The 2014 Booker Longlist

The longlist for the 2014 Booker Prize has just been announced. I’m impressed by the selection as it appears to be a nice mixture of themes and styles and some are new to me. Five books aren’t published until September, so we’ll have to wait a while for those. 

The 2014 Booker Longlist:

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Five words from the blurb: Burma, prisoner, camp, starvation, letter

 
The Blazing World
 

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

Five words from the blurb: female, artist, experiment, conceals, identity
  
The Bone Clocks
 

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Five words from the blurb: teenage, runaway, asylum, Metaphysical, shadows 
  

 History of the Rain

History of the Rain by Niall Williams

Five words from the blurb: Ireland, twin, hopeful, ancestors, farming

The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee

Five words from the blurb: saga, Bengali, society, fractures, family

Us

Us by David Nicholls

Five words from the blurb: family, husbands, wives, parents, children

Orfeo

Orfeo by Richard Powers

Five words from the blurb: composer, police, experiment, music, fugitive

The Dog by Joseph O’Neill

(no cover or blurb available)

How to be both

How to be both by Ali Smith

Five words from the blurb: art, versatility, love, playful, mysterious

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Five words from the blurb: sister, vanished, unique, trouble, story

The Wake

The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth

Five words from the blurb: battle, Hastings, Norman, resistance, fighters

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

Five words from the blurb: New York, dentist, privacy, Facebook, sanity

J

J by Howard Jacobson

Five words from the blurb: love, questions, brutality, suspicion, denial

My thoughts

I’ve only tried three of them:

The Narrow Road to the Deep North was an impressive book, with fantastic writing, but I’m afraid I abandoned it as the subject matter was too dark. 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves was a lovely book, but it was ruined for me as I accidentally discovered the spoiler in advance and I think the magic of this book is lost if you know the twist

Blazing World was an impressive book - see my review

Of those that I haven’t tried I’m most looking forward to reading Orfeo and The Wake. I haven’t had much success with novels by Howard Jacobson (don’t get his humour), Joshua Ferris (too experimental) or Ali Smith (too experimental) in the past and so may give them a miss unless someone can convince me they are vastly different/better than their previous novels. The rest look interesting and I look forward to trying them, but I’m in no rush, especially as most aren’t even out yet.

What do you think of the longlist?

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Elizabeth is Missing

Five words from the blurb: forgetful, mystery, friend, missing, note

Elizabeth is Missing is an amusing, but poignant story about Maud, a woman suffering from dementia. The book alternates between Maud’s current life, where she is preoccupied with the whereabouts of her friend Elizabeth; and a second strand which shows what it was like for her growing up shortly after WWII – a period of time in which she is devastated by the disappearance of her sister.

The book gives a frighteningly realistic insight into the mind of a dementia sufferer, but somehow manages to avoid all sentimentality and insult. Some of the stories made me cry with laughter and I recognised many of the situations from interactions with my own grandparents.

I’m terribly thirsty.’
‘No wonder,’ Helen says, turning to leave the room. ‘There was a line of cold cups of tea on the shelf in the hall.’
I say I can’t think how they got there, but I don’t think she hears me, because she’s already disappeared into the kitchen and, anyway, my head is lowered as I’m going through my handbag.

I loved the first half of this book, but unfortunately the sad, repetitive nature of her actions, although completely realistic, began to wear a bit thin and I found myself losing interest. I think the book would have benefited from being slightly shorter.

The dual detective elements of the story were quite clever and I loved the ending, but there was something about it that didn’t quite work. I think it might be the fact that I didn’t connect with Maud’s younger self and so didn’t care whether or not there was a resolution to her story.

Despite the minor problems I really enjoyed reading this book  and I will be recommending it to a wide range of people. I hope it makes readers more tolerant of those with memory problems and I expect to see it on a few prize lists later in the year.

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Darkling by Laura Beatty

Darkling

Five words from the blurb:  woman, adrift, history, Puritan, echoing

Darkling is part historical fiction, part reflection of modern-day living. The book begins with Mia, a woman who feels lost in the world, viewing a derelict castle in Shropshire. She is researching Lady Brilliana Harley, a woman who defended her home from Royalist troops during the English Civil War, and becomes fascinated by the similarities between their two lives. 

