Pulitzer Prize

Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout





Winner of the Pulitzer Prize 2009


Olive Kitteridge is described as a “novel in stories”. I’m not a big fan of short stories, and so wasn’t convinced that I’d enjoy this book, but as it won the Pulitzer prize I thought I’d give it a try.

I think the emphasis on this being a collection of short stories is misleading, as it is essentially just a novel about one woman, Olive Kitteridge. The story is told through the eyes of various people who knew her, capturing the important moments in her life,  in what at first, are seemingly random snippets. The use of small-town gossip, to tell much of the story was a clever medium, which I haven’t seen used before.

The book begins quite slowly, and I have to admit that for the first few chapters I didn’t know what to make of it. The writing was very vivid and powerful, but the large number of characters meant that I wasn’t sure who, or what, was important. About a third of the way through things began to fall into place. Olive’s character became prominent, and I felt that I understood what was happening. I don’t want to give anything away, but I think it is important that you know that the overwhelming emotion I felt on completing the book was that of heartbreak. This book is incredibly touching, and packed with feelings of sadness, and loss. It questions which things are important in life, and examines the relationships between family members who have forgotten how to love each other. Olive’s emotions are powerful and realistic. All mothers will sympathise with her feelings of isolation, as her only son distances himself from her.

Overall, I found this to be an insightful, touching novel on the reflections of an old woman nearing death. It is a great book, and I think it is worthy of the Pulitzer prize, but I’m not sure it will stand the test of time. I think it will probably end up on that list of ‘the most forgotten Pulitzers’ in 50 years time. Do you think this is a worthy winner of the Pulitzer prize?

Recommended to anyone who has the patience to piece together a great story.


This is the first of Elizabeth Strout’s book s which I have read, but I am tempted to read more.

Have you read any of her books?

Which one did you prefer?

I look forward to hearing your opinions!


Orange Prize Other

The Orange Prize Shortlist Challenge

The Orange Shortlist was announced a few days ago, and I have decided to try to read all the books on the list, before the winner is announced on 3rd June.

These six books are:
All summaries taken from the Orange Prize Website

Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman

In Alabama, 1931, a posse stops a freight train and arrests nine black youths. Their crime: fighting with white boys. Then two white girls emerge from another freight car, and as fast as anyone can say Jim Crow, the cry of rape goes up. One of the girls sticks to her story. The other changes her tune, again and again. A young journalist, whose only connection to the incident is her overheated social conscience, fights to save the nine youths from the electric chair, redeem the girl who repents her lie, and make amends for her own past. Intertwining historical actors and fictional characters, stirring racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism into an explosive brew.

The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey

It’s Jake’s birthday. He is sitting in a small plane, being flown over the landscape that has been the backdrop to his life – his childhood, his marriage, his work, his passions. Now he is in his early sixties, and he isn’t quite the man he used to be. He has lost his wife, his son is in prison, and he is about to lose his past. Jake has Alzheimer’s. As the disease takes hold of him, Jake struggles to hold on to his personal story, to his memories and identity, but they become increasingly elusive and unreliable. What happened to his daughter? Is she alive, or long dead? And why exactly is his son in prison? What went so wrong in his life? There was a cherry tree once, and a yellow dress, but what exactly do they mean?As Jake, assisted by ‘poor Eleanor’, a childhood friend with whom for some unfathomable reason he seems to be sleeping, fights the inevitable dying of the light, the key events of his life keep changing as he tries to grasp them, and what until recently seemed solid fact is melting into surreal dreams or nightmarish imaginings. Is there anything he’ll be able to salvage from the wreckage? Beauty, perhaps, the memory of love, or nothing at all?

The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt

Louisa is an imaginative and curious chambermaid who, while cleaning rooms at the New Yorker Hotel, stumbles across a man living permanently in room 3327, which he has transformed into a scientific laboratory. Brought together by a shared interest in the pigeons that nest in the hotel, Louisa discovers that the mysterious guest is Nikola Tesla, one of the most brilliant – and most neglected – inventors of the twentieth century.

Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden

Dublin, Midsummer: While absent in New York, the celebrated actor Molly Fox has loaned her house to a playwright friend, who is struggling to write a new work. Over the course of this, the longest day of the year, the playwright reflects upon her own life, Molly’s, and that of their mutual friend Andrew, whom she has known since university. Why does Molly never celebrate her own birthday, which falls upon this day? What does it mean to be a playwright or an actor? How have their relationships evolved over the course of many years? Molly Fox’s Birthday calls into question the ideas that we hold about who we are; and shows how the past informs the present in ways we might never have imagined.

