Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 shortlist

All posts tagged Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 shortlist

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Published September 5, 2013 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization.

Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best, playing with time and history, telling a story that is breathtaking for both its audacity and its endless satisfactions.

What did I think?:

I’ve been meaning to read some Kate Atkinson for a while, and when she was short-listed for the Woman’s Prize for Fiction 2013, for this, her latest novel, I thought this would be a good place to start. It is the story of Ursula who is born in 1910, and has a nasty habit of dying quite a lot. I say a lot, as each time she dies, she is reincarnated again (into the same family) but each time she is given a new shot at life, she gets that little bit further along by avoiding the incident that led to her death in the first place. Sounds confusing, but somehow, Kate Atkinson makes it work, but how she kept track of all the different strands I’ll never understand!

The deaths take a variety of forms, at different ages as mentioned – from the first where she is strangled by her umbilical cord during her mother’s pregnancy, to the Spanish flu and being killed by a bomb explosion during the Second World War. Each death brings originality and a new little curiosity to us as the reader, as we wonder how she will avoid the same fate next time round. Ursula is not completely aware that she is preventing her own death each time, but feels an ominous sort of dread. Some of the decisions she makes are quite small and not particularly life-changing, for example, simply deciding not to step out onto the roof as a child, saves her from her fate. Other decisions determine that she will never have the chance to be a mother. And, of course, what would her life have been like if she had the chance to meet Hitler in 1930 and shoot him?

I wasn’t sure about this book at first, but once I had read the first few chapters and got into the swing of things, I absolutely loved it and thought it was an incredibly unique way to tell a story. The characters were all fascinating, and some parts were truly gripping, having me turn the pages (okay, tap my Kindle) long into the night. Heart-breaking and poignant in parts and shocking and gritty in others as the war rages and Ursula joins a bomb raid rescue team. I don’t think I will ever forget the “corpse coming apart like a Christmas cracker” section…. but I’m not going to say any more, you’ll just have to read it!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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Flight Behaviour – Barbara Kingsolver

Published August 16, 2013 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Dellarobia Turnbow is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man. As she hikes up a mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire. She can only understand it as a cautionary miracle, but it sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders, and the media. The bewildering emergency draws rural farmers into unexpected acquaintance with urbane journalists, opportunists, sightseers, and a striking biologist with his own stake in the outcome. As the community lines up to judge the woman and her miracle, Dellarobia confronts her family, her church, her town, and a larger world, in a flight toward truth that could undo all she has ever believed.

What did I think?:

Having read and loved Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, I was eager to read her latest offering, in particular because it was shortlisted for the Woman’s Prize for Fiction 2013. (Please see my previous post HERE). When we first meet our main character Dellarobia, she is fleeing from a stale marriage to begin an affair with a man she barely knows. On her way to the rendez-vous point with her potential lover, she climbs the hills on the grounds behind her home to an amazing sight – multiple strange growths on trees and a valley filled with what looks like flames. Astounded by this, she takes it as a sign that she should return to her family and spurn the man she was escaping with. Later on, we learn that the growths and flames are colonies of Monarch butterflies, which have unusually chose the Appalachians as their spot to roost, instead of their usual spot in Mexico. The butterflies end up attracting scientists and media attention the world over due to this strange occurrence, and when it turns out that this may be all down to global warming, Dellarobia’s life changes beyond which she ever could have imagined.

I thought this was an absolutely beautiful book which manages to communicate the drastic issues of climate change without sounding in the slightest bit preachy. There is a quote on the front of the paperback copy that I own to the effect that the author makes us “think, feel and care” all at once, and I completely concur! This is a wonderfully told story of human relationships, family life, religion and science that all seem to mould together to form a cohesive whole interesting the reader enough that we feel connected to these fictional characters in some way (and the butterflies, of course, whom I formed quite an attachment to). Personally, I was concerned about what was going to happen to these individuals, and when a piece of fiction is not “action-packed,” it is hugely important for me that I felt sympathetic and understanding of the issues otherwise I would have just put the book down, bored to tears. The strength of the writing and of the characters prevents this from happening, and is made all the more poignant for the Afterword where Kingsolver tells us that climate change has actually affected the roosting places of Monarch butterflies (although she fictionalised the setting of the Appalachians). I would definitely class Barbara Kingsolver as amongst one of my favourite authors and consider this a worthy short-lister for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 Shortlist Announced

Published April 16, 2013 by bibliobeth

The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 shortlist was announced today (formerly the Orange Prize), looks like a tough group – do you think Hilary Mantel can take them? And win yet another literary prize (and £30,000) for Bring Up The Bodies? Place your bets! The Chair of Judges, Miranda Richardson said “The shortlist for 2013 represents six tremendous writers at the top of their game.” 

I can’t wait to read them. I’ve only read On Beauty by Zadie Smith and wasn’t that impressed but it was a long time ago and here’s hoping my tastes have matured. The A.M. Homes book is on the Waterstones Book Club list at the moment and definitely on my TBR radar, and I have been meaning to read Kate Atkinson for a while, but not sure whether I should start with her older works? I have read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and have The Lacuna to read pretty soon so looking forward to dipping into Flight Behaviour. As for the giantess that is Hilary Mantel, I will soon be attempting to read Wolf Hall again, was I the only person in the world that didn’t get it? I am a big fan of the Tudor period so am very disappointed in myself…. (slaps wrist). Finally, Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple  was also mentioned and recommended in a podcast that I listen to on a regular basis – Books on the Nightstand, so will be checking that out.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments on the shortlist!

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