Archive for August, 2005

Accio Coetzee

Early in the year I make a note in my diary of the publication dates of those books I’m looking forward to reading that year. This year there were ten authors whose novels I was eagerly anticipating, and six of them have made the longlist: Barnes, Coetzee, Ishiguro, McEwan, Rushdie and Zadie Smith – proof that this is a year when the big guns really delivered? The other four were: JK Rowling (Noooo – don’t mock the afflicted!), John Irving (not eligible), Nick Hornby (Not literary enough? Too funny?) and Andrew Miller (His time will come).

Talking of JKR, I finished Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince last night, and all I can say is: phew! She certainly seems to conform to the view that it gets darkest before the dawn. In fact it seems to be de rigeur for the penultimate book in a sequence to be the darkest: Malorie Blackman’s Knife Edge, for example, was the most depressing children’s book I’ve ever read.

I didn’t think the Booker longlisted titles would have much chance of dragging me away from Potter & co, and yet one nearly did. Indeed, if I hadn’t been so near the end maybe I would have defected to the dark side, like the Half Blood Prince himself. Sorry JKR, but trying to work out who your mysterious RAB is will have to wait until after PJE has finished the new book by JMC – see below.

I have decided to get hold of as many of the longlist as I can and, rather than try to plough through them one at a time, dip in and out – switching from one to another in a crude sort of continuous comparison test, at the risk that some of them may blur together. Sacrilege? No. I think a great novel will grab you: haunt you while you are away from it, and drag you back into it like a powerful magnet. A clear, vivid and, ultimately, memorable novel will not only be unputdownable but, one that, should you manage to put it down, will be easy to drop back into, because the narrative and the characters have burned themselves into your memory.

Thanks to our wonderful public library system (well, did you think I was made of money?) I’d already ready two of the longlisted books, and I’ve recently managed to accumulate ten more: so the dipping can begin…

But first the two I’d already read:

Saturday is certainly memorable enough, as well as pushing the right literary buttons, to be a near certainty for the shortlist. (Ha! I probably said that about Enduring Love.) McEwan has certainly rediscovered some of the edge I thought he had lost – his recent books seemed too deliberately literary for my liking. (Atonement reads like a model answer in a ‘How To Write Literary Fiction’ textbook.) However, the details of neurosurgical procedure in Saturday scream out: “look at the thoroughness of my research Professor…” and “I think my editor wanted to leave some of it out but I stared him out…”

Never Let Me Go, sad to say, left me cold. You can take subtlety too far and Ishiguro does. Don’t get me wrong – The Remains of the Day is my favourite among all the Booker Prize winners I’ve read (twenty out of thirty-eight, at the last count) – with the possible exception of Vernon God Little, which rocks in a way that Booker Prize winners shouldn’t – but I just didn’t buy the picture of the future that he was painting. If McEwan gives us too much detail of the here-and-now, Ishiguro is all-too-vague about his Brave New World.

My itchy little fingers couldn’t resist touching up Arthur & George as soon I was alone with them, erm, it. The old-fashioned looking and very tactile cover certainly stands out on the shelves: “pick me up and feel me – you know you want to” it seems to say. Well I’m always eager to read a new Julian Barnes novel anyway, and with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as one of the characters this had to be a strong contender for book of the year. Elementary my dears! Surely the presence of Sherlock’s creator gives Barnes a head start in the Booker race, just as adopting the voice of Ned Kelly made Peter Carey a shoo-in back in 2001. (With Ian McEwan providing strong competition in both cases.)

Well, sad to report the first few chapters fell rather flat for me. The way Barnes alternates between Arthur & George is a tiresome technique (as is my own addiction to alliteration, no doubt) and my eyelids’ reluctance to stay up when faced with anything redolent of the 19th century has hampered my progress. Meanwhile John Banville’s poetic style is clearly going to require the right mood – a certain stillness, let’s say – to appreciate it fully.

So what did almost drag me from the dark doings of the Death Eaters at Hogwarts? Accio Coetzee: The emotional ferocity of Slow Man grabbed me by the throat within a few pages. The sheer brutality of Coetzee’s prose is stunning. It’s like inviting someone into your home, only for them to bring a cricket bat and start battering you with it: his strokeplay is awesome, but… ow! Stop it, please! It became my favourite book of the year (so far) within ten pages. That could change though – lots more to dip into – watch this space…

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August 26, 2005 at 1:22 am Leave a comment

The Man Booker Prize 2005: Longlist

The shortest ever longlist for the 2005 Booker Prize was revealed on Wednesday – just seventeen books – from which the shortlist of six will be announced on September 8th, and the winner on October 10th.

The Longlist

Tash Aw – The Harmony Silk Factory
John Banville – The Sea
Julian Barnes – Arthur and George
Sebastian Barry – A Long Long Way
JM Coetzee – Slow Man
Rachel Cusk – In The Fold
Kazuo Ishiguro – Never Let Me Go
Dan Jacobson – All For Love
Marina Lewycka – A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian
Hilary Mantel – Beyond Black
Ian McEwan – Saturday
James Meek – The People’s Act Of Love
Salman Rushdie – Shalimar The Clown
Ali Smith – The Accidental
Zadie Smith – On Beauty
Harry Thompson – This Thing Of Darkness
William Wall – This Is The Country

The BBC have provided a helpful little synopsis of all the listed titles here.

Marina Lewycka makes the cut with A Short History Of Tractors In Ukrainian, but the chances of an Orange Prize runner-up ever winning the Booker are almost certainly zero; and, of the two I’ve read thus far, I don’t feel I’m sticking my neck out when I say that I can’t see Ishiguro’s book being in the running. So I won’t be taking my cue from Stephanie Merritt and rushing over to Ladbrokes to back him at 20-1. On the other hand, the odds of 7-1 against Julian Barnes, currently being offered by William Hill, are quite tempting.

