The Sopranos – Alan Warner

The Stars in the Bright Sky was recently nominated for the Booker Prize and as I don’t like reading books out of order I decided to read The Sopranos first.

The Sopranos follows a group of teenage girls as they travel to Edinburgh for a singing competition. It was a frighteningly realistic portrayal of a group of teenage girls, but I’m not entirely convinced that I enjoyed reading it.

The book followed the girls as they embarked on a bus trip and showed their drunken exploits once they’d arrived in Edinburgh. The naivety and boastfulness of the teenagers was initially endearing, but after I’d read a few chapters of them spouting constant nonsense I began to tire of their gossiping.  There were many times when I felt like shouting SHUT UP! After about 100 pages I had to put the book down for a few days and retreat to a quieter book before I could return to their chaotic world.

She’s full of all those wee town ideas. Like ah hate to say it, you want to get out of the Port, you’re aw set up, you’ll come down here an have a great time an get your Law things, but Manda, all she really, really wants, is to get pregnant, soon as possible after leaving school, to a guy wi an okay job, he’ll be a mechanic, or forestry or out on hydro or something, cause, you ever noticed how she only goes wi guys that’re working?….Manda checks their pockets to make sure there’s no giro before anything else, wi them being so poor an that, an all she wants is a bought house up the complex, no far from her Dad, a wee boy wi a skinhead an an earring, called Shane or something, an SKY TV. That’ll be her happy.

The Sopranos was well written and the Scottish accent wasn’t too hard for me to follow, but I found it difficult to read about characters who seemed to be making such a mess of their lives. I didn’t really like any of the girls and frequently wanted to give them a good talking to, but by the end of the book I felt as though I knew each one personally. Considering the subject matter that is an impressive achievement.

I’d recommend this to anyone who’d like an insight into the lives of teenage girls, but be prepared for non-stop gossiping and a worrying level of drunken sex.

The thoughts of other bloggers:

The Sopranos is a lot of fun to read, and it has such a huge amount of heart and warmth that makes it very difficult not to fall for these characters. start narrative here

By the end of the novel, I cared about each of the Sopranos. My Novel Reviews

 …a rip-roaring load of fun to read. Fly the Falcon

I’m looking forward to reading The Stars in the Bright Sky, but I’m really hoping that the characters have matured a bit and that there is a glimmer of hope for their futures.

Have you read either of Alan Warner’s novels?

2010 Other Prizes

A Life Apart – Neel Mukherjee

I have a soft spot for Indian literature and so when I saw the phrase ‘Winner of India’s Premier Literary Prize, The Vodafone Crossword Award 2009’ on the back of this book I picked it up straight away.

A Life Apart is essentially a coming-of-age novel focusing on Ritwik, an Indian homosexual. The story begins in 1980s India with the death of Ritwik’s mother. I was treated to a vivid Indian atmosphere and an instant sense of empathy for Ritwik. Unfortunately everything went downhill after the first chapter, but there were enough interesting passages to keep me reading through the remaining 300 pages.

After the death of his mother Ritwik decides to leave India to study in England. All that wonderful Indian atmosphere was lost and I found myself reading the type of immigration tale that I have read countless times before. Ritwik then exercised his new-found freedom by having sex with numerous strangers. These graphic encounters held no interest for me and there were several points where I considered giving up on the book entirely. I was occasionally treated to flashbacks of Ritwik’s troubled childhood in India, but these were too brief for me. I wish the whole book had concentrated on these instead of his modern, British life.

Intertwined with this narrative was Ritwik’s attempts at fiction writing. This story-within-a-story was set in 1900 and followed Miss Gilby, an English woman teaching a Bengali family:

…the most Beautiful & Useful English Language & the ways of Ladies of your Progressive Nation.

This story was well researched and I learnt a few interesting facts about Colonial life, but the characters failed to connect with me and so overall this narrative didn’t leave much impression on me either.

A Life Apart is a beautifully written piece of literary fiction, but I felt it tried to combine too many elements, leaving me unable to develop an emotional attachment to the characters.

Recommended to those with a passion for immigration stories who have a high tolerance for graphic sex scenes.

Other bloggers seemed to enjoy it much more than I did:

A must read, a full ten out of ten from me. Savidge Reads

Mukherjee’s poetically sublime prose is a real beauty to behold… Rob Around Books

2000 - 2007 Booker Prize Historical Fiction Orange Prize Other Prizes

The Siege – Helen Dunmore


Short listed for 2001 Orange Prize and Whitbread Novel of the Year Award

In September 1941 German troops surrounded the city of Leningrad, cutting off all supply routes. This left the 3 millions residents battling for survival – most so hungry that they resorted to making soup from strips of leather. 

The Siege is historical fiction at its best. The writing was so vivid that I almost felt as though I’d been there.

