1980s Booker Prize

Comfort of Strangers – Ian McEwan

The Comfort of Strangers was short listed for the Booker prize in 1981. It is the second Ian McEwan book I have read, and I’m afraid it is in the same ‘very average’ league as Amsterdam.

It begins with a couple on holiday, in an unnamed city (although it is assumed to be Venice by many people). They are trying to revive the passion in their relationship, but for much of the time they are cold and distant with each other. After a few days they meet Robert in a bar. He invites them back  to his home, and despite many warning signs, the couple end up in grave danger.

I had many problems with this book; the characters just seem too distant, the plot too simple and contrived, and many aspects of the book highly implausible.

The book deals with many taboo subjects, including incest and dometic violence, but although many of the events described in the book were potentially shocking, I felt no disgust, as I hadn’t built up any relationship with the characters.

The couple, Colin and Mary, irritated me with their naivety. They return to Robert’s house despite their reservations, and the brutal ending seemed obvious.

I felt that McEwan had deliberately picked controversial topics for the book, and forced as many as possible into such a small number of pages that they were almost glossed over. There was no time to investigate any of them properly, and so I didn’t really see the point of them being there.

Overall, I was very disappointed with this book. Will I ever find an Ian McEwan book I like? Are all his characters distant and slightly stupid?!


1980s Booker Prize Recommended books

The Bone People – Keri Hulme

The Bone People won the Booker Prize in 1985. It is set on the South Island of New Zealand, and centres around three characters. The first, Kerewin, is a painter, who having won the lottery builds herself a tower by the sea and lives as a virtual recluse. One day, Simon, a young, mute boy turns up at her tower and they begin a strange friendship. Simon’s foster father, Joe, is then drawn towards Kerewin and the three characters begin to discover secrets lurking in each of their pasts.

The book deals with many difficult issues, but domestic violence is the most dominant. Joe beats his foster son, and the delicate line between punishment and cruelty if seen to be very hazy at times. The characters are all really well developed, deeply flawed and incredibly interesting!

The book is very well written, and the writing is almost poetic at times, but at other times it was a ‘stream of conciousness’ and, particularly in the beginning, was very confusing. I fluctuated between loving it, and being irritated by it!

The book was filled with Maori myths and symbolism, some of which went over my head. I think that this book is one which needs to be read several times, in order to appreicate it’s many layers. In many ways it is very similar to Beloved – difficult to understand at first, complex, moving and full of symbolism.

I’m not sure I’d ever recommend this book to anyone, but I’m glad that I read it.

1980s Pulitzer Prize

Beloved – Toni Morrison


‘Beloved’ is the story of a woman haunted by the ghost of her baby. Set in post-Civil war Ohio it is the story of how former slaves,  psychically and emotionally crippled by years of labour, attempt to deal with their past. 

I found the first half of the book very slow. It was confusing, as it skipped around so much, and as I didn’t have a clue what was happening, it had no forward momentum. I found certain aspects of it the book very irritating. Why did there have to be 3 characters called Paul? Why was the Grandma also called a baby?  And why did all the female characters seem to have male names? This all increasing my frustration with the book.  

The second half was much better. I began to work out what was happening, and could cope with the changing of narrator/time period. As it neared the end I was totally hooked. Some scenes were very moving, and will stay with me for a long time. 


Recommended, if you’re able to get past the first 100 pages. 




1980s Booker Prize

Flying to Nowhere – John Fuller

Short listed for the Booker Prize 1983

‘Flying to Nowhere’ is set on a Welsh island, and is centred around a monastery. A church agent comes to the island to investigate the disappearance of pilgrims visiting a sacred well, while the local abbot is at his dissection table searching for the location of the soul.

I have no idea why this book was short listed for the Booker prize in 1983 – it is so dull!  
At only 88 pages long it was a very quick read, but it seemed to take ages, as there was nothing in the book that captivated me. The plot was very basic, the characters failed to engage me, and there was too much rumination on life, death, the spirit and the soul.
Not for me.