2010 2011 Orange Prize Other

Five More Disappointing Oranges

I haven’t had much luck with the Orange longlist this year. Rather than depress you with a series of negative review posts I thought I’d squeeze my grievances into one long post. Then next week I’ll be able to move on and tell you about all the wonderful books I’ve been reading in the past few days.

Here are my reasons for not falling in love with five more of the Oranges:

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

Five words from the blurb: Freetown, friendship, life, war, love

The Memory of Love is set in set in Freetown, Sierra Leone, shortly after the civil war. A psychologist from England discovers Elias Cole, an elderly man, in the hospital and through a series of notebooks we discover what life was like for Elias in 1969 – 30 years earlier.

I immediately fell in love with the writing. It was so vivid that I could imagine exactly what it was like to live in the city.

A change in the season. Surreptitious at first. At night the rain tapped on the windowpanes, scores of hesitant fingers. Dawn brought bright skies, washed of the desert dust, and the hard, coppery smell of earth. For the first time in months you had a clear view of the hills from the city.

I bonded with all the characters and felt I understood their emotions and motivations. Basically I was in love with this book, thinking I could easily award it five stars. But then everything began to unravel. Nothing happened and I became frustrated by the lack of action. This book was so packed with detail that it takes a long time to read each page and so by the time I got to around the 80 page mark I had already been reading it for almost three hours. This slowness meant I felt the boredom even more and so the next hour of reading was very tedious. After about 120 pages I gave up and started skimming. Occasional sections grabbed my interest, but overall I was shocked by how little actually happened in the remaining 300 pages – I could summarise the entire plot in just a couple of lines.

I slowed down to read the ending and was saddened to see how predictable the whole book had been.

This book has the best writing I’ve found on the Orange longlist so far. If it had contained a more complex plot then it could have been fantastic.



Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Five words from the blurb: alligator, theme park, family, swamp, mythic

This is another book that started really well and then lost my attention as time went on. I loved the initial descriptions of life in the alligator theme park, but I felt the only real character in the book was the swamp. All the people were flat and most of their reactions were fairly unbelievable. I also struggled with the magical realism present in this book – it felt a bit forced.

On the plus-side the writing was fantastic, but I’m afraid I need a bit more than that to pull me through to the end. I started skimming after about 95 pages and was never pulled back into the story.



The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

Five words from the blurb: Budapest, Paris, tragedy, Jewish, family

I had high hopes for The Invisible Bridge as I was told it was one of the few Oranges with a plot, but I’m afraid I was disappointed by this one too. I found the characters to be one-dimensional visions of perfection and their relationships were overly sentimental. I started skimming after about 150 pages, but began to read again as the plot focused on the forced-labour camps. The book was well researched, but it was all too contrived and predictable. It might have been better with 300 pages removed, but the simplicity of the plot could not sustain my attention for nearly 600 pages.



Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela

Five words from the blurb: Sudan, household, faith, modernising, future

I think my disappointment with this book began with the comparison to Naguib Mahfouz on the cover. Apart from the setting (and the confusing number of characters in the beginning!)  these books have little in common. Lyrics Alley is a much simpler book that lacks the depth and atmosphere of Mahfouz’s work. It was quick and easy to read, but it lacked that magic spark. I did read all the way to the end, but never felt connected to any of the characters on an emotional level.


Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch

Five words from the blurb: London, circus, collector, animals, journey

This was another book that began really well. I was instantly drawn into the story of a little boy coming face-to-face with an escaped tiger. The depiction of life in a circus was wonderful, but after that things went downhill. They set sail on a journey to look for a komodo dragon and life aboard the ship was dull. It dragged for far too many pages before finally reaching a good climax. Unfortunately it was too little, too late for me as the majority of the book was disappointing.


Did you love any of these books?

31 replies on “Five More Disappointing Oranges”

I only know Karen Russell from her short stories, which are very entertaining. Swamplandia is based on one of her short stories.

Can I just say that I love the “five words from the blurb” feature. Great idea.

Cbjames, I haven’t read her short stories so can’t comment on those, but this did feel like a short story that had been stretched too far, instead of a story created especially for a novel. I’d be interested to know if you enjoy this as much as her short stories so I hope you decide to give it a try at some point.

You haven’t had much luck with the Orange longlist this year:( Were your expectations too high? I’d still like to know which title you think may win though.

Sakura, I think that my problem is that I have a very different taste from the judges this year. I’m not sure who will win (could be one of four) but am writing my shortlist prediction post right now, so my thoughts will be revealed soon.

Too bad you had such a disappointing experience reading these books 🙁 I guess we don’t like the same books, because I loved both The Invisible Bridge (though I admit it could’ve been shortened) and The Memory of Love. My local public library doesn’t carry Lyrics Alley nor Swamplandia! If they don’t make it onto the shortlist, I might skip them. The same library has Jamrach’s Menagerie on order.

I just finished The Seas by Samantha Hunt, which I did not enjoy at all. I don’t have a problem with multiple layered novels, but it was just too far-fetched for me. I also did not love Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad. Somehow, this surprises most people, but the narrative just spiraled out of control. My next Orange list read is Great House (I believe Sakura is also reading this), hopefully it will not disappoint!

