Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Man Booker Longlist 2012 Announced

This years longlist for the Booker Prize has been announced. The nominees are :

Nicola Barker, The Yips (Fourth Estate)
Ned Beauman, The Teleportation Accident (Sceptre)
André Brink, Philida (Harvill Secker)
Tan Twan Eng, The Garden of Evening Mists (Myrmidon Books)
Michael Frayn, Skios (Faber & Faber)
Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (Doubleday)
Deborah Levy, Swimming Home (And Other Stories)
Hilary Mantel, Bring up the Bodies (Fourth Estate)
Alison Moore, The Lighthouse (Salt)
Will Self, Umbrella (Bloomsbury)
Jeet Thayil, Narcopolis (Faber & Faber)
Sam Thompson, Communion Town (Fourth Estate)

Excited to see Bring Up The Bodies there, and am currently reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage, all other novels are unknown quantities to me but I am excited to see the inclusion of Tan Twan Eng. These novels will be coming to a blog near you! 

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Book #64 Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov

Pale Fire

Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov is the story of Charles Kinbote, who following the death of his "friend" the esteemed poet John Shade, publishes Shades last work Pale Fire, a poem of Four Cantos, alongside a personal introduction by Kinbote, and an extensive commentary upon the lines of the poem.

Kinbote, certainly is more than he appears to be, and who he is, or more accurately who he thinks he is, is revealed slowly via his introduction and commentary. Kinbote, obsessed with Shade, develops a stalker like infatuation with him, and in many ways steals this last poem, ferociously inserting himself and the story of his homeland Zembla into the inspiration and meaning behind Shade's last work, a work which to the reader appears to actually be autobiographical and about Shade's wife and dead daughter.

The vast majority of the novel concerns delusional, mentally compromised, Kinbote taking small lines of Pale Fire perhaps a word or two and then extrapolating huge chunks of Zemblan history from it, various kings, queens, and dissidents, at enormous length and the life of Shade as reflected in the poem barely gets a look in.

The prose is "purple prose" excessively verbose and extremely annoying. Though this is in keeping with the character of Charles Kinbote, for me, it was a complete turn off as a reader.

If I am to be perfectly honest about this novel, I thought it was fucking dreadful, I didn't enjoy it on any single level, I was by turns bored and irritated beyond measure and if it had not been as few as 239 pages I would have given up on it entirely.

I really could not have cared less or been less interested in bloody Zembla and yet it goes on, and on, and on, with few moments of respite.

My overall feeling about Pale Fire in the end is that it is one of "those books" that people make a fuss over and praise because they think it's an intelligent novel and to praise Nabokov is to announce to your general acquaintance that you belong to a certain kind of elitist "intelligentsia" which elevates you from the average general masses you have the misfortune to be surrounded by. Basically a wanky book about a wanker for  other wankers to name drop into the conversation, and then say " haven't read Pale Fire" and thereby claim some kind of arbitrary superiority of their own invention.

I'm sure, faithful readers, you can tell how much I liked this book!!!! 0/10 Turd!

(Yes, that's right! I gave 50 Shades more points than Nabokov)

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Book #63 The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Virgin Suicides

I read The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides last month and it reminded me how highly I had thought of Middlesex some years ago, remaining then was The Virgin Suicides, a novel which has been lurking about my house unread for at least 5 years, and I decided to pick it up and get it done.

I saw the film featuring Kirsten Dunst with music by the band Air around 12 years ago not long after it came out, so had an idea of what to expect.

In The Virgin Suicides, the five Lisbon sisters are infamous among the boys in their town. Ethereal, enigmatic beauties they intrigue, intice and arouse those boys, who are desperate to know them and their lives.

The tale is told by those local boys, now grown up who reflect on that period of time, those girls and what it all meant in such a manner as if they are writing a biography or notes on an exhibition. Photographs are referred to as if they are visible to the reader which they aren't as well as news articles, again not featured and articles of the girls clothing.

