2013 Booker Prize

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

We Need New Names Shortlisted for the 2013 Booker Prize

Five words from the blurb: shanty, dream, challenges, America, new

We Need New Names begins in Zimbabwe where 10-year-old Darling is living in a shanty town. She manages to stave off her hunger pangs by stealing guavas from the homes of rich, white people. Things look as though they might improve with the fall of white supremacy, but life for the children only becomes more harrowing. Eventually Darling manages to escape to America and the book shows how she adapts to life in a very different culture.

Unfortunately I had mixed feelings about this book. Darling’s narration was compelling, but I’m afraid the immigrant story has been done many times before and this book failed to add anything new to the genre. I found myself losing interest in Darling’s story once she’d left Africa and wish the story had concentrated on those left behind.

The book had many fantastic scenes and I especially liked the subtle way that the horrors the children faced were woven into the text. This innocence and simple acceptance of events kept the mood light and entertaining, despite the starvation, child pregnancies and murder.

The book also covered many bigger, global issues, but, although dressed in childhood charm, I occasionally felt that Darling’s comments were too wise for her age:

If you’re stealing something it’s better if it’s small and hideable or something you can eat quickly and be done with, like guavas. That way, people can’t see you with the thing to be reminded that you are a shameless thief and that you stole it from them, so I don’t know what the white people were trying to do in the first place, stealing not just a tiny piece but a whole country. Who can ever forget you stole something like that?

Overall this was a book of two halves. The first half was a refreshing new voice in African fiction; the second an average repeat of an over-told story. I’m not convinced it deserves a place on the Booker shortlist.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

 ….no one captures the simple wickedness of children better and this book is cruel and cutting in all the right places. Bookslingers

….the book could have been a bit more polished but everyone got something out of it… Bookfoolery

NoViolet Bulawayo has created a fictional world that stuns as it captivates. The Bowed Bookshelf



Booker Prize

Three Mini Reviews

Benediction (Plainsong 3)

Benediction by Kent Haruf

Five words from the blurb: Colorado, heart-break, friendship, ordinary, humanity

Benediction is a quiet novel about ordinary people living in a small town in Colorado. The book focuses on Dad Lewis, a man dying of cancer. It shows how his friends and family cope with this situation and forces the reader to look at life in a slightly different way.

I normally complain about books being too quiet (see my thoughts on Harvest below!) but Haruf has a way of making the most ordinary scenes zing with life. The thoughts of everyone involved are explained with such compassion that it is hard not to become emotionally invested in everything that happens.

She imagined his arrival at home, his wife’s worry and complaint, and his consoling her, joking a little, making his excuses and explanations, and she could see them then in the familiar pretty picture walking arm in arm, looking in at the sleeping children, and entering their own bedroom, lying in bed with her head resting on his shoulder and her hair spread out like a fan, and then she saw him kissing her and doing what he had just done with her, and she realized she was crying again and after a while she got up and went into the old tiled bathroom to rinse her face.

I haven’t read Plainsong or Eventide and that might help to explain why I wasn’t as excited about this book as others have been, but Haruf’s writing impressed me so much that I will be reading all of his books at some point in the future.

Recommended to everyone who enjoys literary fiction.


Harvest Longlisted for 2013 Booker Prize

Harvest by Jim Crace

Five words from the blurb: village, outsiders, threat, communities, suspicion

Harvest is set in a small English village about 250 years ago. It is an atmospheric piece of historical fiction that looks at how a rural community is affected by the arrival of three strangers.

The writing was vivid and wonderful descriptions allow the reader to picture exactly what life was like all those years ago.

He was a pleasant man, I’d say. No more than thirty years of age and dressed much like the master, not for labour but for the open air, in sturdy boots, breeches, a jerkin, and a plain cap without feather, brooch or badge. His beard was shaped and honed to a point with wax, I have a narrow trowel that matches it. A townsman’s beard. A wealthy beard. And he was lop-sided when he moved, with a stiff arm and shoulder on his left

The style was chatty and friendly so it was easy to warm to Walter, the central character. The passionate way the story was narrated also helped to alleviate some of the darkness in the subject matter.

But, despite the many merits of this book, I didn’t fall in love with it. The plot was too meandering and slow and the story was too ordinary to excite me. I finished the book because it was quite short, but it failed to teach me anything new and I don’t think I’ll be rushing to try any of Crace’s other books.

If you enjoy simply being transported to different historical time periods then you’ll love this book, but I prefer plots that are a bit more exciting.


