Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Man Booker Prize Longlist 2010

So, the longlist has been published and there is the usual mixture of the expected and the surprise. The full list is given below, along with a few comments about current availability and an indication of any special editions of which I am aware. Of the thirteen books, three have yet to be published, and five of the remaining ten have featured on my Book of the Week slot during the last year (maintaining my roughly 50% success rate recently!). I've read four of these so far, and The Slap is in my to be read file at present. I found The Long Song (3.5/5 - see book reviews on Facebook) a little disappointing but enjoyed the other three to a variable extent. Skippy Dies (4.5/5) is very funny in places, but might have been a stronger novel if the second half was tightened somewhat. Parrot and Olivier (4/5) is a typical Peter Carey novel, based on the life of Alexis de Toqueville, and has been installed by Ladbrokes as the favourite for the prize. However, since David Mitchell (4.5/5) was the only one of my two favourites to make the shortlist, my hopes will remain with him. As for Jon McGregor, I was very disappointed that he missed out, but expect to see him on other prize lists later in the year.

The Longlist

Peter Carey, Parrot and Olivier in America(Faber and Faber) – hardcover in dustwrapper. Firsts easily available, but at somewhat of a premium.

Emma Donoghue, Room(Pan MacMillan - Picador) – hardcover in dustwrapper to be published shortly. A numbered edition scheduled from Goldsboro Books.

Helen Dunmore, The Betrayal(Penguin - Fig Tree) – hardcover in dustwrapper. Uncommon at present.

Damon Galgut, In a Strange Room(Grove Atlantic - Atlantic Books) – hardcover in dustwrapper. A few copies available online only.

Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question(Bloomsbury) – hardcover to be published shortly.

Andrea Levy , The Long Song(Headline Publishing Group - Headline Review) – decorated boards, and still widely available.

Tom McCarthy, C(Random House - Jonathan Cape) – hardcover to be published shortly.

David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet(Hodder & Stoughton - Sceptre). Decorated boards, with a 500 copy edition (numbered and signed) in slipcase. Likely to be the most expensive of the longlisted titles at present (except for the limited edition of The Slap – see below).

Lisa Moore, February(Random House - Chatto & Windus). Paperback original so far as I know, and uncommon at present.

Paul Murray, Skippy Dies (Penguin - Hamish Hamilton). Three paperback volumes in a flimsy slipcase. Subsequently reissued in one volume. A unique Booker format, and likely to become very collectible if shortlisted.

Rose Tremain, Trespass(Random House - Chatto & Windus). Still readily available as a first edition in dustwrapper.

Christos Tsiolkas, The Slap(Grove Atlantic - Tuskar Rock) – Paperback original. The very limited leather bound edition (25 copies, Tuskar Rock) long gone.

Alan Warner, The Stars in the Bright Sky(Random House - Jonathan Cape) - Paperback original (a hardback was scheduled and, indeed, an ISBN for the hardback edition appears on the colophon, but this was cancelled at a late stage).

Monday, 26 July 2010

Book of the Week - Grant Gillespie, The Cuckoo Boy

The longlist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize will be announced this week.  There is usually a modest boost to prices for longlisted novels, with a more substantial boost when the shortlisted books are announced. The increasing trend towards simultaneous hardcover and paperback releases (with small print runs of the former), along with a range of special/limited editions of leading novels makes collecting the Booker Prize increasingly difficult.  Nonetheless, it remains a worthwhile challenge and the shortlisted books over the years provide a useful benchmark of trends in literary fiction.  Spotting the winner at an early stage opens the opportunity to a significant profit in some years if you wish to sell.  Wolf Hall, the winner from 2009, has sold for several hundred pounds in the first edition, although among the shortlisted novels The Glass House seems more uncommon.  Of the books I have read this year, I think that The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet and Even the Dogs are strong candidates. However, as always there are other contenders!

My book of the week for this week is a first novel issued in paperback only – The Cuckoo Boy by Grant Gillespie.  This is the first novel issued by To Hell with Publishing.  The print run was 1000 copies, and it has now been reprinted.  The book has been praised highly by a number of bloggers, and picked up reasonable reviews in the Guardian and Observer .Several reviewers have commented on the similarity of the theme to "We need to talk about Kevin" by Lionel Shriver, but the book has a different tone.  It’s unlikely to be a strong candidate for the prize, but perhaps has an outside chance of making the longlist and it certainly seems worthwhile picking up a copy if you can find one to read carefully and set aside for the long term.

“Armed with the wrong set of circumstances, is there anything a child isn’t capable of?

