Booker Prize Other

Who will be longlisted for the 2013 Booker Prize?

The 2013 Booker longlist will be announced on the 23rd July. Compiling my longlist prediction has been particularly difficult this year. Not because there aren’t good books to choose from, but because the usual stand-out contenders aren’t around. I found about 30 books that felt equally likely to be longlisted. All had their merits, but because none seemed especially outstanding I don’t envy the judges who have to decide which ones to put through.

After much research I predict that these books will make up the “Booker Dozen” when it is announced on the 23rd July:


Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has noticeably matured as a writer in this novel. I missed the raw emotional power of her first novels, but suspect Americanah will tick all the boxes those judges are looking for.

The Hired Man

The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna

The Memory of Love was a very accomplished piece of writing. It didn’t have enough plot for me, but her fans claim this book is even better. If that is the case then this book should walk straight onto the longlist.

Ghana Must Go

Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi

Ghana Must Go is one of the most talked about debuts of the year. Selasi has the support of Salman Rushdie and Toni Morrison and her writing reminded me of Rushdie’s. The wordy writing style wasn’t for me, but I’d be surprised if this didn’t make the longlist.


Burial Rites

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Burial Rites isn’t published until August, but the advance praise for this book is outstanding. An Australian author who writes about Icelandic historical fiction is a first for me, but I’m looking forward to trying it.


Secrecy by Rupert Thomson

I enjoyed Secrecy and thought it had a wonderful atmosphere and depth. Thomson deserves to be more well known and I think this is his opportunity.

The Woman Upstairs

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

This novel has been dividing opinion (as all good books do!) It is extremely provocative and it is hard to know whether or not the judges will tolerate the swearing, but it would be nice to see something so different on the longlist.


419 by Will Ferguson

419 has already won the Giller Prize, Canada’s equivalent of the Booker. The writing is excellent and I think it has a strong chance of being put through.

All the Birds, Singing

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld

Evie Wyld was included on Granta’s 2013 list of Best Young Novelists. Everyone was surprised when her debut novelAfter the Fire, A Still Small Voice, wasn’t longlisted for the Booker Prize, but I think her time has now come.

Clever Girl

Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley

I wasn’t a fan of The London Train, but people who enjoy character driven novels are raving about Clever Girl.


Wreaking by James Scudamore

I loved Heliopolis and Wreaking promises to be even more impressive. It hasn’t been released yet, but I’ve seen some very positive comments on Twitter.

Fallen Land

Fallen Land by Patrick Flanery

I recently read Absolution and was very impressed. Apparently Fallen Land is even more accomplished and as Absolution deserved a Booker longlisting I think that means Fallen Land should be a certainty.


Harvest by Jim Crace

Jim Crace was shortlisted for the Booker prize in 1997. His new book, Harvest, is said to be a return to his best and I’m looking forward to trying it.

The Childhood of Jesus

The Childhood of Jesus by JM Coetzee

Coetzee is the only real literary heavyweight around this year. This slim book has been dividing opinion, but I think that is because it is more complex than his other books. I think the judges will enjoy re-reading this one.

The Secret Knowledge (Dedalus Original Fiction in Paperback)

The Secret Knowledge by Andrew Crumey

Finally, my wild-card prediction. I haven’t read this and couldn’t find any reviews online (it hasn’t been published yet) but having read one of Crumey’s books earlier this year I was very impressed by the quality of his writing. If this book is up to his usual standard then I think the judges will be impressed by his philosophical insight and be drawn to the fact this is so different from everything else submitted (I’m guessing here). Either way, I’d love to see him on this list.

Thoughts on my Longlist

After looking at my list as a whole I realise it has a strong African bias. I’d be happy to see the judges correct this by finding some gems that I’m yet to come across. I’m really hoping that the longlist has some wonderful surprises, especially if they involve different genres and authors from a wider range of countries.

What do you think of my selection?

Who do you think will be longlisted for the Booker Prize?

Books in Translation Other Prizes

Death of an Ancient King by Laurent Gaudé

Death of an Ancient King Translated from the French by Adriana Hunter

Winner of the Prix Goncourt des Lyceéns 2002 and the Prix des Libraires 2003

Five words from the blurb: King, old, wedding, conflict, honour

I recently had a wonderful Twitter conversation with @thetoietlis about French fiction. She recommended many books, but Death of an Ancient King caught my eye as she said it was too dark for her. I bought a copy knowing it would also be perfect for Paris in July – a month long celebration of French literature and culture organised by BookBath and Thyme for Tea.

Death of an Ancient King has a fable-like quality and can be seen as warning against the futility of war. It begins with King Tsongor preparing a lavish wedding for his daughter, but on the eve of the big day a former suitor appears, claiming that she is promised to him. The King is unable to resolve the situation and a war breaks out between the two potential husbands. 

The entire book was quick and easy to read. It flowed beautifully and gave no indication that it was in translation.  Unlike @thetoietlis I didn’t find it too dark. There were descriptions of battle, but the scenes were described in a detached way, so I was never disturbed.

