Booker Prize Other

Two Abandoned Bookers

Derby Day Long listed for 2011 Booker Prize

Derby Day by DJ Taylor

Derby Day instantly transports you back to Victorian England. It is meticulously researched and the dialogue is so realistic that I often felt as though I was reading a book written in the 19th Century.

The story begins with a typical Victorian courtship:

‘But of course he smiles at you in the park, so I had better be silent.’
‘I suppose you are cross because you were not sat next to Mr Happerton,’ Harriet suggested.
‘There are things that make me cross beyond sitting next to Mr Happerton. You are a goose, Harriet, to say such things.’
And Harriet, like Mr Happerton half an hour since, thought that she could not make her cousin out.

The friends and relations of the couple are slowly introduced into the book, along with a race horse and those who work in horse racing circles.

I initially loved the atmosphere, but slowly became bored by the lack of action. I have no interest in horse racing so the snippets of information about it held no interest for me either. After about 100 pages I realised I had no emotional connection to the characters and considered abandoning the book, but for some reason I gave it another chance. I read another 60 pages before finally declaring defeat.

If you enjoy slow, atmospheric books and have a passion for horses then this book may be for you, but I need more action and emotion to excite me.


Far to Go Long listed for 2011 Booker Prize

Far to Go by Alison Pick

Far to Go is probably fantastic, but has the disadvantage of being very similar to numerous other books I’ve read. It is different in that it is set in Czechoslovakia, but in reality the country makes little difference – the story of Jews persecuted during WWII has been told so often that I have little tolerance for it now.

Far to Go has a confusing start, but once I got past this I encountered a well written, emotional story. The problem was that I felt I knew exactly what was going to happen. I could see the relationships between the Jews and non-Jews being set up and I knew that the war would change it all. After about 70 pages I started to skim read and then I read the last couple of chapters.

If the premise of this book appeals to you then I’m sure you’ll fall in love with it, but I’m afraid it wasn’t original enough for me.

27 replies on “Two Abandoned Bookers”

I haven’t gotten to either of these yet, but I do have Far to Go lined up to read soon. I haven’t yet tired of that era, so I’m hoping I’ll have better luck. Derby Days has been hard to come by in the U.S., but your thoughts don’t make it sound very promising. I’m not a fan of horse racing either. I did pick up the first in the series from the library, but it’s quite long, and I don’t know if I’ll get around to it in time.

Carrie, I’m sure you’ll fall in love with Far to Go if you haven’t read many WWII books of this type.

I don’t think you have to be a fan of horse racing to enjoy Derby Day, but you do need to like books without a gripping plot. I hope you do manage to track down a copy at some point. I look forward to following your Booker progress.

Ok, I’ll go with your non-recommendations. I don’t like too much horse information – I actually abandoned Jane Smiley’s Horse Heaven for that reason, even though she is a favorite writer of mine.

And WWII stories I pass on anyway, if I realise in time that’s what it’s about.

A pity you didn’t get into them, though!

Judith, Jane Smiley is another of those authors I have stacked up on my shelves without having tried her yet. I’ll remember to avoid Horse Heaven for my first experience of her writing. 🙂

Well, it wasn’t like I was going to read many of the Bookers anyway, being the slacker that I am. But it is good to know your issues with these just in case! You are absolutely right, despite the compelling attraction to WWII books and the plight of the Jews, if you are going to tell the story, there needs to be something special about the way the story is told. So many out there.

I’ve abandoned Pigeon English so far. Just couldn’t read it. I’m not really into horses so I think I’ll skip Derby Day. I really want to read the Jessie Lamb book but alas I can’t find a print or ebook copy anywhere.

Mrs B, I really should have abandoned Pigeon English, but for some reason I read to the end. Congratulations on not wasting your time with something you weren’t enjoying.

I hope you find a copy of Jessie Lamb soon 🙂

It’s a pity you didn’t enjoy these two, though I think it’s good to have strong feelings rather than just ‘It was ok’. I like a slow, atmospheric read so Derby Day still appeals. I’ve just finished Snowdrops, which was good, but I wonder if the slow-pace and lack of appealing characters might not do it for you either, I’d be interested to see what you think.

Like you I struggled with ‘Derby Day’ initially. I’ve no interest in horse racing, but I don’t think that was the problem since I’ve read plenty of novels featuring walks of life that are of not particular interest to me. It just seemed painfully slow. Not really caring for the fate of the characters probably didn’t help.

The funny thing is I’ve been much more impressed by the second half. It is not the second half is different, just that I have finally got comfortable with it. It has been a bit like breaking in a new pair of shoes: however well made they are, and however suited to one’s own tastes, it takes some time before one feels at home in them. The historical detail and atmosphere are brilliant. Now nearing the end, I still probably wouldn’t care if all of the main characters ended up trampled by horses on race day, but this no longer matters. Instead, I am simply enjoying observing the work of a master literary craftsman.

David, Thanks for letting me know your experience with Derby Day. I agree that a good author should be able to interest the reader in any subject, but I think horse lovers will probably enjoy this one more than the rest of us.

It is interesting to know that you think the second half is much better. I can see how that could be possible, but I’m not sure I could ever really love a book where I don’t care about any of the characters. I agree that the atmosphere is fantastic, but I don’t think you can tempt me to finish it – I’d rather spend my time reading something with characters I love.

I am shocked on your thoughts about Far To Go, I don’t think we can ever have enough of the subject of the World Wars drummed into us… the next few generations won’t learn about it remember so I am pleased literature keeps it alive. I don’t love the ‘genre’, if you can call it that, of this period in fiction but maybe this one will tell it apart. I will be reading it to review in the Bookseller so will let you know.

I didn’t think Derby Day had any horsey stuff in it until the end, at least that is what lots of reviewers have said. The horsey stuff is what puts me off. Would you say its just the odd fact here and there or does it really take over the book?

Simon, I completely agree that future generations need to know all about the wars and I have loved many books about this period. The problem is that there are hundreds of them and only a few stand out. I’m sure you’ll love this book if you haven’t read that many WWII books, but I didn’t think it was anything special.

Derby Day isn’t packed with horsey stuff and it wasn’t the horses that put me off. I just think that anyone with an interest in horses will find enough little titbits of information to keep them engaged.

Hmm, with this post, I feel that my lack of enthusiasm towards the Booker is almost justified (your thoughts on Sisters Brothers does change that a tad, but… let’s ignore that for a second!). I do have a thing (for lack of better words) for books set in and around WWII, but the books I want to read have to be outstanding, as, like you, I’ve read way too many of the books. For example, The Glass House, long listed a couple of years ago was amazing. As was Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Different, but so deep and so thought-provoking.

Hope the rest of the Bookers are better 🙂

anothercookiecrumbles, I agree – The Glass House was outstanding. Strangely I don’t really think of K&C as being about WWII, but a fair amount was set then and it was an amazing book. I also love The Kindly Ones, The Book Thief, The Boy in the Striped PJs, The History of History – I could go on listing great WWII books for a long time, so I’ll stop there!

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