James has landed in the wrong nest. Adopted by well-meaning parents who are anxious to conform, he enters a family where any wrong can be righted by a half-hearted trip to church, cake, vacuuming or, if all else fails, denial. Stifled by shepherd’s pie and scones, James’ imagination comes to the rescue in the form of David, an invisible friend, conspirator and agitator. Then James meets a real life David whose gentle spirit soothes the turbulent and unsettling effects of his make-believe world. But as James becomes more sociable he also becomes more vulnerable. Once hurt, his revenge leads to an act which shocks his community and breaks the hearts of his parents.”

Monday, 19 July 2010

Book of the Week - Paul Harding, Tinkers

I am travelling in the US at present, so a little detached from UK book releases. However, I see that Paul Harding’s first novel, Tinkers, has just been published in hardcover by Heinemann. In the last couple of years, Tinkers was the surprise success of US literary fiction, winning the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for fiction and being hailed as a masterpiece by many critics. It also had an unusual publishing history and has become very collectible, although the boat has been well and truly missed so far as the US editions are concerned.

Harding (born 1967) is a Boston-based author and musician (a drummer), who has taught writing at Harvard University and the University of Iowa. He grew up on the north shore of Boston in the town of Wenham, Massachusetts. As a youth he spent a lot of time "knocking about in the woods" which he attributes to his love of nature. His grandfather fixed clocks and he apprenticed under him, an experience that found its way into his novel Tinkers. After graduating from UMass, he spent time touring with his band in the US and Europe. He had always been a heavy reader and while in the middle of reading Carlos Fuentes' Terra Nostra he remembered putting it down and thinking "this is what I want to do". In When he next had time off from touring with the band he signed up for a summer writing class at Skidmore College in New York. By pure chance his teacher was Marilynne Robinson and through her he learned about the Iowa Writers' Workshop writing program and applied and was accepted. There he studied with Barry Unsworth, Elizabeth McCracken and later Marilynne Robinson. At some point he realized some of the people he admired most were "profoundly religious" and so he spent years reading theology, and was "deeply" influenced by Karl Barth and John Calvin. He considers himself a "self-taught modern New England transcendentalist".

Tinkers was rejected by several publishers before being picked up by a small independent (Bellevue Literary Press) and published in early 2009 as a paperback (3000 – 5000 copies, according to various sources; currently USD 200-300 from secondary sellers). Of more interest to collectors, there was also a small hardcover edition (500 copies, with a subsequent printing of a further 500), most of which went to subscribers to the First Edition Club of independent Californian bookseller BookPassage (not currently available). This was followed by a separate numbered hardcover edition of 750 copies for Powells as part of Indispensable series (one copy currently available at 1800 USD).

This is a great story of individual success for a writer, and an encouragement for all new authors than (at least occasionally) quality writing will bring success. If Harding goes on to have a long and successful career, Tinkers will be the cornerstone of any collection. However, at the moment it seems overpriced for a recent book and I would expect prices to settle somewhat.

“An old man lies dying. Confined to bed in his living room, he sees the walls around him begin to collapse, the windows come loose from their sashes, and the ceiling plaster fall off in great chunks, showering him with a lifetime of debris: newspaper clippings, old photographs, wool jackets, rusty tools, and the mangled brass works of antique clocks. Soon, the clouds from the sky above plummet down on top of him, followed by the stars, till the black night covers him like a shroud. He is hallucinating, in death throes from cancer and kidney failure. A methodical repairer of clocks, he is now finally released from the usual constraints of time and memory to rejoin his father, an epileptic, itinerant peddler, whom he had lost seven decades before. In his return to the wonder and pain of his impoverished childhood in the backwoods of Maine, he recovers a natural world that is at once indifferent to man and inseparable from him, menacing and awe inspiring. Heartbreaking and life affirming, Tinkers is an elegiac meditation on love, loss, and the fierce beauty of nature.”

