Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Six Weeks, Six Books

The Man Booker Prize 2008 shortlist was announced today. The finalists are :
Aravind Adiga - The White Tiger
Sebastian Barry - The Secret Scripture
Amitav Ghosh - Sea of Poppies
Linda Grant - The Clothes on Their Backs
Philip Hensher - The Northern Clemency
Steve Toltz - A Fraction of the Whole
According to the official announcement :
Two first-time novelists, Aravind Adiga and Steve Toltz, survived the cull of the longlist from thirteen novels to just six. Previous winners of the Booker Prize, John Berger and Salman Rushdie, failed to make this year's shortlist and Sebastian Barry is the only novelist shortlisted for this year's prize to have been previously shortlisted (in 2005). ... Linda Grant, winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2000 and longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2002, is the only female author to make the shortlist of six. She is joined by Philip Hensher, longlisted for the Booker Prize in 2002 and a Booker judge in 2001, and the widely-acclaimed Indian writer Amitav Ghosh.
The statment goes on to say that the panel of judges (chaired by Michael Portillo former MP and Cabinet Minister) :
... commend the six titles to readers with great enthusiasm. These novels are intensely readable, each of them an extraordinary example of imagination and narrative. These fine page-turning stories nonetheless raise highly thought-provoking ideas and issues. These books are in every case both ambitious and approachable.
Our friend Louise Doughty blogs about the shortlist meeting and points out that we have six weeks to read the six books before the winner is announced on 14th October.


jawakistani said...

I have no prob reading 6 books in 6 weeks but the thing is I dont think I have the budget to go out and get the 6 shortlisted books.


And this is not luxury I'm wanting...

Anonymous said...

i haven't read any on the list yet but reviews for adiga and ghosh have been glowing. jane sunshine

KayKay said...

HaHa! Why am I not surprised that Tom Rob Smith's Child 44 didn't make the cut? Can't have the "Booker" diluted by a (Shock!Horror!) thriller, can we:-)

Anonymous said...

It's strange. If they are not going to shortlist a thriller, why did they longlist it in the first place?

Anonymous said...


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katztales said...

I've never enjoyed a Booker Prize winning book. I find them over-written. Also, like South American soap operas, it seems to be that to be listed you must have that social message about rape/child abuse/starving kids etc. It's just a big yawn when there are so many great books out there!

Anonymous said...

Doughty huh? yea, who would buy a book about starving kids?

"I just made some money so I'm going to buy a book about starving kids."

"um.. okay?"

jawakistani said...

I would say not all Booker Prize Winner books are 'uninteresting'. I think Life of Pi was a nice one and so was Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss.

But I do agree with you when it comes to last year's winner Anne Enright's The Gathering. The shortlisted books were great and the two other good ones were On Chesil Beach and Animal's People. I'd go for Animal's People anytime. It's fiction but not without a cause.

Anonymous said...

Inheritance of Loss was just plain superduperterribleawful! So was lIFe OF pi...

jawakistani said...

okay then Mr Nonnymus, what 'good' books do you propose we all read?

Anonymous said...



Alan Hollingsworth is a deserved winner...I agree The Gathering was underwhelming and so-what...Ishiguro, McEwan, Graham Swift, JG Farrell, Rushdie, Alex Miller...

Anonymous said...

Gathering is hard reading, but I do feel it deserved to be recognized.

Anonymous said...

Gathering - yes, it deserved to be recognised, otherwise the world would never have known about another novel concerning dysfunctional families, with the unique plot-twist of child-abuse, my daddy/brother/uncle/cousin fiddled with me when I was young and so that's why I'm such a pain today...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous -- but one could describe any novel in your "oh-no-not-another" terms. For example: Oh, no, not another novel about repressed gay men in a repressed time in a repressed country! Or: Oh, no, not another novel set during a long summer in a rambling English country mansion (and let me guess, someone from the posh upstairs family falls in love with someone from a servant's family?)! Or: Oh, no, not another epic end-of-colonialism saga!

For the record, I don't agree with any of those laments -- I'm just saying. "Dysfunctional family" is likewise a pretty broad category to dismiss, no?

