March has been quite a strange month reading-wise. I seem to be finding it easier to give up on books and so the number of ones that I’ve failed to finish has ballooned. I am finding that I am enjoying the books that I do decide to finish a lot more and so am spending an increasing amount of time reading – although this may also be due to the fact that my television is broken at the moment!
The Orange Prize has dominated my reading for the past few weeks and will continue to do so during April. I only have six books left to sample, but am now waiting for copies of these to arrive at the library. I’m lucky that my library system has decided to order copies of the entire Orange longlist, but I don’t know how long it will take them to arrive. I haven’t had much luck with the Oranges this year and so am in no rush to complete them – I’ll just try them as and when they turn up at the library.
I have also found it difficult to stick to reading just one or two books at a time. I am currently reading four different books:
The Man Asian Literary Prize is an annual award given to the best novel by an Asian writer. The book must be available in English, but it doesn’t matter if it was originally written in another language. The winning author is awarded USD 30,000 and the translator (if any) USD 5,000. Earlier this month the 2010 winner was revealed to be Three Sisters by Bi Feiyu
The prize was founded in 2007 and as I’ve read all of the winners I thought it might be interesting to give a brief summary of them.
You can view my full reviews by clicking on the book title.
Three Sisters gives an insight into the lives of Chinese women and is especially good at demonstrating the importance of birth order within a family. It is easy to read and packed with details of the Chinese culture. I highly recommend it as an introduction to Chinese literature.
The Boat to Redemption is a coming-of-age story focusing on a boy and his father. It has a slow pace, but the characters are captivating. This novel assumes a knowledge of Chinese culture and mythology and so I do not recommend it to those unfamiliar with the country.
Illustrado is set in the Philippines and is a complex novel exposing corruption within the country. It is highly literary and often difficult to follow, but those with the patience to piece together all the clues love it.
Wolf Totem is set on the Mongolian grasslands and describes the constant battle that the nomads have with the wolves that live there. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in wolves, but be prepared for some graphic fight scenes.
Note: Illustrado was originally written in English, but all the other winners were translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt.
I love the diversity of this prize. All the books are very different to each other and to the majority of books published in this country. They are all very well written, but before starting you never know whether the book will be gripping and easy to read, or a complex narrative packed with references to myths you’ve never heard of. I look forward to following this prize each year and hope to read more of the books which were shortlisted in previous years.
Do you follow the Man Asian Literary Prize?
Are there any books from the shortlists that I should make a special effort to read?
Five words from the blurb: polygamous, family, wives, children, Nigerian
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is set in Nigeria and gives an insight into the problems faced by women within a polygamous marriage. In a series of interwoven narratives the book tells the story of the four women married to Baba Segi, a rich patriarch. We see the strict hierarchy that exists within the family and the wives’ struggle to conceive the children that their husband demands.
The book was very easy to read – the text flowed simply and quickly. There were many humourous sections and the book retained a light tone throughout, despite some darker moments.
I loved seeing the relationships within the family change with the addition of each new wife and it was really interesting to see things from the perspective of each woman.
Iya Segi has two children. The eldest Segi, is fifteen. She is a dutiful sister to her siblings but I think she is afraid that I have come to take her place. I see anger when I offer to help the other children with homework. She doesn’t speak to me but I often see her shadow by the door.
My only complaint is that there was very little description of their surroundings. By the end of the book I felt I knew the wives really well, but I couldn’t picture their house or village at all.
Overall this was a wonderfully entertaining novel that raised many important issues. Recommended.
The thoughts of other bloggers:
….a startling but beautiful evocation of a Nigerian woman’s inner world. Lotus Reads
The author set out to expose the ugliness of polygamy. And she does achieve this but it comes at a cost to her characters. Kinna Reads
My faith in the Orange Prize has returned. I wouldn’t have come across this book if it hadn’t been longlisted for the Orange Prize and I am very pleased that I read it. I hope my next Orange is just as rewarding.
Five words from the blurb: detective, body, woods, family, secrets
Tana French is an author who has been raved about so much that I have forgotten where I first heard about her. I am often disappointed by thrillers and so was nervous about approaching this book, but I shouldn’t have worried – In the Woods is just as good as everyone says it is.
The book is set in Ireland and follows Detective Rob Ryan and his partner, Cassie, as they investigate the murder of a little girl. The case brings back difficult memories for Rob, as two of his childhood friends disappeared in the same wood twenty years earlier. The pair try to establish if the cases are linked, whilst trying to hide Rob’s connection to the previous investigation.
There was a time when I believed, with the police and the media and my stunned parents, that I was the redeemed one, the boy borne safely home on the ebb of whatever freak tide carried Peter and Jamie away. Not any more. In ways too dark and crucial to be called metaphorical, I never left that wood.