The story of the fascination with the Lisbon sisters began before the first suicide attempt with boys daring each other to steal the girls bras and makeup. Their notoriously strict mother has created an intense prison for her daughters since they hit puberty and they are rarely seen alone or out of the house besides at school which only serves to add to their mystique.

When the youngest Cecelia only 13, attempts suicide, fails, but quickly thereafter succeeds, the chain of events that engulfs her sisters is chronicled by the watching neighbourhood boys.

As Mrs Lisbon's decisions to increasingly isolate her daughters begin to make the family implode, this is reflected in the increasing decay on the outside of their property, and a sweltering kind of emotional humidity within reflected in the gathering filth and later lack of food.

Of the girls only Lux and Cecelia come off the page as rounded characters, with Bonnie, Therese and Mary fading into nothing in the background, just 3 other beautiful, damaged girls which is something of a shame. In addition, though Mrs Lisbon is clearly in some way to blame for the unhappiness of her daughters, the reader never finds out why she behaves as she does, because the neighbourhood boys did not have any interest in her. But the Lisbon sisters were a mystery, and to explain away their deaths with cliched references to emotional abuse is something Eugenides seeks to avoid, both I think in order to avoid that sort of happy-clappy psychology speak and to retain that mystery. It's a shame that we never know why Mrs Lisbon destroyed her daughters in such a way or why Mr Lisbon didn't stand up for them but it does not affect either the quality of the writing or its overall enjoyment.

In reference to the chosen mode of narrative, I found it rather unbelievable and excessively morbid that a group of grown men would have clung on to mouldy makeup and rotting rodent bitten candles as keepsakes of a group of dead girls as if they were the relics of saints, but then, I suppose having kept them initially when do you throw them out without throwing away the dead girl with them?

The book is very emotionally moving and I found myself quite physically affected by it too, at moments feeling suddenly cold, or being able to feel the warmth of the summer, or smell the stifling scent of the unclean home. Particularly toward the end the atmosphere and melancholy really impacts the reader, but all along you are as drawn in by the girls as their neighbourhood observers, and in such a way the novel becomes a page turner.

Not a cheery novel by any means, I felt very dispirited by it, but a very well written novel nonetheless 9/10     


Sunday, 15 July 2012

Book #62 Notes From An Exhibition by Patrick Gale

Notes From An Exhibition

In this, the first Patrick Gale novel I've read, sensible Quaker Anthony Middleton meets fragile artist Rachel Kelly and somewhat rescues her by taking her back to his childhood home in Cornwall. The novel begins with Rachel's death and then paints a portrait of their family life, through them and their somewhat pretentiously named children Garfield, Morwenna, Hedley and Petroc.

The novel does this in a non sequiturial sense moving not just from character to character, but shifting  from past to present events. Each chapter begins with the notes presented in a posthumous exhibition alongside a piece of Rachel's work and then a snapshot of a point in her life or in the life of one of the family, building up like jigsaw pieces until a cohesive whole can be seen.

And so in one chapter we have adult Garfield in the aftermath of the revelation which follows his mothers death, then Hedley working in a cinema in his late teens, Morwenna on her ninth birthday and so on, with each child getting both an older and younger narrative focus. Though this is non linear storytelling, which doesn't always work, this is a really successful example of this kind of format.

Rachel Kelly is bipolar which both fuels and often hinders her creative genius and in many ways the novel is the story of the legacy this leaves her children, both in terms of her artistry but also the impact both genetic and otherwise of living with a mentally ill parent, the childhoods of the older children peppered with bouts of her illness. I found Rachel to be a vivid often painfully accurate portrait of this disorder which gave the real suggestion that either Gale had done his research impeccably or had experience of an individual or individuals with that disorder.

The family is also Quaker, a branch of the Christian tree about which I am not particularly well informed but in the particular case of Anthony leaves a certain kind of spiritual peace surrounding restless unpredictable Rachel, providing a steady cocoon from the depths which others in her situation fall and are shown to fall. But what is interesting is that in this book that sense of peace is at times physically palpable, an accomplished thing for any writer to achieve. There is also a tremendous sense of place in the Cornish setting.  

