Monday, 26 September 2011

Book of the Week - Michael Ondaatje, The Cat's Table

I'm rather looking forward to my retirement, although I still have quite a while to go. Until then, I have to continue to fit my interest in books around the day job and unfortunately this will occasionally result in gaps in my blog, which is my rather long-winded way of apologising for the hiatus since my last book of the week. The Cat's Table is the sixth novel from Sri Lankan born Canadian author Michael Ondaatje, probably best known for the Booker prize winning The English Patient, the basis of the Oscar-winning film of the same name. Ondaatje has published more poetry than prose, and like many poets who also write novels his use of language is one of the most attractive features of his writing. The Cat's Table is set on a boat sailing from Sri Lanka to Britain in 1954 and is narrated by an 11-year-old boy called Michael, events taken from the author’s own life. However, events very quickly diverge from reality.

The Cat’s Table is published in the UK by Cape. I doubt if this would be a good investment for a collector, but I recommend it as a book to read.

“In the early 1950s, an eleven-year-old boy boards a huge liner bound for England – a ‘castle that was to cross the sea’. At mealtimes, he is placed at the lowly ‘Cat's Table’ with an eccentric group of grown-ups and two other boys, Cassius and Ramadhin. As the ship makes its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, into the Mediterranean, the boys become involved in the worlds and stories of the adults around them, tumbling from one adventure and delicious discovery to another, ‘bursting all over the place like freed mercury’. And at night, the boys spy on a shackled prisoner – his crime and fate a galvanizing mystery that will haunt them forever.
As the narrative moves from the decks and holds of the ship and the boy’s adult years, it tells a spellbinding story about the difference between the magical openness of childhood and the burdens of earned understanding – about a life-long journey that began unexpectedly with a spectacular sea voyage, when all on board were ‘free of the realities of the earth’.
With the ocean liner a brilliant microcosm for the floating dream of childhood, The Cat’s Table is a vivid, poignant and thrilling book, full of Ondaatje’s trademark set-pieces and breathtaking images: a story told with a child’s sense of wonder by a novelist at the very height of his powers.”

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Book Trailers - 1Q84, Haruki Murkami

Book trailers are a relatively recent phenomenon which seem to be becoming more popular.  They generally make use of youtube or similar technology, not unlike the path taken by cinema trailers.  I remain uncertain about what sort of impact they will have.  Cinema presents the trailer in the same medium as the final product.  Publishers have done this in the past with sampler chapters, a concept which I never liked.  You have to invest some time in reading a sample chapter (often the first), and it can't contain the highlights in the way than a cinema trailer can do.  Video trailers for books take a different approach - they are quick and are mainly aimed at increasing awareness rather than providing a sample of the product.  They let you know about the existence of a book, but provide lttle sense of what the book will be like to read.  Nonetheless, I look forward to seeing how this sort of marketing will develop.  In the meantime, check out one I am looking forward to - 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Man Booker Prize 2011 Shortlist

Time for the 2011 Man Booker prize shortlist. The one previous winner (Alan Holinghurst, who was the bookies favourite), has not made it, and only one of this list has been shortlisted before. Julian Barnes, therefore, is likely to be the favourite for The Sense of an Ending (which I have reviewed recently).  He is the only "heavyweight" on the list and success would reward his career, although I do not think this is his best book.  Many would say that something similar happened last year with Howard Jacobson.  Of the others, I have read Snowdrops (an excellent thriller, which I expect to be an outsider) and Pigeon English.  It is a topical book with a very strong narrative voice, and I think is a possible winner.

For a collector, the main feature of interest is limited editions of both The Sense of an Ending and Snowdrops (see the links below).  I will update the shortlist with estimated prices in the next few days.

Julian Barnes - The Sense of an Ending (Jonathan Cape - Random House)
Carol Birch - Jamrach's Menagerie (Canongate Books)
Patrick deWitt - The Sisters Brothers (Granta)
Esi Edugyan - Half Blood Blues (Serpent's Tail - Profile)
Stephen Kelman - Pigeon English (Bloomsbury)
A.D. Miller - Snowdrops (Atlantic)

Price update (9/9/11)
All of  the books are available fairly easily in first edition.  The Sisters Brothers and Half Blood Blues can both be picked up for £20 approx, along with Pigeon English (all paperback only).  Jamrach's Menagerie (again paperback only) is around £35.  Of the two hardcovers, The Sense of an Ending is around £20, though either of the two limited editions will be £200 up to £800 for the fully leather bound edition (of which I can find only one copy).  Snowdrops seems  the least common at present, with the ordinary hardcover at £80 or above and the limited edition £125 or above.  As always, prices are likely to fall for all except the winner once the result is announced.