Abandoning some prize winners

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Chinaman

Chinaman by Shehan Karunatilaka

This book has been stalking me for a long time. It first came to my attention when it was selected as one of the Waterstone’s 11, then it won the 2012 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and I keep seeing positive references to it on Twitter. Last week it won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and I felt it was finally time to give it the benefit of the doubt, despite my hatred for cricket.

Unfortunately it got off to a bad start. The book was riddled with obscure facts about cricket and I had to force myself to concentrate. I only kept reading because of the sentence at the end of this paragraph on page 6:

Clean Bowled
The simplest dismissal is when the bowler knocks over the batsman’s wickets. Matthew did this with most of his victims. He sent left-arm chinamen, googlies, armballs and darters through pads and feet. Here is a not-so-random sample of batsmen whose bails he dislodged. Border. Chappell. Crowe. Gatting. Gavaskar. Gower. Greenidge. Hadlee. Imran. Kapil. Lloyd. Miandad.
You are shaking your head. You are closing the book and frowning at the cover. Rereading the blurb at the back. Wondering if a refund is out of the question.

I hoped this was an indication that the cricket facts would be short lived. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case. After 40 pages I could stand it no longer and abandoned it. If you enjoy reading about sport, particularly cricket, then I’m sure there is a lot to be gained from reading this book.

Please Look After Mother

Please Look After Mother by Kyung-Sook Shin

I’ve had a mixed reaction to previous winners of the Man Asian Literary Prize, unfortunately this year produced another that wasn’t quite to my taste. The book is set in Korea and follows a family as they search for their elderly mother who has gone missing in Soeul.

The second person narrative style annoyed me:

After your children’s mother went missing, you realised it was your wife who was missing. Your wife, who you’d forgotten about for fifty years, was present in your heart. Only after she disappeared did she come to you tangibly, as if you could reach out and touch her.”

I also longed for a more complex plot, instead of just an overly sentimental discussion about how important our parents are.

I abandoned it after about 70 pages, but if you enjoy gentle, introspective books written in an experimental writing style then you may well love it.

The Marlowe Papers

The Marlowe Papers Ros Barber

This book hasn’t actually won any awards, but I’m so confident that it will that I’ve decided to include it in this list. The book is written from the perspective of Christopher Marlowe. It assumes that he didn’t die in a pub brawl, but went on to write numerous plays under the pseudonym of William Shakespeare.

This book is written in the style of Shakespeare and is obviously genius:

Liquor kicks doorframes while the Lowlands sleep.
It shoulders blame for my catastrophe,
swallows my life and pisses it in the sink,
blurs what I hurt to look at, pillows sense.
Drink fogs a future which is only dark
and endless tramping into foreign towns
until tomorrow narrows to a point
on the nose’s tip. Then soaks and hardens thoughts,
weighting them into bruising hammer blows

Unfortunately I’ve never enjoyed reading Shakespeare. I have horrible flashbacks of being forced to read it in school every time I think about it.

If you enjoy reading Shakespeare then you’re in for a real treat!

Have you read any of these books?


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40 Comments

  1. Tony says:

    I love cricket and am very keen to try ‘Chinaman’.

    I loathe crap writing and PLAM will probably be the worst book I read this year.

    I want to read more Shakespeare and will prioritise that over this book :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Tony,

      I suspect that you’ll love Chinaman

      You’re lucky – I’ve read quite a few books worse than this in the last few months :-)

      Enjoy your Shakespeare!

  2. I’ve only heard of Please Look after my Mother. It sounds like a book I may enjoy – although now that you abandoned it, I’m not so sure.

    I see in your side bar that you’re reading The Carhullan Army. I hope you like that one. I think I did – 4 stars or so.

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, You may enjoy PLAM – depends on how you cope with second person narratives. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on it.

      Despite it being in my sidebar for weeks I still haven’t started The Carhullan Army. I finished a book last night so I’ll try to pick it up tonight. Hopefully I’ll enjoy it.

  3. Harvee says:

    Too bad you didn’t like any of the three books. I’ve read only one, Please Look After Mother, which showed me a little about women from the previous and more conservative generation, and their position in life and in the family in Asia, in this instance, Korea. It was extremely sad, the life of this hard working, silent woman who was not valued as she should have been by her family and by society. She disappears in silence, as she lived in silence, it seems.