I shouldn’t have liked this book (it has very little plot and is terribly over written), but there was something about it that grabbed my attention. The vividness of the writing captivated me and I found myself totally absorbed in each slowly unfolding scene. 

The writing quality was excellent, but it had a meandering style – no single word was used when it could be replaced by twenty, more complex ones. It shouldn’t have worked, but for some reason it did. Wisdom oozed from each page and it is almost possible to open the book at random and find a beautiful quote:

Because while London teems and jostles and is so blind, at the ends of the roads that lead out of it and away, where the roads thin themselves to single track and get lost in the villages of deep countryside, there is space that opens out between people’s lives. There is room to just be. Like Mia’s father and her aunt, who sit not speaking, just clearing their throats now and then in their living room – and who knows what they are thinking – while the clock on the mantelpiece busies itself spilling out time, marks the silence with its small audible marks, with authority, as if measuring were system enough. 

The book was beautifully researched and contained many wonderful details about life both now and during the English Civil War. The descriptions of nature were also particularly evocative. 

Overall this is a slow, but vivid story about our relationship with others and how this is affected by our surroundings. Recommended to people who love the written word and are not bothered by the lack of a strong plot.

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Who will be longlisted for the 2014 Booker Prize?

The longlist for the 2014 Booker Prize will be announced on Wednesday 23rd July 2014. This year the rules have been changed to allow American authors to enter for the first time. No-one knows quite how this will affect the longlist, but I’m sure it will change the dynamics a bit. It also means that a wider pool of books are eligible, making a prediction of the longlist even harder.

For the past few months I’ve been scouring the Internet for signs of Booker potential and have chosen 13 books which I think are strong enough to make the grade.

My predictions for the 2014 Booker longlist:

Dept. of SpeculationThe Narrow Road to the Deep NorthThe Blazing World

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

The Bone ClocksThe Paying GuestsThe Goldfinch

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Signature of All ThingsThe OrendaEvery Day is for the Thief

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole

The Emperor WaltzArctic SummerBoy, Snow, BirdFourth of July Creek

The Emperor Waltz by Philip Hensher

Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi


Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

What do you think of my prediction?

Which books would you like to see on the longlist?

Update 21st July: I’ve just realised that The Shock of the Fall was originally published under a different title, earlier than the Booker cut off date, so have swapped it for Fourth of July Creek in my prediction. 

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (Audio Book)

The Metamorphosis

Five words from the blurb: salesman, transformed, insect, trapped, room

The Metamorphosis is a book I’d always avoided as I suspected it would be disturbing and/or impenetrable. I’m pleased I decided to give it a try as neither of these preconceptions were true. The Metamorphosis is actually easy to read and isn’t very dark at all – in fact it is quite funny in places. 

The book begins with Gregor, a travelling salesman, waking up to discover that he’s been transformed into a giant insect. It is one of those rare cases where an author manages to take a fairly unrealistic concept and make it feel real. I loved Gregor’s confusion and the way he slowly learnt what life as an insect felt like. 

….when he lifted his head a little he could see his dome-like brown belly divided into stiff arched segments on top of which the bed quilt could hardly keep in position and was about to slide off completely. His numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to the rest of his bulk, waved helplessly before his eyes.

It is a short book (just two discs in the audio version) and the plot is very simple, but I was entertained throughout. Martin Jarvis’ narration was excellent and I recommend this book to anyone looking for something a bit different.

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Can you recommend some positive stories about flying?

Kiefer_Lufthansa_WM2014_Special_Livery_-Fanhansa-_(14249323456)

I’m scared of flying. It is a phobia that has been getting gradually worse over the years and I really want to reverse this trend. I’ve realised that almost all my interaction with planes is negative – from seeing plane crashes/terrorism plots in the news; to reading about crash survivors in literature. If you watch TV dramas and films it is even worse, with about 50% of planes crashing over the course of an episode. I know this isn’t  a realistic reflection of air travel and so I want the images stored in my brain to be more positive. 

Can you recommend any books about flying where there are NO plane crashes? 

I want to read happy, positive books about life in the air. Perhaps the memoirs of a pilot or cabin crew? (as long as there are no scary situations) or maybe a book about someone who uses air travel as part of their job? Wildlife researcher? Delivery person? Cartographer?

Please help me to think of air travel in a more positive light!