Sunday, October 17, 2010

Booker Prize Shortlist 2010

Jenny's booker-shortlist-2010 book montage


In a Strange Room

The Finkler Question


The Long Song

Parrot and Olivier in America

Jenny's favorite books »

Although the Man Booker Prize has already been selected for this year, I was determined to make my own judgment on who I would have awarded it to. I wish they had more time between announcing the shortlist and announcing the winner!

First of all, I was disappointed by a few that were left off the shortlist, particularly David Mitchell. The Dunmore also sounds interesting, and similar to content often awarded the prize, although I can't speak to its literary merit yet.

Two of the books really rose to the top of the heap this year. Room by Emma Donaghue was the first one I read, and I was amazed by how she used such a limited setting and the confines of a room to create a story with so many layers and unexpected twists. It wasn't as dark and depressing as it could have been, because it was told from the perspective of the young boy who has only known the room.

The other book I would place in this category is C by Tom McCarthy. To be honest, I feel like this book has grown on me since I finished it, and hearing the interview Michael Silverblatt did with McCarthy on Bookworm made a difference there. I thought I was reading traces of other novels throughout the book, and hearing that confirmed just made it all that much better for me. This book made me wish I was more well-read, knew more about history, but what I did catch made the reading experience even better.

Worth the Read, but Not the Award
Two books that were nominated are in my middle-ranked category, still very much worth reading but not necessarily stand-outs. The first is unfortunately the book awarded the prize, The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson. The book is about old men and Jewish identity but it is rather circular and repetitive. I feel I could have jumped in at any point and read a different version of the same story.

Parrot & Olivier in America by Peter Carey is a book I was really torn on. I had to take a break in the middle because it got pretty tedious, but the last 75 pages or so were a fantastic blend of storytelling and social commentary. I just wish he'd gotten to that point sooner. The version of American history told is from an unusual perspective, and that made a big difference too.

I would skip
It seems unfair to put a book in this category, I mean, these were short listed for the Man Booker prize! But I don't see why. In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut is written in such a way, switching between first and third person, that you can't possibly get close to the narrator. And despite the fact that he is traveling through interesting places and meeting interesting people, nothing interesting actually happens to HIM. If it hadn't been nominated for this prize, I would not have bothered finishing it. At least it goes by quickly.

The last one in this category I'm not sure it is fair to rank since I'll admit I couldn't even finish it. The Long Song by Andrea Levy uses that technique of showing characters so uninformed as to be ridiculous, but partnering that with their racism and written dialects, I just couldn't commit to it. I tried two different times and forced the first fifty pages, but that's the only length I'll go to, even for a prize-nominated tome.

What is your favorite Booker?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dylan Thomas Prize Long List 2010 - Novels

I finally finished the nominees for the Dylan Thomas Prize Long List, although not before they announced the short list. Fair is fair, and I don't agree with their long list entirely, so I am still going to share my thoughts on the matter.

The best of the best
My favorite novel of the lot was The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton. Half the story is told inside a saxophone teacher's studio, and the other half is told somewhat from the perspective of a young man in his first year of acting school. Except the narrators are unreliable and it isn't even clear if what is happening is real or part of a play. I almost forgot to eat lunch one day because I was so immersed in it.

Really good and worth the read
An imaginary friend, or a ghost, or a personality? You can decide, but In This Way I Was Saved by Brian DeLeeuw is disturbing and yet I couldn't put it down!!! The narrator kind of doesn't exist and he also doesn't understand everything he sees. I wish the end had been more fleshed out but I continued to think about it after I was done.

The Still Point by Amy Sackville was a journey inside an isolated woman's life to discover the romance of her grandparents in the Alaskan tundra. Impossible to explain but beautifully written.

Interesting reads, but optional
The Girl with the Glass Feet by Ali Shaw is actually one I read before I knew about the prize. It was set on a cold weather island, so I thought it was made for me, but I remember very little of it. It was an easy read, but forgettable.

Desperation and reconciliation plague a family in Ireland, in The Road to the Sea by Ciara Hegarty. It was bleak and not wimpy.

I think a Room by Emma Donaghue is a better book about a child growing up with one parent in an isolated setting, but And This is True by Emily Mackie had some interesting quirks too.

Both Family Planning by Karan Mahajan and Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed have interesting settings and tell new stories, which I imagine is the reason they both made the short list. I personally felt that I would have rathered a different author tell the story, if that makes sense. In Family Planning the story just goes nowhere, although the characters are fascinating. In Black Mamba Boy there is too much crammed into 280 pages, so the entire novel just feels scattered.

So there you go. The selectors agree with me on The Rehearsal for the short list, but we'll have to wait until December to find the verdict.