Home by Marilynne Robinson

Hundreds of thousands of readers were enthralled and delighted by the luminous, tender voice of John Ames in Gilead, Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Now comes HOME, a deeply affecting novel that takes place in the same period and same Iowa town of Gilead. This is Jack’s story. Jack ? prodigal son of the Boughton family, godson and namesake of John Ames, gone twenty years ? has come home looking for refuge and to try to make peace with a past littered with trouble and pain. A bad boy from childhood, an alcoholic who cannot hold down a job, Jack is perpetually at odds with his surroundings and with his traditionalist father, though he remains Boughton’s most beloved child. His sister Glory has also returned to Gilead, fleeing her own mistakes, to care for their dying father. Brilliant, loveable, wayward, Jack forges an intense new bond with Glory and engages painfully with his father and his father’s old friend John Ames.

Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

In a prison cell in the US, a man stands trembling, naked, fearfully waiting to be shipped to Guantanamo Bay. How did it come to this? he wonders August 9th, 1945, Nagasaki. Hiroko Tanaka steps out onto her veranda, taking in the view of the terraced slopes leading up to the sky. Wrapped in a kimono with three black cranes swooping across the back, she is twenty-one, in love with the man she is to marry, Konrad Weiss. In a split second, the world turns white. In the next, it explodes with the sound of fire and the horror of realisation. In the numbing aftermath of a bomb that obliterates everything she has known, all that remains are the bird-shaped burns on her back, an indelible reminder of the world she has lost. In search of new beginnings, she travels to Delhi two years later. There she walks into the lives of Konrad’s half-sister, Elizabeth, her husband James Burton, and their employee Sajjad Ashraf, from whom she starts to learn Urdu. As the years unravel, new homes replace those left behind and old wars are seamlessly usurped by new conflicts. But the shadows of history – personal, political – are cast over the entwined worlds of the Burtons, Ashrafs and the Tanakas as they are transported from Pakistan to New York, and in the novel’s astonishing climax, to Afghanistan in the immediate wake of 9/11. The ties that have bound them together over decades and generations are tested to the extreme, with unforeseeable consequences.

So for the next few weeks I will mainly be reading Orange books! 

Have you read any of the shortlist?

Do you plan to try reading them all?

I look forward to hearing your opinions!


I wish authors would write study guides!

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Question suggested by Barbara H:

My husband is not an avid reader, and he used to get very frustrated in college when teachers would insist discussing symbolism in a literary work when there didn’t seem to him to be any. He felt that writers often just wrote the story for the story’s sake and other people read symbolism into it.

It does seem like modern fiction just “tells the story” without much symbolism. Is symbolism an older literary device, like excessive description, that is not used much any more? Do you think there was as much symbolism as English teachers seemed to think? What are some examples of symbolism from your reading?

I agree, English teachers often read far more into a book than the author ever intended to put across. I am sometimes baffled by the detail we are supposed to to obtain from single sentences in books. I cannot believe that the author spent that many hours thinking of all of the different connotations that could be gained from their choice of words on each page.

This was confirmed to me on reading the insightful autobiography of Amy Tan, The Opposite of Fate. I love Amy Tan’s book, and they are now frequently studied in American schools. In The Opposite of Fate Amy Tan describes how she was interested to read some of the study guides for her novels, and how they were filled with symbolism which she never intended to be there. I wish I had a copy here to give you some examples, but unfortunately I don’t so you’ll have to read it for yourself! If you’re a fan of Amy Tan, then you will love it, although it will probably lost on you if you don’t know the plots of her books.

Edited to add: Kim kindly found me this quote from The Opposite of Fate:

In page after chilling page, I saw my book had been hacked apart, autopsied, and permanently embalmed into chapter-by-chapter blow-by-blows:plot summaries, geneaology charts, and — ay-ya! — even Chinese horoscopes.

It sums up exactly what I was trying to get across – Thank you Kim!

I recently read the Cliffs Notes study guide for Beloved by Toni Morrison, and was shocked by the number of things you can supposedly draw from the text. For example, the family live at 124 Bluestone Road. Can anyone who has read the book guess as to what this might symbolise?

Apparently it can be taken to symbolise three things:

  • The number 124 apparently “emphasizes the incompleteness of the family”. The number 3 is missing from the sequence, just as Sethe’s third child is missing from the family.
  • The numbers 1 + 2 + 4 = 7,  the number of letters on Beloved’s headstone.
  • The joining of Sethe (1) with Halle (2)  leads to four children (4)        1 – 2 – 4

I can almost understand that the first example could have been intentional by the author, but the second two just seem a bit far fetched, and even if they were written intentionally by the author, are we, the readers expected to pick up on these things without having to read a study guide?