    1. Jackie says:

      Harvee, I can see why people enjoy it, but I have read quite a few books that show how women in these societies are treated and so it was nothing new for me. The narrative style didn’t help, but I am very sensitive to experimental writing styles – I prefer things to be a little more ordinary. Glad you enjoyed it.

  4. David says:

    I’m actually sort of pleased you didn’t like ‘The Marlowe Papers’ as it makes me feel better about not wanting to give it a go. I’ve seen some good reviews and it seems inventive enough that it might end up on some prize lists later in the year. But Shakespeare? Written in verse? No no no, not for me.

    I’ve had a copy of ‘Chinaman’ since last year and had been putting it off because it was a ‘sport’ novel and I didn’t think I liked those, not being at all sporty myself. But the funny thing is I’ve read a few sport-related novels lately and surprised myself by enjoying them all – maybe its the triumph of the underdog, or the obsessiveness of both players and fans, or the universality of it that works for me, I don’t know. In fact I took the ultimate masochistic plunge the other week and bought a novel with the title ‘Bring Me the Head of Ryan Giggs’, which come to think of it is probably like making yourself look at pictures of tarantulas to overcome arachnophobia. Anyway, I’ll probably try ‘Chinaman’ soon.

    1. Jackie says:

      David, Glad I’m not the only one put off by the Shakespeare verse! I’ve seen some amazing reviews for ‘The Marlowe Papers’ so I feel a bit sad that I don’t appreiciate it, but sometimes I have to accept that some things just aren’t for me.

      I actually liked my first sports novel (The Art of Fielding) last year, but I have a long line of ones that haven’t worked so tread very cautiously near them. I hope you like ‘Chinaman’ – you’ll certainly learn a lot about cricket whilst reading it.

      1. David says:

        “Anyway, I’ll probably try ‘Chinaman’ soon” I wrote over three and a half years ago, “soon” obviously being a relative term! I finally read it this month and I quite liked it. The obscure cricket references I didn’t mind and I did learn a bit about the sport, and the ending where it all became a bit metafictional was very well done (in fact I wished there was more of this part as the writing really took flight). But goodness, it doesn’t half sag in the middle and for a good 150 pages it was a struggle to keep pushing on. It’s a decent novel and I’m glad I finally read it, but I’m not sure you missed much by abandoning it.

        1. Jackie says:

          David, Yes, My ‘soon’ is often similar to yours! I can remember next to nothing about Chinaman, but I’m glad you found it more rewarding than I did!

  5. nomadreader says:

    I ended up really liking Please Look After Mom, but it did take some time for the story to really get going. Initially I found the second-person language jarring (it does switch to first-person later), but I came to enjoy i. I do think part of my fascination and enjoyment of the novel was related to its setting. I found the exploration of Korean family systems and culture so intriguing. Sorry these didn’t work for you.

    1. Jackie says:

      nomadreader, It is quite good to know this book took a while to adjust to, but I don’t think I’d have enjoyed it if I’d continued. It all sounds a bit quiet for me. Glad you enjoyed it.

  6. Shan says:

    I was thinking about picking up Chinaman but the whole cricket thing was preventing me. Now that I’ve read your review, I’m fairly certain I won’t enjoy it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Shan, If you actively hate cricket as much as I do then I suggest you avoid it.

  7. Sandy says:

    No! And I shan’t! Weird because sometimes I can pick up a book about some THING I know nothing about (cricket) and be inspired to learn more about it. But based on that snippet, I wouldn’t make it through this one. Nor do I read Shakespeare. And you know how I feel about gentle.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, Reading a book about something you know nothing about is very different from reading about something you hate, but the right writer can turn a dull subject into something entertaining. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case here. :-(

  8. Ifi says:

    FORGET cricket… not for me. Not keen on books about sport on the whole. I’m more worried about your review of PLAM. Just bought the darned thing and was hoping it would be a good read. Though I quite like experimental writing styles and the idea of the second person narrative. So it might well be for me after all.

    Ps. I like it that you throw in the ocassional reviews that don’t appear in your side bar TBR/reviews coming soon section. Nice to be surprised like that.