Late in the morning a lilac-coloured dawn will come, with burning frost that glitters on branches, on spills of frozen water, on snow, cupolas and boarded up statues. Nothing has ever been more beautiful than these broad avenues, the snow-coloured Neva, the parks and embankments. Only the people mar its perfection as they crawl out of their homes into the radiance of snow. Perhaps today is the day when they’ll fail to reach the bread queue. So they move on, flies caught between sheets of glass.

The book focused on one family. This personal insight into the crisis made the events come alive. I felt a deep connection to each member of the family and I willed them all to survive.

The Siege also contained a few chapters from the view-point of Pavlov, the nutritionist controlling the amount of food that each person received with their ration card each day. This was a fantastic addition to the plot as it allowed the real facts and figures of the situation to be revealed to the reader. It also allowed us to learn about the numerous ways in which the citizens were advised get nutrition from objects they possessed in their homes – some much more unusual than others.

As you can imagine this could never be described as a happy book, but I can only admire the strength of human spirit – that desire to survive despite the odds being stacked against them.

Highly recommended.

The Siege is the prequel to the 2010 Booker long listed The Betrayal. If you haven’t read The Siege then I highly recommend that you avoid reading any reviews for The Betrayal – I discovered that my 2010 Booker research had led me to reading a few spoilers for The Siege.

The Siege is my first experience of Helen Dunmore’s writing, but I’m a convert! I hope to read The Betrayal next week, but will also be on the look out for all her other books.

Have you read any Helen Dunmore books?

Which one is your favourite?


2010 Booker Prize Recommended books

Room – Emma Donoghue

 Short listed for 2010 Booker Prize

Room is the best book I’ve read this year. It tells the story of a woman who has been abducted and imprisoned in a single room. The book is narrated by her five-year-old son, Jack, who was born in captivity and protected from fear by his mother. On his fifth birthday she tells him the truth about their situation and Jack is shocked to discover that there is a world outside their four walls. His simple, happy life is crushed as they plot their escape and he realises that the world is much more complicated than he ever imagined.

I had heard a lot of hype about this book and wondered how it could possibly live up to the ravings I’d seen flying around the Internet. When I read the first few chapters I was a bit sceptical.  The writing style took some time to get used to (five-year-olds have a very different way of looking at the world!), but once I grew to appreciate the truth about Jack’s life I was gripped. I read the whole book in a single day, unable to tear myself away from the pages.

Jack’s mother shelters him from reality so we have to read between the lines to see the horrors that she is subjected to, but I found the insight into our society more disturbing than the physical abuse. The book asks important questions about what makes us happy and the way we look after our children. In many ways it reminded me of Flowers for Algernon, another wonderful book that questions our values.

Room is easy to read and will have broad appeal. I’m sure I’ll be thinking about Jack for many years to come and I know that since finishing the book I’ve been looking at the way I spend time with my own sons slightly differently.

It is a modern classic that will continue to be enjoyed many years from now.

Highly recommended.

Will Room win the Booker Prize?

I would love to see Room win the Booker prize, but I’m not sure it will stand up to multiple re-reads. The joy is in the way it makes us look at the world around us – the things we take for granted and the way we often forget the simple pleasures of life. I’m sure it will become a best seller and it has a very good chance of winning the Orange Prize 2011, but I think a more literary novel will scoop the Booker this year.


The Weight of Silence – Heather Gudenkauf

The Weight of Silence is the final book in the TV Book Club’s Summer Reads selection and as I’m drawn to books about families in crisis I decided to give it a try.

The book follows two families who wake one morning to discover that their 7-year-old daughters have disappeared. A frantic hunt for them begins with suspicion for their disappearance thrown on numerous people throughout the story.

The book was fast paced and made up almost entirely of dialogue – this combined with the fact that the book was narrated by six different people meant that I felt I was just skimming the surface, never really getting to know any of the individual characters or the motivations for their actions. I was dragged along by the action, forced to turn the page by the continual end-of-chapter cliff hangers, but never felt any emotional connection to the characters.

There were some tender moments and I especially liked this paragraph about marriage:

People say that being a mother is the most important job you will ever have. And it is very important. But it is even more important, I believe, to be a wife, a good wife…. I don’t mean you have to be a floor mat. That not what I mean at all. I mean, who you choose to walk with through life will be the most important decision that you will ever, ever make. You will have your children and you will love them because they are yours and because they will be wonderful….But who you marry is a choice. The man you choose should make you happy, encourage you in following your dreams, big ones and little ones.

But these moments of genius were rare and I ended the book feeling a bit disappointed. The resolution to the mystery of the girls’ disappearance wasn’t particularly original or surprising and I felt that certain plot points were a bit dubious.

Overall this was a light, entertaining read, but I don’t expect to remember much about it next year.


Opinion seems to be divided:

….a gripping, suspenseful novel which the reader will find unputdownable. Lovely Treez Reads

I do think that the book could have done with a tad more spit and polishThe Book Whisperer

It’s a book that could dredge up emotions and encourage conversations that need to take place. Word Lily

 …compelling plot and unique structure, but lacks some depth when it comes to the central relationship of the story. Sophisticated Dorkiness