goes.

Top of my list is the Man Booker shortlisted A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki.

20131228-074227.jpg Utterly compelling and intriguing narrative voices, engaging characters, thoughtful, thought provoking and haunting. It is a book about reading and the relationship between reader and writer and genuinely made me think. And as my family and students will tell you, I try to avoid that if necessary! My somewhat gushing review is here as is a link to what happens when you gush too much about your book, here.

Second place on this wholly subjective list would go to Neil Gaiman whose beautiful Ocean At The End Of The Lane was powerful, touching, mythic and domestic all at the same time.

20131228-074349.jpg And a rollicking good read! Again, my review of it is here.

And at number three, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

20131228-075235.jpg Unexpected, tender, utterly humane. Simply a genuinely lovely book about an ordinary man and his ability to simple journey to say goodbye to an old friend who is dying. There were so many ways this could have become cloying or sentimental or just go wrong… but Rachel Joyce judged everything perfectly! Another link to my review.

Ali Shaw’s The Girl With Glass Feet certainly needs a mention. As I do this I question whether ranking them has value… Maybe just my top ten. I also realised that February was a great month for my reading!

20131228-080537.jpg I loved this book: again it was remarkably tender and quiet and personal and with a remarkable sensitivity to light. The descriptions were gorgeous – especially of the glass feet themselves. Yes it is that literal a title! My review of this modern fairy tale is here.

I think The Woman in Black by Susan Hill needs a mention too. A great book with a cracking plot and so consciously crafted by Hill’s own apparent delight in the gothic. It has been an ideal book to teach simply because of that conscious crafting of language. And also genuinely chilling and creepy. Some notes on it can be found here and here.

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The film adaptation of The Woman In Black was, however, a massive disappointment… which leads me onto another of my books of 2013 which also had a really bad film: World War Z by Max Brooks.

20131228-085920.jpg The book is your standard zombie-fare: for unknown reasons, the dead rise and kill and convert much of humanity before the human race makes a stand. What I enjoyed about it – and what was taken out of the film – was the multitude of voices and stories which took an unmanageably large global narrative and reduced it down to domestic individual stories. My original blog, follow the link.

And 2013 was a good year for the undead for me: Justin Cronin’s first two books of The Passage trilogy were a powerfully and occasionally lyrical post-apocalyptic vampiric vision with one massively evocative protagonist, Amy Harper Bellafonte. The US military discover a virus capable of imbuing great strength and healing and predictably attempt to create a super soldier serum which in fact creates vampires who – somewhat inevitably – take over the world. My review of The Passage is here and the slightly less satisfying The Twelve is here.

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To continue I do want to include the Man Booker shortlisted Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín.

20131228-093945.jpg. This is a hauntingly sad novel of the gospel story of Christ from the point of view of his mother trying to deal with the crushing fact of his death. I just wish I’d read this without having seen Monty Python’s Life of Brian! My review is here.

Finally, I’ll mention Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett just because it is by Terry Pratchett and therefore a ways going to be a great big fun read! My review of this is here.

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And what will be my first books of 2014?

Well, I’ve just bought The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

20131228-100005.jpg The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

20131228-100058.jpg and The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison

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