    1. Jackie says:

      Ifi, I hope you have more luck with PLAM than I did. I know a lot of people love it, but anything with a second person narrative is going to have to be outstanding to impress me.

      Glad you don’t mind the review surprises. I do try to get things in my sidebar, but sometimes books jump the queue – especially ones I abandon. Hopefully I’ll be able to stick to sidebar order for a while now.

  9. Mystica says:

    I’d love to read Chinaman – from a cricket mad nation this is no surprise that I’d like to read the book. However I did not know the reference to Chinaman in cricket till I went and read about it! you always learn.

    1. Jackie says:

      Mystica, England is cricket mad too. Unfortunately I’m not one of them, but I’m pleased I was able to bring it to your attention.

  10. parrish says:

    I think I’ve seen more negative posts than positive ones concerning “Please Look After Mother”, the cricket one has no appeal, cricket is only vaguely entertaining among a group of friends after a few beers & spontaneously started. The Marlowe Papers though has real appeal

    1. Jackie says:

      parrish, PLAM is dividing opinion. I often think the best books do this, but I look forward to seeing what you make of it.

      Personally I think cricket only detracts from the drinking!

  11. Leela Soma says:

    I am so glad that you put a quote from the book ‘Chinaman’ Jackie. Books on sport does not interest me either, but I was dithering about reading Karunatilaka as he had won the Commonwealth Prize. Decision made now. Re experimental writing, you must see some of the recent ones out in Glasgow, beautifully marketed, anything different sells and wins prizes.

    1. Jackie says:

      Leela, I love the Commonwealth Prize and so always try the winner, even if the subject matter doesn’t appeal. This is the first time I’ve been unable to complete a CWP winner :-( Such a shame. I’ll keep an eye out for those books from Glasgow :-)

  12. I’ve got the Marlowe Papers sitting waiting for me and can’t wait!

    1. Jackie says:

      Annabel, I look forward to seeing what you make of it. Enjoy!

  13. Charlie says:

    I can understand your reasoning for giving up on Chinaman, a false sense of change on its way must be annoying when to all intents and purposes the author seems to be telling you it will be so. Having studied Marlowe at school, the Papers sounds intriguing, though I’m not particularly keen on Shakespeare either.

    1. Jackie says:

      Charlie, That wasn’t the only time in the book that it made statements along those lines. Shame the cricket continued to dominate. :-(
      I know nothing about Marlowe. Perhaps I should find a more conventional book about him?

  14. JoV says:

    I don’t blame you on for giving up PLAM. Not everyone’s piece of cake. Cricket? I have no idea what that game is all about! I won’t go near Chinaman. :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, I know exactly what happens in cricket – hasn’t helped me to enjoy it!

  15. As clever as it is, I find reading more than a page of verse at a time just tiresome.

    I hear you on Please Look After Mother – just reading that excerpt gave me a headache.

    I hope you enjoy Little Princes as much as I did when you get to it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Booklover, I seem to only enjoy reading verse when it rhymes and even then there is only so much I can take. A children’s book is about the right level for me!

  16. markbooks says:

    Sorry you didn’t like Chinaman – but you couldn’t have picked a better quote to illustrate it with! I loved it, as you probably know…

    1. Jackie says:

      mark, Glad you like the quote. Hopefully we’ll find more books we both love in the coming months.

  17. Ahh, well. Even prize winners are DNFs sometimes. Sorry these didn’t pan out better for you.

    1. Jackie says:

      Andi, Prize winners seem to divide opinion more than the average books – I always take it as a good sign and give marmite books a try :-)

  18. Alyce says:

    I enjoy seeing Shakespeare’s plays performed much more than I enjoy reading them. Even at that, if I’m going to be putting that much effort into reading something like Shakespeare it better have just as much genius behind it or I’m not going to last long. :)

    1. Jackie says:

      Alyce, I’m not an expert, but many others are saying it is as good as some Shakespeare. I agree with you though – I much prefer watching it – especially if it is a modern adaptation.

  19. sakura says:

    I really enjoyed Chinaman even though I usually stay clear of books about sports. It’s probably because it’s about Sri Lanka. I really want to read the other two books as well even though they don’t sound like easy reads.

  20. stujallen says:

    please look after mother only one I read and probably only one I will ,I loved it but know it is areal marmite book for people ,all the best stu

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