Sunday, 29 July 2012
Posted by Trapnel at 12:47
Wednesday, 25 July 2012
The longlist for this year’s Man Booker Prize has been announced. Not a particularly good year for me. Three of the twelve have yet to be published, and one just appeared this week (The Teleportation Accident by Ned Bauman, whose debut novel Boxer Beetle I recommended previously). Of the remaining eight, I have featured three but missed five. I will now be trying to catch up on the others before the shortlisting! Four first time novels feature on the list (Joyce, Moore, Thayil and Thompson).
Brief initial details of the books are given below and I will update if necessary.
The Yips - Nicola Barker – Fourth Estate Hardcover
The Teleportation Accident - Ned Beauman, Sceptre Hardcover just released this week
Philida - Andre Brink - Harvill Secker, presumed Hardcover, Available on September 6
The Garden of Evening Mists - Tan Twan Eng - Myrmidon Hardcover
Skios - Michael Frayn – Faber Hardcover
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce – Doubleday Hardcover,with limited edition of 500 copies in slipcase
Swimming Home - Deborah Levy – And Other Stories, Paperback only
Bring Up The Bodies - Hilary Mantel – Fourth Estate Hardcover, plus alimited edition of 2000 copies in slipcase
The Lighthouse - Alison Moore – Salt Modern Fiction, paperback only, available 15 August
Umbrella - Will Self – Bloomsbury Hardcover, available 30 August
Narcopolis - Jeet Thayil – Faber and Faber paperback
Communion Town - Sam Thompson – Fourth Estate Hardcover
Posted by Trapnel at 22:18
Sunday, 22 July 2012
Don’t expect realism or neat endings; do expect to be challenged while being entertained. This book will not be for everyone, but approach it with an open mind and you may well be entranced. Reviews have reflected the strong opinions which Barker tends to induce – some think it is a near masterpiece and others a mess. It does contain some golf content and is set in Luton, but don't allow that to put you off. The Telegraph describes it as “ A bizarre, bad-taste story of unhappy families”. I'm quite enjoying it, but will withhold final judgement until I have completed it. Signed copies are available now.
" 2006 is a foreign country; they do things differently there. Tiger Woods' reputation is entirely untarnished and the English Defence League does not exist yet. Storm-clouds of a different kind are gathering above the bar of Luton's less than exclusive Thistle Hotel. Among those caught up in the unfolding drama are a man who's had cancer seven times, a woman priest with an unruly fringe, the troubled family of a notorious local fascist, an interfering barmaid with three E's at A-level but a PhD in bullshit, a free-thinking Muslim sex therapist and his considerably more pious wife. But at the heart of every intrigue and the bottom of every mystery is the repugnantly charismatic Stuart Ransom – a golfer in free-fall."
Posted by Trapnel at 22:05
Sunday, 15 July 2012
“Ray, a young British-Asian woman arrives in the afternoon heat of a small village in India. She has come to live there for several months to make a documentary about the place. For this is no ordinary Indian village - the women collecting water at the well, the men chopping wood in the early morning light have all been found guilty of murder. The village is an open prison. Ray is accompanied by two British colleagues and, as the days pass, they begin to get closer to the lives of the inhabitants of the village. And then it feels too close. As the British visitors become desperate for a story, the distinction between innocence and guilt, between good intentions and horrifying results becomes horribly blurred. Set in a village modelled on a real-life open prison in India, The Village is a gripping story about manipulation and personal morality, about how truly frail our moral judgement can be. Nikita Lalwani has written a dazzling, heartfelt and disturbing novel which delivers on all the promise of her first.”
Posted by Trapnel at 09:33
Saturday, 14 July 2012
The Greek Myths exist in many variants, and one of the challenges facing any modern author is what perspective to take and what variant to follow. The plot is laid out already, and may be known to some readers, so for a novel to be successful it has to bring freshness to the story telling and to make the characters live again in a new way. The Song of Achilles works in this regard – while I knew the story in outline, and was aware of what would happen to the main characters, Miller brought it alive and made me empathize with them.
The Song of Achilles follows Patroclus from his early life, through his exile and the start of his friendship with Achilles while they were children. Through the eyes of Patroclus we see the main events of their lives leading up to the Siege of Troy and their respective deaths. The relationship between Achilles and Patroclus has been portrayed in different ways in different versions of the story, most commonly as a close male friendship (a bromance in contemporary terminology), but in this telling the relationship is unashamedly a sexual one. Therefore, at one level, The Song of Achilles is simply a love story, and a moving one.
Of course, the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is rather more complex than that, and there are other important players in the story. Thetis, the sea nymph mother of Achilles, is a vital and continuing presence, albeit a mysterious and other worldly one. But other characters, Odysseus, Agamemnon, Briseis, Chiron, spring to life in a way which makes their actions and motivations seem real and vital. Some of the set pieces – the scene where the Greek Kings bid for the hand of Helen, the speech of Achilles when plague has broken out in the Greek camp, the final battle scene leading up to the death of Patroclus – have a real tension, even when the reader knows the outcome in advance.