The book was gripping all the way through and there were plenty of twists and turns to entertain me. The pacing was perfect – keeping me hooked on every word at the beginning and then speeding up towards the end.
The writing was simple, but effective and I was especially impressed with the character development – all were well formed and I connected with them on an emotional level quite quickly.
There were a few moments when I had to suspend my disbelief as police procedure was abandoned for the benefit of a more thrilling plot. HIGHLIGHT TO READ SPOILER(for example the fact no-one searched the archaeological site or the tool sheds at an early stage in the investigation), but I was willing to overlook these minor problems as they did make the story more entertaining.
I loved the ending. It tied up many of the questions raised by the book, but left some things unanswered so that the sequel is now calling to me very loudly.
There isn’t anything profound or informative in this book, but as a piece of pure entertainment it is almost flawless. Recommended.
The thoughts of other bloggers:
The wonderful thing about this novel is that while it’s ostensibly a mystery, it’s really a character-driven story dressed up in a mystery’s clothing. Fyrefly’s Book Blog
Five words from the blurb: prison, struggle, survive, darkest, terrible
This book is based on the real experiences of a survivor of Tazmamart – the secret prison in which sixty people were imprisoned for taking part in the 1971 failed coup to oust King Hassan II of Morocco. They were locked in appalling conditions – with no light, little food and virtually no protection from the freezing cold winters or the stifling heat of summer. For twenty years the men battled against disease and boredom, before the survivors were finally released in 1991.
This book is a gripping, but harrowing account of an almost unimaginable suffering.
The cold interfered with my thinking. It made me hear friendly voices, like a mirage for a man lost in the desert. The freezing cold muddled everything. It was an electric drill piercing holes in the skin. No blood spurted out; it had frozen in the veins. It was vital to keep our eyes open, stay awake. Those so feeble they succumbed to sleep died within a few hours.
Very little actually happens in this short book, but the full range of human emotion leaps from the page.
It could never be described as an enjoyable read, but it is as an important book. It is a vivid account of the terrible things that humans are capable of doing to each other, but also proof that with the right frame of mind it is possible to survive in even the harshest of conditions.
Recommended to anyone interested in imprisonment and its affects upon the human mind.
The Orange longlist was announced last week and I was sad to see it included several books that I had failed to complete. I thought I’d write a quick summary of the reasons I discarded each book so that you can see the issues I had and decide whether or not these problems would affect your reading enjoyment.
If you are a fan of great writing then I’m sure you will fall in love with the Orange longlist this year, but if you are like me and prefer books to have a strong narrative then I think you may be disappointed with the selection.
I have seen lots of people raving about this book and so was expecting to fall in love with it, but although I was initially impressed with the quality of the writing I quickly tired of the long descriptions and the excessive detail in every scene. There were many points when I was inwardly shouting “GET ON WITH IT!!”
But this – this was something entirely different. This had bypassed all my defenses, had slipped unnoticed past the halls of reason, like a supervirus that has become resistant to everything, and only once it had taken root in the very core of me it reared its terrifying head.
The plot was so slow and meandering that I could barely see its existence and the central theme revolving around an old desk did nothing to excite me. At p105 I realised that I didn’t care about any of the characters and so I abandoned the book. I’m sure it has a clever ending, but I’m not willing to wade through another 200 pages to discover it. If you can cope without a plot then I’m sure you’ll love this one. It is definitely a book that divides opinion.
As with her earlier book, Brixton Beach, this one got off to a fantastic start. The mysterious murder of several farm animals had me gripped to my seat, but the plot quickly lost momentum and became a typical story about asylum seekers. I felt I’d read this sort of thing many times before and as the gentle nature of the prose failed to engage me I gave up at page 77.
I know that lots of people will love this one (especially fans of magical realism and adult fairy tales) but I’m afraid I had problems suspending my disbelief. The mixture of real life and myth didn’t work for me and the meandering plot stretched my tolerance too far. I gave up after 160 pages.
I’m afraid I can’t really explain why I didn’t finish this one. I just didn’t connect with the writing and found that my mind kept wandering from the page. I did skim read to the end, but I’m afraid that nothing managed to pull me back into the text.
Unlike all the other books I abandoned I immediately connected with the characters in this book. The first few chapters completely sucked me in, but then things started to go wrong. Or to be more precise, they failed to go right. This book contained some amazing observations of people in society, but unfortunately very little actually happened. I lost interest after I found myself reading about yet another relationship problem and gave up after about 70 pages.
From my experience of the longlist this year it is clear that the Orange judges prefer books with interesting literary styles and they are not looking a gripping plot. I am sad that I have had such a bad experience with the list so far, but hope I’ll find something to enjoy in the remaining books.
If you enjoy reading beautifully written books with a meandering/non-existent plot then I’m sure you’ll love all of them.