Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Man Booker Prize longlist - 2009

This year's longlist for the Man Booker Prize was announed today. Those books which I have recommended over the last year (five of the eleven published at present) are highlighted. Summertime by Coetzee is not yet published in the UK, but appears to be an early favourite, probably based on the fact that he has won the prize twice before.. The novel which has attracted most press attention is Me Cheeta, the fictional biography of Tarzan's chimp - one that passed me by during the year!

Byatt, AS - The Children's Book, Chatto and Windus
Coetzee, JM - Summertime, Harvill Secker
Foulds, Adam - The Quickening Maze, Jonathan Cape
Hall, Sarah - How to paint a dead man, Faber and Faber
Harvey, Samantha - The Wilderness, Jonathan Cape
Lever, James - Me Cheeta, Fourth Estate
Mantel, Hilary - Wolf Hall, Fourth Estate
Mawer, Simon - The Glass Room, Little Brown
O'Loughlin, Ed - Not Untrue & Not Unkind, Penguin
Scudamore, James - Heliopolis, Harvill Secker
Toibin, Colm - Brooklyn, Viking
Trevor, William - Love and Summer,Viking
Waters, Sarah - The Little Stranger, Little Brown

Monday, 27 July 2009

Book of the Week - Eleanor Catton, The Rehearsal

The Rehearsal is a first novel by Eleanor Catton, and was originally published as a paperback by Victoria University Press in New Zealand in 2008. Catton was born in 1985 in Canada and raised in Canterbury, New Zealand. She won New Zealand’s Adam Prize in Creative Writing for The Rehearsal, her first novel. She was also awarded the 2007 New Zealand Sunday Star-Times short-story competition prize, the 2008 Glenn Schaeffer Fellowship to the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the 2008 Louis Johnson New Writers’ Bursary. Currently, she lives in Iowa. Reviews of this book have been outstanding, although some have commented that while it is intellectually extremely clever, it does not succeed in fully capturing the reader's heart as well as their mind. The UK edition has just been released and is likely to do extremely well.

A high-school sex scandal jolts a group of teenage girls into a new awareness of their own potency and power. The sudden and total publicity seems to turn every act into a performance and every platform into a stage. But when the local drama school decides to turn the scandal into a show, the real world and the world of the theater are forced to meet, and soon the boundaries between private and public begin to dissolve. "The Rehearsal" is an exhilarating and provocative novel about the unsimple mess of human desire, at once a tender evocation of its young protagonists and a shrewd expose of emotional compromise.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Book of the Week and bibliography - M.J.Hyland, This is How

This is How is the third novel from Maria (M.J.) Hyland. Hyland was born in London to Irish parents in 1968 and spent her early childhood in Dublin before moving to Australia. She studied English and Law at the University of Melbourne, Australia and worked as a lawyer for several years. She currently lives in Manchester, England, where she teaches in the Centre for New Writing at Manchester University.

Hyland's first novel, How the Light Gets In (2003), was short-listed for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Age Book of the Year and also took third place in the Barnes & Noble, Discover Great New Writers Award. In was also joint winner of the Best Young Australian Novelist Award. Carry Me Down (2006), her second novel, was winner of the Encore Prize (2007) and the Hawthornden Prize (2007) and was also short-listed for the Man Booker Prize (2006). Hyland writes intense and claustrophic novels. This is How has been strongly reviewed, and may well feature in prize lists later in the year. Regardless, she is a writer who is likely to have a very strong future and it is worth picking up all three of her novels. SIgned copies are relatively uncommon.

"When his fiance breaks off their engagement, Patrick Oxtoby leaves home and moves into a boarding house in a remote seaside town. But in spite of his hopes and determination to build a better life, nothing goes to plan and Patrick is soon driven to take a desperate and chilling course of action. "This is How" is a mesmerising and meticulously drawn portrait of a man whose unease in the world leads to his tragic undoing. With breathtaking wisdom and an astute insight into the human mind, award-winning M.J. Hyland's new book is a masterpiece that inspires horror and sympathy in equal measure."


How the light gets in. (Canongate, Edinburgh, 2004). Paperback with dust jacket.
Carry me down. (Canongate, Edinburgh, 2006). Paperback with dust jacket.
This is how. (Canongate, Edinburgh, 2009). Paperback with dust jacket.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Book of the Week - Sarah Moss, Cold Earth

I am travelling at present, so this week’s book recommendation is courtesy of a correspondent. Cold Earth is a first novel from University of Kent academic Sarah Moss, and has just been published by Granta. She completed her doctoral thesis on British Romanticism and the Arctic, and the stories which she discovered while researching this provided the inspiration for her novel. There have been very favourable reviews in The Guardian, The Times and The Independent. Signed copies seem uncommon but there may be a few available via Coombe Hill Books. As for books set in the arctic, I enjoyed The Solitude of Thomas Cave a couple of years ago, and I will return at a future date to the works of American artist and writer Rockwell Kent.

“A team of six archaeologists assembles at the beginning of the Arctic summer, to unearth traces of the lost Viking settlements in Greenland. But while they settle into uneasy domesticity, camping between the ruined farmstead and the burnt-out chapel, there is news of an epidemic back home and their communications with the outside world fall away. Facing a Greenland winter for which they are hopelessly ill-equipped, knowing that their missives may never reach their loved ones, Nina, Ruth, Catriona, Jim, Ben and Yianni write their final letters home. In this exceptional and haunting first novel, Moss weaves a rich tapestry of personal narratives, history, ghost stories, love stories, stories of grief and naked survival. Cold Earth is as compelling as a thriller, and also a highly sophisticated novel of ideas.”

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Book of the Week - Edward Hogan, Blackmoor

Blackmoor by Edward Hogan was awarded the Desmond Elliott prize for new fiction a couple of weeks ago, although it was published in 2008. Blackmoor was previously on the shortlist for the 2008 Dylan Thomas Prize, and Hogan was shortlisted for the 2009 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. He was born in Derby in 1980, a graduate of the MA in creative writing course at the University of East Anglia and a recipient of the David Higham Award in 2003. He currently lives in Brighton, and describes his previous jobs as "grass-strimmer, pot-washer, conservatory salesman, bloke holding the board in Leicester Square, and teacher". Blackmoor is set in a Derbyshire village at the time of the miners' strikes. First editions of the paperback seem surprisingly thin on the ground, but are worth picking up if you can find one.

Beth is an albino, half blind, and given to looking at the world out of the corner of her eye. Her neighbours in the Derbyshire town of Blackmoor have always thought she was 'touched', and when a series of bizarre happenings shake the very foundations of the village, they are confirmed in their opinion that Beth is an ill omen. The neighbours say that Beth eats dirt from the flowerbeds, and that smoke rises from her lawn. By the end of the year, she is dead. A decade later her son, Vincent, treated like a bad omen by his father George is living in a pleasant suburb miles from Blackmoor. There the bird-watching teenager stumbles towards the buried secrets of his mother's life and death in the abandoned village. It's the story of a community that fell apart, a young woman whose face didn't fit, and a past that refuses to go away.