Thursday, 18 September 2014

We are all completely beside ourselves

Booker shortlist time! My favourite time of year!
Honestly, I have no time to read, can't even manage to get through Saturday's paper, and yet somehow at Booker time I find these little pockets of time, squeeze in a few pages here and there, ponder the contents in between, with only a little bit of neglect of my children.

I got my Book People bundle on Tuesday, and despairingly put them all aside to do my parent volunteering morning at the playgroup, but I'd managed to arrange them in length order. order, I'll be reading

We are all completely beside ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler
J - Howard Jacobson
To rise again at a decent hour - Joshua Ferris
How to be both - Ali Smith
The narrow road to the deep north - Richard Flanagan
The lives of others - Neil Mukherjee

My prediction from the covers is that it has to be the Flanagan or the Mukherjee. Jacobson just can't win again (it was a travesty last time); Ferris is a lightweight; the Smith cover looks like a cheap movie spin-off.

And the Fowler?

It didn't start promisingly - enjoyable enough, but a bit too much like any old stoner college romp.
The "twist", though, which I might be the only person who read it without knowing about, makes it a bit more special.
I don't really want to ruin the book for anyone who's reading this not having seen it, but her sister is a chimp - there you go. They were brought up together and then Fern (the chimp) was removed from the family home - the book is the narrator's exploration of what happened surrounding Fern's leaving.
Interesting idea, engaging tone, but for me something was missing. I think it's perhaps just that the whole thing tried slightly too hard. Unreliable narrators are my favourite, and an adult retelling a child's story is prime territory for this, but it was all done so self-consciously, with too many interjections about maybe this didn't happen, perhaps I've remembered this wrong. It was almost as though the author lacked the confidence either in herself as a writer or us as readers so she had to write UNRELIABLE in ten-foot letters across each page - when she could have trusted us to see this.

I also found the ending a little glib - almost as if there was a page count to be reached, and once she'd got there the author just rushed to come up with a conclusion to all the loose ends, without thinking too hard about how she'd got there.
I don't know, it was an enjoyable read, and made me want to look at some of the extra information that she linked to at the back, but I don't think it was great literature, and I can't imagine wanting to read it again. For me, both of these rule it out as a winner - it's just not momentous enough, or ambitious enough, or skilled enough. Almost, I thought "I could write that", where what I want is to read things where I think "I wish I could write that", or where I'm desperate to work out how they did it so I can have a go, or where I slam the book closed in despair that I'll never write that.

So onto the Jacobson - I couldn't be doing with the Finkler Question so am hoping this one's got a bit more going for it. Less than a month till the prize is announced!

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