Man Booker prize longlisted

All posts in the Man Booker prize longlisted category

The Gift of Rain – Tan Twan Eng

Published March 5, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

“The Gift of Rain spans decades as it takes readers from the final days of the Chinese emperors to the dying era of the British Empire, and through the mystical temples, bustling cities,and forbidding rain forests of Malaya.” In 1939, sixteen-year-old Philip Hutton – the half-Chinese, half-English youngest child of the head of one of Penang’s great trading families – feels alienated from both the Chinese and British communities. He discovers a sense of belonging in his unexpected friendship with Hayato Endo, a Japanese diplomat who rents a nearby island from his father. Philip proudly shows his new friend around his adored island of Penang, and in return Endo teaches him about Japanese language and culture and trains him in the art and discipline of aikido. But such knowledge comes at a terrible price. As World War II rages in Europe, the Japanese savagely invade Malaya, and Philip realizes that his mentor and sensei – to whom he owes absolute loyalty – is a Japanese spy. Young Philip has been an unwitting traitor, and he is forced into collaborating with the Japanese to safeguard his family. He becomes the ultimate outsider, trusted by none and hated by many. Tormented by his part in the events, Philip risks everything by working in secret to save as many people as he can from the brutality he has helped bring upon them.

What did I think?:

The Gift of Rain is the debut novel from Malaysian born author Tan Twan Eng, published in 2007 and also long-listed for the Man Booker Prize that year. I enjoy reading the Booker novels that have been both long and short-listed so I knew I was in for a treat when I read the synopsis of this novel. It is set in Penang, during the years of the Japanese occupation during World War II and our main character is Philip Hutton who is of mixed Chinese-English heritage and often battles with his loyalities on both sides, while feeling a sense of not belonging to either faction. The story is told across two time frames, the first is the present day when Philip is an older man and on receiving a mysterious female visitor finds himself travelling back to his past. The second time frame are the years leading up to World War II when Philip is a teenage boy, where he finds some meaning to his life by meeting an older Japanese gentleman – Hayato Endo who teaches him the discipline of aikido. When the Japanese invade Malaya however Philip must make a decision about where exactly his loyalties lie, which has the potential to threaten his friendships and endanger his family.

As mentioned previously, I was looking forward to digging into this novel, and for the most part it lived up to my high expectations, but somehow I completed it feeling rather flat and I am trying to figure out why. I loved reading about the early life of our main character, and think that the author has a genuine talent with his descriptive writing and setting the scene but as the story progressed I began to feel slightly deflated, although for the quality of the writing I would give it a higher than average rating. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting and I’m well aware this review is starting to make no sense, but I can’t really describe it except that there was no real “wow” moment for me. I do think that this is a promising author however, and I already plan to read his second novel The Garden of Evening Mists which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize more recently in 2012.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe.

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Spinning Heart – Donal Ryan

Published October 22, 2013 by bibliobeth

The Spinning Heart

What’s it all about?:

In the aftermath of Ireland’s financial collapse, dangerous tensions surface in an Irish town. As violence flares, the characters face a battle between public persona and inner desires. Through a chorus of unique voices, each struggling to tell their own kind of truth, a single authentic tale unfolds.

The Spinning Heart speaks for contemporary Ireland like no other novel. Wry, vulnerable, all-too human, it captures the language and spirit of rural Ireland and with uncanny perception articulates the words and thoughts of a generation. Technically daring and evocative of Patrick McCabe and J.M. Synge, this novel of small-town life is witty, dark and sweetly poignant.

What did I think?:

This book first came to my attention when it was chosen to be part of the Waterstones Eleven 2013, eleven debut authors who Waterstones predict big things for, please see my previous post HERE. Since then it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year (unfortunately, it did not make the shortlist), and has won other literary awards including The Sunday Independent Newcomer of The Year in 2012. The story is told in 21 short chapters, each chapter being told by a different voice in a small Irish community, each voice is only heard once but they are all individually unique in their personalities – a tough asking but one I think the author pulls off beautifully. Our story revolves around a man called Bobby Mahon, who is foreman at a building firm managed by Pokey Burke. The recession hits Ireland with a bang, and Pokey disappears into thin air after his firm goes bust, without having paid any of his workers National Insurance stamps or pensions. Understandably, there are a lot of angry people around, and after we hear Bobby’s story in the first chapter, we learn that every character is involved with him in some manner, and that they have been wounded or affected by the recession. The spinning heart of the novel is a physical object which hangs from Bobby’s fathers garden gate, and I think is also a metaphor for Bobby himself, as the moral centre of the story from which everything revolves.

The author’s use of different voices is both beautiful and poignant as we hear from a variety of individuals, from Lily (the “village bike”), to a young child, a single mother, and men who have worked for Pokey Burke and are desperately unhappy with the lot that they have been left i.e. nothing. Ryan writes the novel in the Irish voice, using the regional slang, which only adds to the authenticity of the novel in my opinion. This story is not just about the economic crash however, love, violence, a kidnapping and murder is also present which brings a sense of surprise and intrigue into what the reader is going to learn next. The dark humour connected with the Irish is also present, much to my delight, and I loved how the gossipmongers of the village are referred to as the “Teapot Taliban.” Favourite parts? Too many to discuss! Bobby’s strained relationship with his father is insightful and destructive, and he often mentions wishing for his death – this is important later on in the novel for a gripping twist that leaves the reader unable to put the book down, desperate to know how it is going to turn out. The following quote is a particular favourite of mine that completely spoke to me on a personal level:

“I’ll never forgive him for the sulking, though, and the killing sting of his tongue. He ruined every day of our lives with it… Sober, he was a watcher, a horror of a man who missed nothing and commented on everything. Nothing was ever done right or cooked right or said right or bought right or handed to him properly…. We couldn’t breathe right in a room with him. We couldn’t talk freely or easily.”