The days and months passed to the rhythm of warriors advancing and retreating. Positions were taken, then lost, then taken again. Thousands of footsteps carved out pathways of suffering in the dust of the plain. They advanced. They retreated. They died. The bodies dried in the sun, were reduced to skeletons. Then the bones, bleached by time, crumbled, and more warriors came to die in these heaps of man-dust.

I loved the first 80 pages, but after that scenes of war took over and I became less interested. If these had been reduced by about 75% the book would have had far more impact. 

King Tsongor was a fantastic character and I found his story the most interesting. I wish that we’d learnt more about his past and the story surrounding his footman had been given more prominence. 

Overall this was a compelling story with a good moral heart, but there was too much fighting for me. 


Laurent Gaudé is an interesting author and I’m keen to try more of his novels. Have you read any of them?


2012 Non Fiction

Mortality by Christopher Hitchens


Five words from the blurb: cancer, pain, moving, personal, death

I hadn’t heard of Christopher Hitchens until my book group suggested this as our next read. Having researched his life I’m sad that I wasn’t aware of him before, but I hope to read more of his books in the future.

Christopher Hitchens was a controversial journalist who wrote numerous columns and books, many of which criticised religion. In 2010 he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and needed Home Care Assistance. Mortality is a collection of essays that he wrote during his final year alive; a time during which he suffered from much pain and pondered on society’s attitude to illness and death.

Mortality was eye-opening for me. I don’t think I’ve read anything in which a person is so unafraid to air controversial opinions. I didn’t agree with everything he said, but I admired his honesty. The writing was so clear and thought provoking that much of it made me look at suffering in a slightly different light.

Many parts of the book satirised people who prayed for him or those who looked to religion as a way of comforting him as he neared death.

I don’t mean to br churlish about any kind intentions, but when September 20 comes, please don’t trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries. Unless, of course, it makes you feel better.

He also described his pain and the terrible ways in which his body began to fail him. His honest, unflinching descriptions of his deterioration were heartbreaking.

It’s probably a merciful thing that pain is impossible to describe from memory. It’s also impossible to warn against. If my proton doctors had tried to tell me up front, they might perhaps have spoken of “grave discomfort” or perhaps a burning sensation. I only know that nothing at all could have readied or steadied me for this thing that seemed to scorn painkillers and to attack me in the my core. I now seem to have run out of radiation options in those spots (thirty-five straight days being considered as much as anyone can take), and while this isn’t in any way good news, it spares me from having to wonder if I could willingly endure the same course of treatment again.

The end of the book contained fragmented jottings, discovered after his death. These provided an insight into his writing process and were a sad reminder of what might have been if he’d lived longer.

Christopher Hitchens wont be to everyone’s taste, but his discussions were eye-opening and a refreshing change from the sentimental, rose-tinted descriptions of death that we’re used to.

Recommended to those with an open mind who’d like a realistic description of what happens to a person as they die.

Have you read any of Christopher Hitchens’ books? 

What did you think of them?

2013 Chunkster

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


Five words from the blurb: America, Nigeria, experiences, race, relationships

I’ve enjoyed all of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s previous books and so was keen to try her new one. Americanah is very different in style and feels like a more accomplished piece of writing, but I missed the raw emotion of her earlier books.

Americanah focuses on Ifemelu, a young Nigerian woman, who moves to America. She begins a blog that highlights race issues in the country and when she returns to Nigeria we see how America has influenced her as she struggles to adapt to life back in her native country.

Adichie does a fantastic job of creating characters. I quickly felt as though I knew them personally and I loved the attention to detail. Entire scenes zinged with life and the dialogue felt natural, leading to several amusing passages.

“That not food!” Halima scoffed, looking away from the television.
“She here fifteen years, Halima,” Aisha said, as if the length of the years in America explained Ifemelu’s eating of a granola bar.

I also loved the blog entries. I thought they did a wonderful job of highlighting the differences between the treatment of blacks and whites in America. It was a wonderful device that allowed Adichie to show her skills as an essay writer to the full.

You see, in American pop culture, beautiful dark women are invisible. (The other group just as invisible is Asian men. But at least they get to be super smart).  In movies dark black women get to be the fat nice mammy or the strong, sassy, sometimes scary sidekick standing by supportively.  They get to dish out wisdom and attitude while the white woman finds love.  But they never get to be the hot woman, beautiful and desired and all. So dark black women hope Obama will change that. Oh, and dark black women are also for cleaning up Washington and getting out of Iraq and whatnot.

The main problem with the book was its length. The plot wasn’t complicated enough to justify the 470 pages and I found that I lost interest on several occasions. There were even a few points when I considered abandoning it. If you are happy to be immersed in the life one or two individuals then I’m sure you’ll love this book, but I longed for a more compelling plot.

It also lacked the emotional power of her earlier novels. I’m sure that most people will be glad that this book isn’t dominated by war and tragedy, but I found the scenes of everyday life less interesting. My experience with this book reminds me of The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides – another case where it is obvious the writer’s skill has improved (since writing Middlesex in this example), but with the increase in polish and literary depth comes less excitement.

