(I sympathise with Sam Jordison's sentiments on the Guardian blog this morning:
Oh shit!)This is not to say that the book isn't in many senses a worthy winner. It's well-written, honest and brave, and I very much like the way it draws on the way memory works. (I have a lot more to say about it, but you'll have to wait for Sunday's review!)
Sadly, I don't think that this is a novel that most readers in Malaysia will enjoy or find easy to relate to (with the exception of folks like Eric and Leon!) unlike other titles on the shortlist (especially Mr. Pip and Animal's People which I predict will do very well here).
Perhaps they will buy The Gathering because winning the Booker is an endorsement of quality and then find it depressing, dark and difficult and perhaps be further alienated by this thing called "literature".
(Please do feel free to prove me wrong, however.)
Jordison reckons that the choice is :
... the safe option. It's a vote for familiar themes that are close to home (especially if you're in the middle-aged middle classes like most Booker judges inevitably will be), and for skilful, but never really daring writing. ...The Gathering is nothing like as unsettling as Darkmans, as passionate as Animal's People as or even as endearing as Mister Pip. And isn't as funny as any of them either.In the Independent, Chair of the judges, Howard Davison says of the judging process:
We found it a very powerful, uncomfortable and even at times, angry book. It's an unflinching look at a grieving family in tough and striking language. We think she's an impressive novelist. We expect to hear a lot more from her. ... The book is very tightly structured. It's seen through the dyspeptic vision of the central character. She's a woman at a difficult moment in her life.I'm interested to hear that when the judges drew up the long list of 13 books, they:
.. probably did not expect that to be the winner, but it came through very strongly on re-readings.because I found that I like the book much better too on second-reading when I could appreciate how it had been put together and where it was going. But should we need to read a book a second time to really get the best from it?
Incidentally, it's interesting to note that all the publicity for the books hasn't translated into great sales in Britain:
On Chesil Beach is far outselling the other books on the shortlist combined ... Sales figures of the other books, by contrast, exemplify the tough climate for literary fiction in the marketplace - and Enright's book has so far shifted just 3,253 copies. The latest figures from Nielsen BookScan show that the McEwan has sold a total of 120,362; Nicola Barker's Darkmans, 11,097; Mister Pip, 5,170; Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist 4,425, and Indra Sinha's Animal's People 2,589.(Top pic from the Guardian. Bottom pic from the Telegraph shows the shortlisted authors at the Guildhall last night. Left to right - Nichole Barker, Mohsin Hamid , Indra Sinha, Anne Enright and Ian McEwan.)