The Song of Achilles won this year’s Orange Prize for Fiction. It was a deserving winner – a very engrossing work of literary fiction which is one of the most enjoyable books I have read this year.
Posted by Trapnel at 18:04
Thursday, 12 July 2012
Very rapidly, Richard and Rachel marry and settle down into what appears to be idyllic married life. Before long has passed, they pay a visit to Oxford to visit an ex-tutor, Harry. After dinner Rachel goes for a walk in the College Garden and is violently killed. The core of the novel is the gradual unravelling by Richard of what may have happened to his wife, and the reasons behind it. Every Contact Leaves a Trace has a small cast of characters. Apart from Richard, Rachel and Harry, only three others play a major role. Anthony and Cassie were the other members of Rachel’s tutorial group at College, and Evie was her stepmother. There are a number of others who play minor roles, but it is this central group of six who provide the key to what has happened.
There seem to be two key themes at play. Firstly, and introduced in the very first paragraph, is the idea of how little we know about other people, even those closest to us. “If you were to ask me to tell you about my wife”, says Richard, “I would have to warn you at the outset that I don’t know a great deal about her.” But it is not just Rachel about whom Richard knows little; the same can be said about many of the other characters. And when they speak about themselves, it is generally to reveal only partial truths or sometimes lies. Even Richard only slowly and partially reveals his deepest truths to others, and to the reader. Linked to this is the idea of the unreliability of memory. Frequently during the novel, Richard recalls previous events or fragments of them which increase his understanding of what is happening in the present. Often such recall is triggered by some chance present event, like the taste of the Madeleine in Remembrance of Things Past or the sound of Norwegian Wood in Haruki Murakami’s novel of the same name.
Secondly, is the idea that we need to create a narrative to allow us to make sense of disparate facts, and that until we settle on a narrative we are likely to be uncomfortable with ourselves and others. In Every Contact, some characters weave their narrative to fit the facts (Richard, an analytical lawyer), while others mould the facts to fit their preferred narrative (Harry). Even at the end we are not quite sure if the truth has been revealed.
Overall, I enjoyed Every Contact, but felt that the gradual reveal was overdone. Atmosphere and tension were built reasonably well, but the grief of Richard was overdone, and his gradual recall of key events from his past became a little repetitive. Once, maybe, but several times was too much. The novel could have lost one quarter of its length with some firm editing without losing its impact, and it would probably have gained strength from the process. However, overall a worthwhile read and an author to watch in the future.
Posted by Trapnel at 17:12
Monday, 9 July 2012
The narrator and chief protagonist is a young Englishman who has just been appointed to a position in the English Department of a Bucharest University. His appointment appears almost an accident, as he did not have the basic qualifications required and failed to turn up for interview. Almost his first test in his new position is to sign a reference written by someone else for a girl he does not know to visit the UK, and after a few qualms of conscience he acquiesces. This introduction sets the scene for much of what will follow – Romania is portrayed as run by a ruling elite who arbitrarily promote or demote their underlings, a country where merit is likely to be a disadvantage and where the key characteristic required for success is likely to be complete obedience to the whims of the people in charge. The vast majority of the population live in fear and poverty, struggling for the basic necessities required for survival while old Bucharest is destroyed around them and replaced by a shoddy alternative. Nonetheless, the people maintain a bitter sense of humour and a vague hope that better days might be to come.
The narrator quickly falls under the spell of a colleague, Leo O’Heix, a man possibly less interested in lecturing even that him. Leo who has fallen in love with Bucharest and is running a complex black market in all sorts of luxury goods for the elite. Gradually the narrator becomes involved in Leo’s activities, mixing with both the elite and those struggling on the margins of society, whether in promoting the rumoured revolution or trying simply to survive, and realises that there are very few people he can trust.
Some aspects of The Last Hundred Days are reminiscent of Kafka (The Castle or The Trial), other parts of Sasha Baron Cohen’s Dictator. It is well written ad convincing, and having read it I was left with a sense of understanding this period in Romanian history much better. The characters are convincing, even if some of the events seem a little forced at times. Took a little while to get going, but overall a worthwhile read, though not outstanding.
Posted by Trapnel at 22:12
Sunday, 8 July 2012
"'Billy Gray was my best friend and I fell in love with his mother.' Alexander Cleave, an actor who thinks his best days are behind him, remembers his first unlikely affair as a teenage boy in a small town in 1950s Ireland: the illicit meetings in a rundown cottage outside town; assignations in the back of his lover's car on sunny mornings and rain-soaked afternoons. And with these early memories comes something sharper and much darker - the more recent recollection of the actor's own daughter's suicide ten years before.
Ancient Light is the story of a life rendered brilliantly vivid: the obsession and selfishness of young love and the terrifying shock of grief. It is a dazzling novel, funny, utterly pleasurable and devastatingly moving in the same moment."
Posted by Trapnel at 22:42