Sunday, 19 October 2008

Man Booker Prize - the most difficult novels

As announced earlier in the week, The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga won the man Booker Prize. The announcement seems to have been greeted mainly with surprise. Nonetheless, as I noted back in May, first novels set in India have done very well in the prize in recent years. The White Tiger is widely available as a first edition. Prices are currently rather high, but if you are prepared to wait for a while they will undoubtedly fall again once the initial excitement is over, as this is not an uncommon book.

The Clothes on their Backs looks destined to join the list of the most difficult to obtain Booker novels from a collector’s perspective. I have assembled over quite a few years a full collection of the winners and shortlisted books. The ones I found most difficult to obtain in the UK first edition were the following:

1) Gordon M.Williams, Scenes like these. Secker and Warburg, 1968. An exceptionally uncommon book - none available online at the moment. Paradoxically, may be cheap if encountered. I have two copies, each of which cost under ten pounds. However, many collectors would pay much more.
2) TH Wheeler, The Conjunction, Angus and Robertson, 1969. Again, exceptionally uncommon in the original first edition, with no copies available online at present.
3) JL Carr, A month in the country, The Harvester Press, 1980. The first edition is currently unavailable online, although reprrints are relatively common.
4) Stanley Middleton, Holiday, Hutchinson, 1974. The 1974 winner eluded me for several years. However, there are now several copies available via ABEBooks, albeit at a minimum cost of £1000!
5) Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop, Duckworth, 1978. Shortlisted in 1978, a small print run went mainly to libraries. Again available via ABEBooks, at £300 or ablve.
6) Keri Hulme, The Bone People, 1985. Probably the most surprising winner over the years, and complicated from a bibliographical perspective. The true First British Edition of this Booker Prize winning novel is distinguished on the title page by the statement: 'Spiral in association with Hodder and Stoughton Auckland, London, Sydney, Toronto'. Typeset in Christchurch, New Zealand; printed and bound in Singapore. In format it is slightly larger and thicker than the later Spiral/ Hodder impression which appears to be a first edition but unlike the true first edition also has the “Shortlisted for the Booker Prize” on the dustjacket.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Book of the week and bibliography - Zoe Heller, The Believers

The Believers is the third novel from Zoe Heller - it seems likely to feature in prize lists later in the year. Heller was born in London in 1965 and educated at Oxford University and Columbia University, New York. She is a journalist who, after writing book reviews for various newspapers, became a feature writer for The Independent. She wrote a weekly confessional column for the Sunday Times for four years, and subsequently wrote for the Daily Telegraph, winning the title 'Columnist of the Year' in 2002. She is the author of two novels: Everything You Know (2000), a dark comedy about misanthropic writer Willy Miller, and Notes on a Scandal (2003) which tells the story of an affair between a high school teacher and her student through the eyes of the teacher's supposed friend, Barbara Covett. It was shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker Prize for fiction, and subsequently released as a feature film, starring Cate Blanchett and Dame Judi Dench. Zoe Heller lives in New York.

When New York radical lawyer Joel Litvinoff falls gravely ill, his wife Audrey uncovers a secret that forces her to re-examine both her belief in him and her commitment to their forty-year marriage. Meanwhile, her adopted son Lenny is back on drugs again and her daughters, Karla and Rosa, are grappling with their own catastrophes and dilemmas. Rosa, a disillusioned revolutionary socialist, has found herself increasingly beguiled by the world of Orthodox Judaism; now she is being pressed to make a commitment and must decide if she is really ready to forsake all her cherished secular values for a Torah-observant life. Karla, an unhappily married hospital social worker and union activist, falls into a tumultuous affair with a conservative shop-keeper: can she really love a man whose politics she reviles? And how to choose between a life of duty and principle and her own happiness?


Everything you know (Viking, 2000)

Notes on a scandal (Viking, 2003)

The Believers (Fig Tree, 2008)

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Man Booker prize shortlist - an update

This week will see the announcement of the winner of the Man Booker Prize. The favourite (with UK bookmakers) is either Sea of Poppies or The Secret Scripture. As an Irishman, my sympathies lie with the latter, which is certainly a fine book. All of the novels are fairly readily available ahead of the shortlisting, with the exception of The Clothes on Their Backs (as previously noted). The only copy I can currently find for sale is a signed copy from Ben Sheddling books at £225. A number of other copies have disappeared at prices from £100 to £150 in the last couple of weeks. It is probable that dealers will get some more signed copies this week, but if Linda Grant wins these will be at a premium, and The Clothes of Their Backs is likely to joint the select group of Booker Prize novels which are most difficult to obtain - a topic to which I will return in the next few days!

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Book of the week and bibliography - Julian Stockwin, Treachery

Treachery is the ninth novel in the Kydd series by Julian Stockwin, and the tenth and eleventh books in the series are already well advanced. This series is increasingly collectible, but still looks good value. The books are full of period detail, and are also informed by the author’s nautical background. The author has an excellent website, and in recent years has sold special editions of the books directly, although they can also be picked up from the major dealers.

1. Kydd (2001, Hodder and Stoughton)
2. Artemis (2002, Hodder and Stoughton)
3. Seaflower (2003, Hodder and Stoughton)
4. Mutiny (2004, Hodder and Stoughton)
5. Quarterdeck (2005, Hodder and Stoughton)
6. Tenacious (2005, Hodder and Stoughton)
7. Command (2006, Hodder and Stoughton)
8. Kydd: The Admiral's Daughter (2007, Hodder and Stoughton)
9. Treachery (2008, Hodder and Stoughton)
10. Invasion (2009, Hodder and Stoughton)

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Some light holiday reading - Steve Toltz, A Fraction of the Whole

I have just returned from travelling to various far-flung corners of the world, and am delighted to be back in computer contact. I managed to read a number of books while I am away, and am just finishing the last of the Booker Prize shortlisted novels, "A Fraction of the Whole" by Steve Toltz. It is an exuberant and very funny first novel, which has at times had me laughing out loud. The humour is dark, and the plot has many unexpected twists and turns......

Jasper, having inadvertently been the cause of the death by suicide of one of his teachers, is asked to read a Psalm at the funeral. Instead, he reads the following from "The City of Dreadful Night" by James Thomson:

Who is most wretched in this dolorous place?
I think myself; yet I would rather be
My miserable self than He, than He
Who formed such creatures to His own disgrace.

The vilest thing must be less vile than Thou
From whom it had its being, God and Lord!
Creator of all woe and sin! abhorred
Malignant and implacable! I vow

That not for all Thy power furled and unfurled,
For all the temples to Thy glory built,
Would I assume the ignominious guilt
Of having made such men in such a world.

He finished and looked up. The priest was gnashing his teeth, just as it's described in his favourite book.