For the last few weeks I’ve been trying books that have been tipped for the Booker longlist. Some I’ve enjoyed, but some just haven’t been for me. Today I thought I’d explain which ones weren’t to my taste, but please don’t let that put you off reading them – all are good enough to justify a place on the Booker longlist next week.
Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
Five words from the blurb: father, African, love, jealousy, tragedy
Taiye Selasi has been championed by Salman Rushdie and Toni Morrison, but this story of a Ghanaian father and his Nigerian wife living in America was too wordy for me. I nearly abandoned it after just 15 pages, but then it made me laugh so I perservered a bit longer. Unfortunately it failed to win me over and I gave up after about 75 pages.
The slippers. Battered slip-ons, brown, worn to the soles. Like leather pets with separation issues, loyal, his dogs. And his religion, what he believed in, the very basis of his morality: mash-up cosmopolitan asceticism, ritual, clean lines. The slipper. So simple in composition, so silent on wood, bringing clean, peace and quiet to God’s people the world over, every class and every culture, affordable for all, a unique form of protection against the dangers of home.
It clearly has a lot of great things to say and has amazingly vivid descriptions, but I just wanted to scream “GET ON WITH IT!!” as I waded through pages of endless meandering. If you enjoyed the above passage then you’ll find a lot to love in this book.
The Childhood of Jesus Christ by JM Coetzee
Five words from the blurb: man, boy, relocation, dialogue, memory
I have a hit/miss relationship with Coetzee’s writing. I loved Disgrace, but haven’t enjoyed any of his other books. Unfortunately The Childhood of Jesus Christ also failed to win me over.
The plot is very simple and involves a man and a boy who travel across the ocean to a new land. Here they are taken to a relocation centre where they begin to learn Spanish. I’m afraid I can’t tell you what happened after that as I was too bored to complete it. The writing was flat and uninspiring and I just didn’t care about anything that was happening.
They are at the fountain at noon. It is already hot – even the birds seem lethargic. Away from the noise of the traffic they settle beneath a spreading tree. After a while Ana arrives, bearing a basket. ‘Sorry,’ she says, ‘something came up.’
‘How many of us are you expecting?’ he asks.
‘I don’t know. Perhaps half a dozen. Let us wait and see.’
They wait. No one comes.
I’m told that there is a lot going on under the surface and it is packed with symbolism, but it was too subtle for me. I abandoned it after about 120 pages.
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
Five words from the blurb: airmen, flight, Ireland, agreement, free
I haven’t read Let The Great World Spin, despite buying a copy several years ago, but I’ve been keen to try McCann’s writing for a long time. As so many people think McCann is a certainty for this year’s Booker I decided to start with his most recent book.
TransAtlantic follows three different narrative threads: Alcock and Brown’s first non-stop transatlantic flight, a black American slave’s recolation to Ireland in 1845, and a more modern story which shows one Senator’s attempt to bring peace to Ireland.
The book was clearly well researched and contained lots of interesting facts, but I’m afraid the passion wasn’t there. The first section in which Alcock and Brown attempt to fly across the Atlantic should have been tense – packed with fear, hope and heightened emotion. It wasn’t. The writing was excellent, but it failed to capture my heart and although I learnt a bit more about flying I didn’t care whether or not they made it.
Brown can close his eyes and see the chessboard of the plane. He knows the gambits inside out. A thousand little moves that can be made. He likes the idea of himself as a centre pawn, slow, methodical, moving forwards. There is a form of attack in the calm he maintains.
When the next sections maintained this cold narrative I decided to abandon it. I’m sure it’s very clever and deserves a place on the Booker longlist, but I’m afraid I need a greater emotional connection to the characters.
Did these books work for you?
Which do you think is most likely to make the Booker longlist? I’m not sure I could decide between them!