Chinoiseries, I forgot all about The Seas! I should have probably mentioned in this post that I read the sample chapters online and decided that I didn’t want to read any more. I didn’t like The Invention of Everything Else and so I wasn’t keen to read The Seas in the first place. The first few chapters confirmed that it isn’t my sort of thing. Other reviews seem to confirm this.

I Haven’t read The Goon Squad yet, but have decided to wait and buy the audio version. I’m not sure I’ll like it, but I think I have a stronger chance with that book than most of the others.

If you enjoyed The Memory of Love then I think you’ll love Great House. Enjoy 🙂

Oh dear. I’m loving Jamrach’s Menagerie, but I’m only a few chapters in. I’ve not tried any of the others, though The Invisible Bridge is gazing at me from my library pile. This list isn’t enthusing me enough to prioritse the books, and I must admit that a few of last year’s longlist that I haven’t read yet look rather more appealing than most of this year’s books.

FleurFisher, I hope that you enjoy the rest of Jamrach’s Menagerie. It wasn’t too bad – falling in my OK category, but I think there is a good chance that you’ll enjoy it more than me. I look forward to seeing your review.

I think that last years longlist was much more enjoyable than this one – your craving for them is probably a good thing to follow. 🙂

Diane, I wouldn’t describe it as awful – what I read was OK (especially if you like romance novels), it just wasn’t for me. I hope that you have better luck than I did.

How many have you finished/enjoyed, Jackie? I’m waiting for the shortlist announcement before reading any more; I’m really enjoying reading on a whim just now (had a mini reading slump post reading The Great House as I loved it so much).

I hope you have more luck with the Booker! From what I’ve been hearing a lot of strong male contenders so may be more successful with you.

Claire, I loved Room and The Birth of Love and enjoyed Baba Segi’s Wives. I’ve completed 5 more. I’m sure you’ll love The Tiger’s Wife so I recommend that you read it whether or not it makes the shortlist (I’m sure it will!)

I’ve got my fingers crossed that I’ll discover some fantastic reads on the Booker list 🙂

I have read a few books you reviewed and enjoyed them very so, so on these I bow to your opinion. I still might read The Invisible Bridge, but now I won’t hurry. Thanks for the great run down.

Alex, lots of people love The Invisible Bridge so I may just have been in the wrong mood for it. It is a long one do make sure you put aside a lot of time if you do decide to give it a go.

Stu, I would probably prefer the IFFP list too. Unfortunately lots of them aren’t available in my library, but I will try to read more if them in the future.

Gotta tell you, one of my pet peeves is a blurb that compares a book to another (even a classic) book. While I realize this is done to boost sales, it does not take into account the inevitable disappointment the reader feels. It’s as if the publisher doesn’t care about the disappointment, they just want the initial sale. Good for publishers, bad for authors, especially if they intend to write another book.

Michele, I actually don’t mind it – if it is accurate. BUT I am fed up of people comparing everything Japanese to Murakami (something that happens all the time) when that isn’t the case at all (or as in this case a book that is simply set in the Middle East being compared to Mahfouz). It just isn’t right 🙁 It does get an extra sale from me, but does lose my trust in that publisher.

What a shame you had so many disappointments. i think I’m inclined to agree with you abotu Swamplandia – it was a promising start because ti was so different but I found it a bit of a struggle to get my way through once the novelty had worn off. Also struggled with the Memory of love – just too long! I have yet to start the Invisible bridge but am a little daunted by the length and very small type. I liked Jamrach’s Menagerie and haven’t been able to get hold of Lyrics Alley. So I’m inclined to agree with you on a lot of these points.

Oooh I really liked Swamplandia, it had something over ‘The Tigers Bride’ (which I keep calling ‘The Tigers Tea’ randomly) which I liked alot too it has to be said. I did feel Invisible Bridge and The Memory of Love were rather over descriptive, and could have done with an editing, that said The Memory of Love will stay with me a long while. Jamarach’s Menagerie I thought was brilliant.

The dud’s this year for me were The London Train (hated it), A Visit from the Goon Squad (manipulating originality I felt), and Tearne and Doshi which I found a bit middle of the road to be honest.

I’ve read none of these books but I understand your disappointment. A lot of books these days start out strong or come with too many expectations and can’t help but disappoint readers. It seems like this year’s Oranges were a bit lacking in plot (not that I actually follow the Orange Prize enough to know if this is a rarity…). Perhaps these just weren’t the books for you?

I only have two left to read to finish this year’s longlist, so I’m finally peeking at all of the posts that I’d saved to read “later”. I can see why you didn’t find some of these enjoyable.

Of these five, the one which most impressed me most wholly and unexpectedly was Jamrach’s Menagerie.

I love it when an author takes me places that I don’t want to go (literally and figuratively) and engages me against my will: Carol Birch’s novel did that for me (or, against me, such as it was!) and that’s a rarity.

I’ll be interested to see your later Orange thoughts, whether any of your opinions have altered over time. Mine have, just in the past few weeks.

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