Predictably, the bookies (who, it has to be said, are usually wrong about the Booker Prize) make McEwan the favourite, despite Saturday being described as ‘dismayingly bad’ by fellow longlisted author John Banville in a review for The New York Review Of Books.

With JM Coetzee (the only person to win the prize twice) and Salman Rushdie (winner of the Booker of Bookers for Midnight’s Children) also being in the field, it’s not surprising that even the judges themselves were debating whether this is the strongest year in the prize’s history – comparing it with the titanic battle between Anthony Burgess (Earthly Powers) and William Golding (Rites of Passage) in 1980. Personally I rate the 1984 shortlist as the strongest: that year Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac beat JG Ballard (Empire of the Sun), Julian Barnes (Flaubert’s Parrot), Anita Desai (In Custody), Penelope Lively (According To Mark) and David Lodge (Small World).

Shortlist Prediction:
At this stage (having only read two of them) trying to predict the shortlist is whistling in the dark, but what the heck, I’ll go for these:

Julian Barnes – Arthur and George
Sebastian Barry – A Long Long Way
Hilary Mantel – Beyond Black
Ian McEwan – Saturday
Salman Rushdie – Shalimar The Clown
Harry Thompson – This Thing Of Darkness

August 15, 2005 at 1:52 am Leave a comment

The Man Booker Prize 2005: Contenders

The longlist for the 2005 ManBooker Prize is revealed tomorrow.
The bookies will probably make Ian McEwan favourite for Saturday, but there’s plenty of competition. 2005 must be the best year in living memory for books by heavyweight authors, including seven other previous winners:-

John Berger (Here Is Where We Meet)
Anita Brookner (Leaving Home)
JM Coetzee (Slow Man)
Kazuo Ishiguro (Never Let Me Go)
Penelope Lively (Making It Up)
Stanley Middleton (Sterner Stuff)
Salman Rushdie (Shalimar The Clown).

Other big names with novels out this year include:

John Banville (The Sea)
Julian Barnes (Arthur and George)
Sebastian Faulks (Human Traces)
Nick Hornby (A Long Way Down)
Doris Lessing (The Story of General Dann and Mara’s Daughter)
Andrew Miller (The Optimists)
Zadie Smith (On Beauty).

I’ve seen Andrew Miller as a future Booker winner since I read his debut novel Ingenious Pain, and many people, including myself, may feel that Julian Barnes is ‘due’ this award. Overdue in fact.

There are always a few debut novelists in the mix as well, and one I have a hunch about this year is Vikas Swarup (Q & A). Other contenders (more hunches) might include Hilary Mantel (Beyond Black) and Toby Litt (The Seymour Tapes).

I was tempted to apply to be one of BBC 4‘s Booker Pundits. Reading all twenty longlisted titles in four weeks would have been an interesting challenge, but in the end I couldn’t bear the thought of putting my phizog on telly.

I’m off to read some more of Here Is Where We Meet now. Although I don’t think there is much chance of John Berger appearing on the list tomorrow – I suspect that donating half his prize money to the Black Panthers in 1972 may have made him persona non grata with the establishment. Their loss.





1969 P.H.Newby – Something To Answer For
1970 Bernice Rubens – The Elected Member
1971 V.S.Naipaul – In A Free State
1972 John Berger – G
1973 J.G.Farrell – The Siege of Krishnapur
1974 =Nadine Gordimer – The Conservationist
1974 =Stanley Middleton – Holiday
1975 R.P.Jhabvala – Heat and Dust
1976 David Storey – Saville
1977 Paul Scott – Staying On
1978 Iris Murdoch – The Sea, The Sea
1979 Penelope Fitzgerald – Offshore
1980 William Golding – Rites of Passage
1981 Salman Rushdie – Midnight’s Children
1982 Thomas Keneally – Schindler’s Ark
1983 J.M.Coetzee – The Life and Times of Michael K.
1984 Anita Brookner – Hotel du Lac
1985 Keri Hulme – The Bone People
1986 Kingsley Amis – The Old Devils
1987 Penelope Lively – Moon Tiger
1988 Peter Carey – Oscar and Lucinda
1989 Kazuo Ishiguro – The Remains of the Day
1990 A.S.Byatt – Possession
1991 Ben Okri – The Famished Road
1992 =Barry Unsworth – Sacred Hunger
1992 =Michael Ondaatje – The English Patient
1993 Roddy Doyle – Paddy Clarke Ha, Ha, Ha
1994 James Kelman – How Late It Was, How Late
1995 Pat Barker – The Ghost Road
1996 Graham Swift – Last Orders
1997 Arundhati Roy – The God of Small Things
1998 Ian McEwan – Amsterdam
1999 J.M.Coetzee – Disgrace
2000 Margaret Atwood – The Blind Assassin
2001 Peter Carey – True History of the Kelly Gang
2002 Yann Martel – Life of Pi
2003 DBC Pierre – Vernon God Little
2004 Alan Hollinghurst – The Line of Beauty
2005 John Banville – The Sea
2006 Kiran Desai – The Inheritance of Loss
2007 Anne Enright – The Gathering
2008 Aravind Adiga – The White Tiger
2009 Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall
2010 Howard Jacobson – The Finkler Question
2011 Julian Barnes – The Sense of an Ending
2012 Hilary Mantel – Bring Up The Bodies
2013 Eleanor Catton – The Luminaries


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August 9, 2005 at 7:06 pm 1 comment


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