By the end of the novel, the characters and setting feel so familiar, it is almost like you are reading about people you know, and it is a certainty that we have all come across the colourful and more eccentric characters in our own lives. The only one problem I have with this book is that we only hear the voices once – and interestingly we never hear from Pokey Burke, who seems to have vanished into thin air. I would have loved to hear more about the characters, especially Bobby, who I think would have benefited from a short excerpt at the end, so the reader could analyse his thoughts and feelings after certain events in the story have played out. However, this is a fantastic debut novel, a worthy Booker long-lister, and I can’t wait to see what the author does next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Man Booker Prize Longlist 2013 Announced

Published July 27, 2013 by bibliobeth

I try to keep up to date with literary happenings, and the Man Booker Prize is one of my favourites. I am currently in the middle of trying to get through all of the previous Man Booker winners and enjoying the challenge. So here are the 13 books longlisted from the 151 eligible.

Five Star Billionaire Tash Aw (Fourth Estate)
We Need New Names NoViolet Bulawayo (Chatto & Windus)
The Luminaries Eleanor Catton (Granta)
Harvest Jim Crace (Picador)
The Marrying of Chani Kaufman Eve Harris (Sandstone Press)
The Kills Richard House (Picador)
The Lowland Jhumpa Lahiri (Bloomsbury)
Unexploded Alison MacLeod ( Hamish Hamilton)
TransAtlantic Colum McCann (Bloomsbury)
Almost English Charlotte Mendelson (Mantle)
A Tale for the Time Being Ruth Ozeki (Canongate)
The Spinning Heart Donal Ryan (Doubleday Ireland)
The Testament of Mary Colm Tóibín (Viking)
My first thoughts are that there is quite a mixture of established authors and cultures (Colm Toibin, Tash Aw, Colum McCann), and some new faces, including Donal Ryan, whose book The Spinning Heart I recognise as being part of the Waterstones Eleven Debut Authors to watch out for this year. Robert Macfarlane, this year’s chair of judges, said: “This is surely the most diverse longlist in Man Booker history: wonderfully various in terms of geography, form, length and subject. These 13 outstanding novels range from the traditional to the experimental, from the first century AD to the present day, from 100 pages to 1,000, and from Shanghai to Hendon.” The judges will meet again in September to choose a shortlist,  and the winner of the £50,000 prize will be named on the 15th of October.
Hmm… I think I’m going to enjoy researching this further…
For more information, please see the Man Booker website HERE.

Skios – Michael Frayn

Published May 16, 2013 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

On the private Greek island of Skios, the high-paying guests of a world-renowned foundation prepare for the annual keynote address, to be given this year by Dr. Norman Wilfred, an eminent authority on the scientific organization of science. He turns out to be surprisingly youthful, handsome, and charming—quite unlike his reputation as dry and intimidating. Everyone is soon eating out of his hands. So, even sooner, is Nikki, the foundation’s attractive and efficient organizer.

Meanwhile, in a remote villa at the other end of the island, Nikki’s old friend Georgie has rashly agreed to spend a furtive horizontal weekend with a notorious schemer, who has characteristically failed to turn up. Trapped there with her instead is a pompous, balding individual called Dr. Norman Wilfred, who has lost his whereabouts, his luggage, his temper, and increasingly all sense of reality—indeed, everything he possesses other than the text of a well-travelled lecture on the scientific organization of science.

What did I think?:

I haven’t read anything by Michael Frayn before although I have heard a lot of good things, so when this novel was long-listed for the Man Booker prize last year I thought I’d give it a go. The story is about a bizarre and amusing mix up when Oliver Fox, a young man bored with his life and looking for some excitement decides to pretend to be someone else. Except that someone else is an emminent lecturer who is due to give a talk to some V.I.P’s at the Fred Toppler foundation. Meanwhile, the real Dr Norman Wilfred ends up with Oliver’s baggage, at the villa Oliver was meant to be going to, with a hysterical woman who after climbing into bed with him (expecting him to be Oliver obviously) locks herself in the bathroom accusing him of being a rapist!

Other characters include Nikki, the organiser of the keynote speech who is pleasantly surprised and pleased with herself on meeting the younger, fake, and very charming Dr Wilfred (Oliver). Does Oliver pull it off? Considerably well, considering he knows absolutely nothing about Dr Wilfred’s work or life, with  a few cringeworthy moments when the game is almost given away. For me though, this book was lacking something… the humour was refreshing and quintessentially British, but it seemed to lose its way at the end slightly. I can see why it was long-listed for the Man Booker prize, but I can also see why it may not have won. It wouldn’t stop me reading something else by Michael Frayn however, as I enjoyed his writing style and characterisation.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

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