I would love to know which symbolism Toni Morrison intended to be present in her book. I love reading, but normally only read for the enjoyment of the story. I don’t seek out symbolism, and in most cases it passes me by. For this reason I would love all authors who place symbolism in their novels to write a study guide for their books, so we can clearly see all the clues which were intentionally placed there. If they put the effort of adding symbolism into their books, then wouldn’t they like to have all their hard work appreciated by the every day reader, who doesn’t want to spend hours re-reading each word slowly, searching for hidden meanings?

I urge all authors to summarise the main points they were trying to get across to us in an extra chapter at the end of their book, or on their website. That way we will be able to fully appreciate their message, and not be mislead by the authors of study guides who read far to much into everything!

What do you think? Do you think most study guides are fully of random thoughts which the author did not intend?

Do you ever spot symbolism in books?  Do you like it?

I’d love to know your opinions!

Orange Prize Recommended books

The Road Home – Rose Tremain

Winner of the Orange Prize 2008





The Road Home tells the story of Lev, a migrant worker from Eastern Europe, travelling to England in the hope of finding enough money to support his mother and daughter, back in his home country. Still grieving from the death of his wife, he tries to build a new life for himself in a country where he doesn’t know anyone, and struggles to understand many of the English customs.

The detailed observations of London made me see my own country in a new light. Some of the things that I see every day were described so vividly that I saw them through new eyes, those of a migrant worker coming to the UK for the first time, and what I saw was both unsettling and true.

The writing style was reminiscent of A Fine Balance, which is very high praise from me, as Rohinton Mistry’s book is currently my favourite of all time. I loved the detail, and the emotion behind the words.

I’m not sure how realistic many of Lev’s experiences were; opportunities continually seemed to land in front of him, and I’m sure life for a real migrant worker would actually have been much tougher, especially in the first few weeks.

I was a little disappointed with the ending. It was so neat that it was as if the final chapter had been written first, and then everything else fanned out backwards from this point, rather than a natural progression from beginning to end. It was also a bit predictable from about the halfway point, but I’m willing to forgive these few niggles, as this really is a great book. It is packed with emotion, and enforces the message that family and friendships are more important that anything else in the world.

This book isn’t for everyone, as it is slow in places, contains a lot of observational passages, and the number of stereotypes will make some people cringe. I loved it, despite it’s flaws. It is a worthy winner of the Orange prize, and I recommend it to all lovers of well written fiction.

This is the first book by Rose Tremain that I have read. I’m really looking forward to reading all her others.

Have you read any books by Rose Tremain? If so, which was your favourite?

Do you think it deserved to win the Orange prize last year? Or was one of the other short listed books better?

I’d love to hear your opinions!


Half of a Yellow Sun – Read-along

I’m trying to put a bit more effort into completing my TBR challenge pile. So when Kathrin from Cozy Murders suggested a buddy read of Half of a Yellow Sun, I jumped at the chance! I now have some motivation for reading it, as having someone else to share the experience always increases my enjoyment of a book.

We have decided to start reading it in the first week of May, getting to the half way point on 7th May, and hopefully finishing it on 14th May. If anyone else would like to read along with us, then we would love the opportunity to share our thoughts with you!

Would you like to read Half of a Yellow Sun with us?


While I was writing this post I discovered that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new book The Thing Around Your Neck has just been released here. I was really looking forward to reading it, and assumed it was being released in June, as that is the date I had seen everywhere in the blogging world. The good news for me is that it is released earlier here in the UK, so I have just ordered a copy! Hopefully I’ll manage to read this in the next few weeks. The bad news for those of you in the US is that you still have a couple of months to wait!!

Have you read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s books? Which is your favourite?

Are you looking forward to reading her new one? 


Why is the TBR Challenge the hardest?

tbr-pileI had a quick check through the status of my reading challenges today, and was shocked to discover that all of them are on track apart from the TBR challenge. I haven’t read a single book from my TBR list! I thought that this would be one of the simplest challenges – all I had to do was write a list of books which I already own and want to read. I was so confident in completing this challenge that I didn’t even bother to create a reserve list!

I do really want to read all the books on this list, but for one reason or another there is always a book which jumps ahead of them.

1. Going Out – Scarlett Thomas
2. Lamb in His Bosom – Caroline Miller
3. The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
4. Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
5. The Stone Diaries – Carol Shields
6. When We Were Orphans – Kazuo Ishiguro
7. The Hiding Place – Trezza Azzopardi
8. The Secret History – Donna Tartt
9. Reading in the Dark – Seamus Deane
10. Outlander – Diana Gabaldon
11. Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri
12. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

I need to get this challenge back on track, so am going to  prioritise these books in the coming months – well I hope I’ll be able to!

Is anyone else struggling with the TBR Challenge? 

How many of your TBR pile have you read?

Which challenge are you finding the hardest to complete?