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Book of the Week - Per Petterson, I Curse the River of Time

I Curse the River of Time is the the fourth book in English by Norwegian author Per Petterson. Petterson was born in Oslo in 1952 and worked for several years as an unskilled labourer, a bookseller, a writer and a translator until he made his literary debut in 1987 with the short-story collection Ashes in my Mouth, Sand in my Shoes, which was widely acclaimed by critics. Since then he has written a book of essays and five novels that have established his reputation as one of Norway’s most significant fiction writers. These are Ekkoland (1989), Det er greit for meg (1992), To Siberia (1996), In the Wake (2000) and Out Stealing Horses (2003). For To Siberia, Petterson was nominated for the Nordic Council’s Literary Award and nominated for The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. For In the Wake he received the prestigious Norwegian literary prize, Brageprisen, and the novel was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Out Stealing Horses was awarded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in the UK, as well as both the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize and the Norwegian Critics’ Award for best novel. In 2006, the novel was also named one of the 25 best Norwegian books the last 25 years by the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet, and the English translation won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (the world’s most valuable book prize) and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. He has, therefore a strong pedigree, and must be a candidate in years to come for the Nobel Literature Prize. Signed copies of all of his books are worth a premium, so a signed copy of I Curse the River of Time (1000 copies signed to a bookplate from Harvill) should be an interesting read and a good long term buy.

“It is 1989 and all over Europe Communism is crumbling. Arvid Jansen, 37, is in the throes of a divorce. At the same time, his mother is diagnosed with cancer. Over a few intense autumn days, we follow Arvid as he struggles to find a new footing in his life, while all the established patterns around him are changing at staggering speed. As he attempts to negotiate the present, he casts his mind back to holidays on the beach with his brothers, to courtship, and to his early working life, when as a young Communist he abandoned his studies to work on a production line. "I Curse the River of Time" is an honest, heartbreaking yet humorous portrayal of a complicated mother-son relationship told in Petterson's precise and beautiful prose.”

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Book of the Week and Bibliography - Barbara Trapido, Sex and Stravinsky

Barbara Trapido could not be described as a prolific author. Sex and Stravinskyis her seventh novel since Brother of the More Famous Jack was published in 1982. Nonetheless, all have been well received and Sex and Stravinsky is no exception. Trapido was born in 1941 in Capetown, South Africa, and she studied at the University of Natal, gaining a BA in 1963, before moving to London. She taught at a school in Hackney and a remand centre in Durham, before becoming a full-time writer in 1970. She currently lives with her family in Oxford.

All Trapido's novels feature a dominating, unconventional older man. Brother of the More Famous Jack (1982)  was followed by Noah's Ark (1984). Temples of Delight (1990) was shortlisted for the Sunday Express Book of the Year award and a sequel, Juggling, was published in 1994. The Travelling Hornplayer (1998) was her second book to be shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel Award. Her previous novel, Frankie and Stankie, was published in 2003. It tells the story of two sisters growing up in South Africa in the 1950s.

Sex and Stravinskywas reviewed by all of the major newspapers very positively. It seems like a solid piece of literary fiction from a well-respected mid-career author who has yet to make a breakthrough in one of the major literary prizes, but with this novel has an outside chance of doing so. No signed copies available so far as I can see, but worth keeping an eye out for.

“The time is 1995, but everyone has a past. Brilliant Australian Caroline can command everyone except her own ghoulish mother, which means that things aren't easy for Josh and Zoe, her husband and twelve year old daughter. Josh has bizarre origins in a small South African mining town, but now teaches mime in Bristol. Zoe reads girls' ballet books and longs for ballet lessons; a thing denied her until, on a school French exchange, she meets a runaway boy in a woodland hut. Meanwhile, on the east coast of Africa, Hattie Thomas, Josh's first love, has taken to writing girls' ballet books from the turret of her fabulous house - that's when she can carve out the space between the forceful presence of Herman and her crosspatch daughter Cat who, after some illicit snooping, is secretly planning a make-or-break essay on mask dancers in Mali. Hattie wakes from a dream of Stravinsky's Pulcinella and asks herself about the composer, 'Do his glasses look sexy?'. His glasses are just like Josh's glasses from two decades earlier. From far and wide, they are all drawn together; drawn to Jack's place. Or is he Jacques? Or Giacomo?Beautiful, mysterious Jack, the one-time backyard housemaid's child who, having journeyed via Mozambique and Senegal to Milan, is back exactly where he started - only not for long. In its mix of people from different spheres, the book throws up the complexity, cruelty and richness of the global world while, as a sequence of personal stories, it comes together like a dance; a masquerade in which things are not always what they seem.”


Brother of the More Famous Jack; Gollancz, 1982 – less than £10.
Noah's Ark; Gollancz, 1984 – less than £15.
Temples of Delight; Michael Joseph, 1990 – less than £10.
Juggling; Hamish Hamilton, 1994 – less than £10.
The Travelling Hornplayer; Hamish Hamilton, 1998 – less than £10.
Frankie & Stankie; Bloomsbury, 2003 – less than £10.
Sex and Stravinsky; Blooksbury, 2010 - cover price or less.