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

True, so the challenge of the writer is to make something old feel new again, but in Enright's case, I felt this wasn't done. And if it has to resort to the overoverused plot device of incest/abuse...

Not another Irish, dysfunctional family novel?

Anonymous said...

Ah, if you feel it wasn't done in this case, then that's a fair criticism (although I disagree). Then it's a matter of taste and it's not the same thing as saying no one should write about that anymore -- sorry if I misunderstood your original comment.

Re: dysfunctional Irish families -- yeah true, but the thing about stereotypes is.... You could similarly criticise Dickens for always writing about poverty-stricken Victorians a lot -- starving children, lives destroyed by debt, orphans and more orphans -- but what he was doing was merely reflecting reality, no?

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

Preeta --

To me He wasn't writing about starving orphans and lives destroyed by debt, he was making a point. You can see that in "Hard Times" especially, how dignified Stephen is despite his poverrt, a simple man with a simple love. He;s one of the few writers who can show love without writing about sex. I mean, you read about him and Rachel, and you can see the very close relationship they share.

If anything, in his novels, life is destroyed by wealth. I haven't read any of his novels in which a life is destroyed by debt.

Anonymous said...

Then, Anonymous, you just have a very different interpretation than I do of -- to name just two examples among many -- Oliver Twist and The Old Curiosity Shop. I didn't see Little Nell's life as having been destroyed by wealth.

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

I haven't actually read The Old Curiosity Shop, but I've read A Christmas Carol, and Oliver Twist. In Oliver Twist, most of the poor characters are not destroyed by poverty. There's one character that was murdered I think (AFAIK) but that was because of her poor choices more than anything.

Eh, I think we've pretty much discussed everything here as well :P

Anonymous said...

I would be curious to hear your take on Old Curiosity Shop if you ever get around to reading it. I love it, but it's often been viewed as hackneyed and mawkishly sentimental -- so perhaps the complaints of contemporary critics might have been similar to what you are saying about The Gathering.

However you interpret Oliver Twist, Dickens did explicitly intend for it to expose the horrors of Victorian poverty -- and *outside* his fiction, in real life, he fiercely condemned the effects of poverty. The publication of Oliver Twist did result in the clearing of one of London's worst slums -- so I don't think that Dickens himself intended his social commentary to show that the poor were leading happy, "dignified" lives despite their poverty.

And even if he did, the same could be said about the characters in Irish novels about dysfunctional families. Often they are struggling against horrifying family circumstances/history to find dignity, and one could argue that the narrator of The Gathering does ultimately succeed in a limited way (but what happiness in life is not limited?).

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

Who speaks for intention anyway? and have you read "Hard Times" ? what do you think of it ? :)

Anonymous said...

"Who speaks for intention anyway?"

Er, the author (in this case Dickens) does.

Yes, I've read Hard Times -- and I think that like any good writer, Dickens shows his characters to be multi-dimensional and capable of more than wallowing in self-pity (if that's what you mean by "dignity," then yes, the poor in Dickens's novels have dignity) -- but I still don't think he's saying poverty is a good thing. I think he makes the point, over and over and over again, that the unequal distribution of wealth is a terrible thing -- that is his bag, as they say, just as Irish writers' bag is the dysfunctional family. Just a reflection of the contemporary reality, in each case. But like I said, I think it's fair to argue that when you're telling an old story, there should be something new in the telling. I just happen to think that The Gathering had that something new, and you don't.

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

I'm not saying he's saying poverty is a good thing, I'm saying he's saying poverty is not a bad thing, and that money and power tend to corrupt people.

It does seem, though, that as he got older, his poor characters got more noble, and his rich characters became more ridiculous.

No one seriously believes that the unequal distribution of wealth is a bad thing, otherwise they'd be giving away their money as soon as they made it.

But still he makes an interesting point, facts or imagination? which is better, to believe or to prove and know?

Anonymous said...

"No one seriously believes that the unequal distribution of wealth is a bad thing, otherwise they'd be giving away their money as soon as they made it."

You mean, like the citizens of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and other countries where high taxes redistribute wealth to ensure a minimum standard of living for all?

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...


I think you mistake force for will. Rousseau makes that very same case in "Social Contract". You can't assume that people will willingly give up their money or property if they are not compelled by some force to do it.