The secrets aspect, as in the secrets kept by Rachel which become clear after her death is less well done and in certain senses feels rather incomplete, though the book as a whole is graceful, engrossing and stays in your mind, both in those times you are not reading it and after its conclusion.

The best compliment I can pay this book is that I kept itching to pick it up and continue to read it, but, sadly for me, I had finished it four hours previously!!!! For this reason, a clear signifier of a great novel : 10/10 

Monday, 9 July 2012

Book #61 Killing Cupid by Louise Voss and Mark Edwards

Killing Cupid

Killing Cupid from the Voss/Edwards writing duo is the story of wannabee writer Alex, who develops an unhealthy obsession with his tutor Siobhan, and believing he is in love begins to stalk her. Separate chapters cover Alex's viewpoint of the story and then Siobhan's as the story develops.

The thing with this novel as a single woman and a woman who lives alone, is that it does give you the actual creeps as you read it. He lurks in her house unseen, hiding in her wardrobe, he deletes an email which would positively effect her career, and buys her gifts with her own credit card. Alex is a seriously delusional human being who thinks of the day when she "invites him to move in" not as a fantasy or hope but states it in his journal as a certain fact. This is a good portrait of a stalker who in almost every case genuinely believe the object of their affection does or could welcome their attentions.

But, as Alex's behaviour pushes Siobhan to crack under the strain, her own breakdown brings about a whole new chain of events.

The central intelligence of Killing Cupid is that it takes what would commonly be known as the standard chick lit plot "boy meets girl, misunderstandings and obstacles ensue, happy ending" and perverts it making it a subversive version of that sort of novel, like a twisted reflection in a black mirror, the dark side of human emotion. It's like an anti-chick lit, chick lit, behaviours that can seem endearing in those sorts of novels, finding out where someone lives to try and "bump into them" become not the sweet fare of a Hugh Grant love story, but a woman's worst nightmare.

I also found Siobhan's initial response to Alex's withdrawal believable, what woman hasn't felt threatened when someone who said they were in love with you, seems to move on with someone you view as lesser? I think all women have felt that.

Naturally, at the extreme ends of the novel, particularly the end there is a lack of credulity, but in a way this is a necessary evil to complete the journey of the happy go lucky romcom novel through a distorted lens into a murky, seedy world of misfits and danger.

I really enjoyed this novel, the questions it posed about human responses and Alex freaked me out which he was duly supposed to do. I can think of people I know who would like this novel too, and can see why it would be popular. 9/10 


Book #60 The Human Factor by Graham Greene

The Human Factor

The Human Factor is an espionage novel by the respected British author Graham Greene. It is the second novel of his I have read, the first being the The End Of The Affair earlier this year.

By strange coincidence the central couple of this novel, like in The End Of The Affair are called Maurice and Sarah, but are completely different characters, I'm not au fait with the work of Greene and don't know what the significance of this is.

In this instance Maurice works for the security services, specifically in intelligence regarding the African continent and courted controversy when placed abroad by marrying a Bantu woman, Sarah.

When a security breach occurs, Maurice's department falls under investigation.

As with The End Of The Affair, I found it hard to establish a steady flow of reading with The Human Factor and read it in fits and starts, it could be quite dry on the page and the characters and setting reflect that the reality of security services work is more pen pushing than James Bond. This pen pushing extends to a cavalier attitude to death, just another job to get done.

The characters, including Maurice, are quite psychologically isolated and detached from real intimacies, altered by the nature of their suspicious profession.    This made them hard to engage with as people, although by the end, you feel pity and sadness for Maurice.

Though it had an austerity to it, it was also interesting, enough to make me want to follow it through to its conclusion, but I must say I made correct guesses about certain aspects of plot rather early on. 7/10