The Spinning Heart Longlisted for 2013 Booker Prize

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

Five words from the blurb: Ireland, financial, collapse, tensions, generation

The Spinning Heart shows the effect that Ireland’s financial collapse has on a series of ordinary people. Each chapter is narrated by a different character so the reader sees a range of perspectives.

The writing was excellent and the Irish dialect was (to my untrained ears) perfectly deployed.

…the day we buried her I wanted to scream at her to come back, come back, we’ll walk to the shop and I’ll hold your hand and we won’t mind Daddy and I’ll pick a bunch of flowers and leave them on your locker for you and if he calls me a pansy we’ll tell him to feck off and we’ll give back all these years of aging and dying, stupid silence and be Mammy and Bobby again, two great auld pals.

Unfortunately I’m not a fan of short stories. The Spinning Heart is a very short book and I don’t think that a book this length can justify having 21 different narrators. Some characters reappeared, but overall it felt disjointed and am not convinced it can be described as a novel.

If you enjoy short stories then I’m sure you’ll love this book, but it wasn’t for me.


Booker Prize Other

The 2013 Man Booker Prize Longlist

The longlist for the 2013 Booker Prize was announced earlier today. I wasn’t surprised that I managed to predict so few of the contenders – it is such a strange year for fiction! Nothing seems to be outstanding so far, but as many of the longlist haven’t been publihsed yet I’m hopeful that there are a few gems to be discoverd.

The 2013 Man Booker Prize Longlist:

Five Star Billionaire

Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw

Five words from the blurb: migrant, workers, Shanghai, Malaysia, adventure

Perfect for fans of Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam

We Need New Names

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

Five words from the blurb: shanty, Zimbabwe, mischeif, dreams, challenges

Perfect for fans of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin

The Luminaries

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

Five words from the blurb: New Zealand, crimes, vanished, historical, mystery

Perfect for fans of C by Tom McCarthy


Harvest by Jim Crace

Five words from the blurb: village, outsiders, fire, witchcraft, scattered

Perfect for fans of The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

The Marrying of Chani Kaufman

The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris

Five words from the blurb: Jewish, community, London, stranger, secrets

Perfect for fans of The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

The Kills

The Kills by Richard House

Five words from the blurb: crime, conspiracy, continents, multimedia, body

Perfect for fans of The Ipcress File by Len Deighton

The Lowland

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

Five words from the blurb: Calcutta, childhood, tragedy, rebellion, transformed

Perfect for fans of Saraswati Park by Anjali Joseph


Unexploded by Alison MacLeod

Five words from the blurb: Brighton, war, boys, Jewish, news

Perfect for fans of Ignorance by Michèle Roberts


TransAtlantic by Colum McCann

Five words from the blurb: airmen, flight, Ireland, agreement, free

Perfect for fans of The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Almost English

Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson

Five words from the blurb:: London, mother, Hungarian, secrets, traditions

Perfect for fans of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

A Tale for the Time Being

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Five words from the blurb: diary, girl, tsunami, change, life

Perfect for fans of Hard-Boiled Wonderland And The End Of The World by Haruki Murakami

The Spinning Heart

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

Five words from the blurb: Ireland, crash, tensions, violence, generations

Perfect for fans of The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

The Testament of Mary

The Testament of Mary by Colm Tóibín

Five words from the blurb: grief, lost, myth, religion, lifetime

Perfect for fans of The Infinities by John Banville

My thoughts on the longlist

I’ve only read one book from this list: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. I thought it was excellent and I can see it appealing to a wide cross section of people. I also abandoned The Kills (a spy story that failed to hold my attention) and TransAtlantic (you can read my thoughts on McCann’s novel in this post).

It is hard to comment on the rest of the choices as I haven’t read them, but I love the fact that so many are new to me. I hope to try them all over the next month or two and will let you know my thoughts.

What do you think of the longlist?

If you’ve read any of the books do you agree with my “perfect for fans of” selections? 

Booker Prize Other

Three Booker hopefuls that didn’t work for me…

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

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

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!

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?

Booker Prize Other

Hilary Mantel wins 2012 Booker Prize

Bring up the Bodies

Hilary Mantel won the 2012 Booker Prize for the second book in her Tudor trilogy, Bring up the Bodies.

I’m a bit surprised that they’ve given her the prize for the second time and am feeling a little deflated about the result. I guess this means I’ll be trying Wolf Hall on audio at some point in the near future. Hopefully I’ll have better luck with that format as the text version didn’t do much for me.