And you're missing most of the points (which I suppose you agree with.) He did start out on a fairly even keel, but as he continued writing his poor characters got progressively more noble and the rich characters more stupid.

Offtopic :

If you read "Hard Times", you can see the Rachel/Stephen dynamics. You look at these two, and you _know_ both of them are somehow entwined by fate. How do you know that? that's where the magic is. A sort of "Bridges of Madison County" except without the sex and all the "lets beat people over the head with it" stuff.

Rachel and Stephen don't actually _do_ anything together, but.. there's something _there_. To take that amorphous something and put it in words, that's what I look for. You look at two people and you _know_, even if they don't tell you anything. Dickens and Caroll and Twain and Barrie had it, lines that you can remember and quote for the rest of your life. I can just spout instantly recognizable lines, and people would know exactly where they came from. Try these :

"my sore toe's _mortified_!"
"Boy, why are you crying?"
"oh, why can't you stay like this forever?"
"Off with her head!"

Instantly memorable, aren't they?

If publishers really wanted to lose money, why would they not publish stuff like this?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, no, just because I don't respond to every single one of your points, it doesn't mean that I agree with them -- it just means that I sometimes have more pressing matters to attend to than a thorough analysis of Dickens's intentions (which I think he spelled out clearly enough anyway, like I said -- and I didn't pester you about not responding to that, did I?).

Force instead of will?!? The Scandivanian countries are all democracies. They keep voting for high taxes. They think it's worth it. I once had a Norwegian student who, when we went around the class and talked about what we would each like to improve about our countries, couldn't think of anything except the weather. "I don't know," he said. "It's kind of boring. I've got nothing to complain about in terms of politics. Everything works well."

He may have been an anomaly, an extreme case, whatever, but like I said, it's a democracy and people have been paying those high taxes for a good, long while. If I could hear just ONE Malaysian or American say that about their country and mean it, I would donate my right kidney.

To bring this back to the matter at hand: if Victorian London had looked anything like modern-day Oslo (or Stockholm or Copenhagen), I doubt Dickens would've been writing the books he wrote. Likewise, if Irish families were all sunshine and kisses, I doubt Irish writers would be dwelling on dysfunction. Writers reflect their realities.

That is all.

-- Preeta

Anonymous said...

Okay no more Dickens :) (but I still maintain.. okay, okay.. :) )

Anyway I just got back from a late appointment, and you must be tired of answering anyway, but "high taxes" is not redistributing wealth. The government does not impose high taxes so that they can give lots of money to jobless people (or do they?)

The government does not say, you have accumulated too much money in your bank account, I will take some away and give it to the poor, do they?

If someone has two houses, the government cannot take it away and give it to a homeless person (or can they?) or is it illegal to own two houses? can someone own two cars?

You're telling me people would agree to this?

Why would anyone bother to work then? it's no wonder the jobless rate once reached 15%.

(see http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c18430e6-fc0b-11da-b1a1-0000779e2340.html?nclick_check=1)

Anyway, doesn't it seem _wrong_ to you to hear someone say their country is perfect (or do they just have low expectations?)

And why does Finland have such a high suicide rate if it's so successful?

Damyanti said...

This comment box seems to have gone a long way away from "The Gathering" comment I made to Charles Dickens and Norway.

To anonymous:

I still maintain Gathering was deserving....it did bring something new and incredibly touching to the "genre" (if you like), of "dysfunctional Irish families"!

Child abuse, as you so rightly point out, is a common theme, but the book is not about a family or abuse, so much as it is about an ability to look unflinchingly at the human condition.

Some of the prose is so powerful that it stuns the reader. It underlines the author's incredible ability to vividly portray life with all its humor and poetry, and then combine it with the pain and frequent lack of what is called basic "humanity" on the very same page.

This book is less about the plot,i.e, child abuse and dysfunctional family leads to the creation of jerks, insomniacs and drunks; it is more about looking at people as they really are without drama or sugarcoating.

The real "action" in the book begins and ends in the narrator's mind, and it is difficult not to be touched by such an honest voice.

So no, anonymous, this is not just another child abuse or dysfunctional family book.

Anonymous said...

Well it sounds like fun then, I've got to take a look at it soon.