I’m probably being overly harsh, because I was expecting so much. The writing in this book is fantastic and there is a lot to love; it just didn’t become a favourite in the way I hoped it might. Recommended to people who enjoy character driven novels.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

one of the best books I’ve read this year. Slightly Bookist

Americanah is about a lot of things, and so it eventually turns out to be about nothing in particular. Amymuses’s blog

Interesting, not compelling Ready When you Are, CB



Books in Translation Mystery

The Angel Maker by Stefan Brijs

The Angel Maker Translated from the Dutch by Hester Velmans

Five words from the blurb: return, Doctor, children, suspicion, past

I first became aware of The Angel Maker when Shannon wrote a compelling 5 star review for it. We often share a taste in books so I immediately ordered a copy from the library.

The Angel Maker has the feel of a Gothic mystery, but it is set in a small Belgian village and contains a wonderful mix of intrigue, science, and religious debate. If any of those don’t appeal, please don’t let that put you off as I know this book will be enjoyed by a wide-cross section of readers. It reminded me of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, but The Angel Maker contained a greater number of themes and I thought it was the more accomplished of the two.

The book begins in 1984 with Dr Victor Hoppe returning to his childhood home with three baby boys. The doctor has been away from the village for many years, researching at a University, and is reluctant to talk about the children. He hides them inside his house and the villagers gossip, becoming increasingly curious about the boys. They do everything they can to spy on the household and their efforts are rewarded by occasional glimpses of the family and an increasing list of suspicious actions.

Helga Barnard, on the other hand, had been passing around an article from Reader’s Digest about people who were allergic to sunlight, and had to live their entire lives in the dark… It wasn’t until September of 1986 that the truth came out – at least in part.

The narrative flipped forwards and backwards in time, revealing what happened in Victor’s childhood, during his time as a research scientist, and eventually the truth about the baby boys. It is very difficult to review this book without spoilers (most reviews give away too much for liking) so I’m afraid I’ll keep things a bit vague and encourage you to find out for yourselves!

The pacing of this book was fantastic. I loved the way little hints were dropped through the text, giving the reader a wonderful sense of foreboding. This made the plot particularly compelling and it felt much shorter than its 440 pages suggest.

One of the things I liked best about this book was the science. It all appeared accurate and the author wasn’t afraid to include complex (but brief, so don’t worry if you don’t know much about it) explanations of biological research.

The other was the realistic mention of Asperger’s syndrome. I loved the fact that Asperger’s didn’t dominate the book, but added depth and insight into the behaviour of one character.

The only reason this book didn’t get a higher rating is because I correctly guessed the main mystery very early on. I spotted some ambiguous wording and after that my eyes were peeled for similar hints. These were repeated subtlety, but once noticed these reinforced my idea. It was cleverly done, but I wish I hadn’t been so eagle-eyed!

Recommended to anyone looking for a wonderfully creepy read, with some original ideas on medical research and religion.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

…(an) exciting book on  a difficult subject, with many twists and turns along the way. A Common Reader

The exploration of what happens when Faith and Religion mix with a man who’s more logical than emotional is a disturbing read. Gav Reads

 …a fascinating, if somewhat unrealistic, look at what could happen as a result of a gifted/disabled child being misunderstood and mistreated. At Home with Books


Absolution by Patrick Flanery


Five words from the blurb: South Africa, past, family, crimes, truth

Absolution is set in post-apartheid South Africa and looks at truth, censorship and whether or not it is possible to forgive past mistakes.

The book concentrates on Clare Wald, a South African novelist, who has decided to commission a biography of her life. She hires Sam to write the book and it quickly becomes obvious that they have a shared past. The connections between them are slowly revealed through a multi-layered narrative that is often confusing and contradictory.

Until these interviews began, in my mind she was her surname, a name acquired through a marriage that has now ended. Wald meaning ‘forest’, ‘woods’, ‘wood’ or simply ‘timber’. The surname has made me think of her and her work in this way – a forest of timbers that might be put to some practical use. Out of the forest emerges the person I’ve created in my head: half-ogre, half-mother, denying and giving, bad breast and good breast, framed by wood or woods. I try to find my place again in the list of questions I’ve prepare, questions that now seem rude, reductive, too peremptory, too simplistic and ungenerous in what they appear to assume.

The writing in the book was of a very high quality and individual scenes were vivid and packed with atmosphere, but I disliked the disjointed nature of the narrative. I appreciated what the book was trying to achieve, but the structure meant I was often frustrated. I disliked  being continually misled and ended up feeling I couldn’t trust anything that was being said. This led me to disconnect from the characters, so I failed to have an emotional response to the text.

The book feels like an accurate depiction of modern South Africa and it brings up many interesting moral questions. There is a lot to like, but I felt that understanding everything was too onerous a task. Sometimes less is more.

Recommended to fans of literary fiction who enjoy piecing together a complex narrative.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

…a complicated but beautiful book about the secrets that some people try to leave behind. A Bookish Affair

…a staggering, wonderful and accomplished book. Boston Bibliophile

It’s a book that asks difficult moral questions for which there may never be any satisfactory answers. Literary Corner Cafe