2010 Booker Prize

The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobson

 Long listed for 2010 Booker Prize

I’m not a fan of books about religion and so wasn’t sure how I’d get on with The Finkler Question. I was right to be concerned as the religious debate took precedence over the plot and I couldn’t bring myself to finish this book.

The book started off reasonably well, with a former BBC radio producer paying to see a fortune-teller in Spain.  You can check Radio Waves to know updates with respect to radio. She tells him to watch out for a woman called Juno. Unfortunately the book went downhill quickly as Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, entered the book. I found the repetitive mention of Juno and its derivatives increasingly irritating.

Treslove and Finkler were sharing a room. ‘Do you know any one called Juno?’ Treslove asked.

‘J’you know Juno?’ Finkler replied, making inexplicable J noises between his teeth.

Treslove didn’t get it.

J’you know Juno? Is that what your asking me?

Treslove still didn’t get it. So Finkler wrote it down. D’Jew know Jewno?

Treslove shrugged. ‘Is that supposed to be funny?’

‘It is to me,’ Finkler said. ‘But please yourself.’

The book then deteriorated further into bizarre Jewish philosophising. At about p60 I lost any interest I originally had and started to skim read.

At page 107 I came across this passage and decided I couldn’t tolerate it any more – my reading time is too precious to persevere with a book that irritates me so much.

‘You can’t just get up one morning and decide you’re a Jew – or can you?’

‘I’ve worked with a lot of people at BH who got up one morning and decided they were not a Jew.’ Josephine said.

‘But it can’t work the other way, surely?’

‘Search me,’ said Alfredo. ‘But I don’t think Dad’s planning to become a Jew. If I understood Uncle Sam he’s got this bee in his bonnet that he already is a Jew.’

‘Christ,’ Roldolfo said, ‘what does that make us?’

‘Not Jewish,’ Josephine said. ‘Don’t worry about it. Jews don’t trust their women in the sack, so you can only be Jewish through the vagina. And I don’t have a Jewish vagina.’

I’m sure this is supposed to be funny, but I just didn’t get it.

The only good news is that this abandonment gives me more chance of finishing my final two books from the long list!


2010 Booker Prize Chunkster Recommended books

Skippy Dies – Paul Murray

 Long listed for 2010 Booker Prize

One of the reasons I love reading entire long lists is that I stumble upon fantastic books that I wouldn’t otherwise pick up. I had heard good things about Skippy Dies before the Booker long list was announced, but I couldn’t motivate myself to read 650+ pages about teenagers living in an Irish boarding school. I’m so pleased that I read this book as it was entertaining, gripping and insightful.

The book opens with Daniel ‘Skippy’ Juster dying. At first the reason for his death seems obvious, but the plot then goes back in time and we slowly discover that the cause of Skippy’s death isn’t as simple as people initially suspected.

Much of this book could be described as a coming-of-age story, but unlike most other books which describe the lives of teenagers, this book captivated me. Skippy drew me into his emotionally charged world and nearly managed to make me laugh and cry – something no other book has managed to do. I was amazed at how much the everyday school life engaged me – I flew through the book and found every single one of the pages to be captivating and necessary for the plot.

Skippy’s roommate is Ruprecht, an overweight genius trying utilise M-theory to travel to another dimension. I’m a big fan of complex science in literature, but I’m sure that those who struggle to understand physics will still love Ruprecht’s enthusiasm for invention. As well as physics we are also treated to war poetry, Irish folklore and an array of other subjects – I loved it!

As the book drew to a conclusion I became increasingly impressed with the complexity of the plot. When I reached the final page I wanted to start the book all over again, just so I could see the little clues that I’d failed to pick up on.

This book works on so many levels – it is easy to read, but the text hides enough to entertain multiple re-readings.

I can see future generations studying this book and I think it would be a worthy winner of the 2010 Booker Prize.

Highly recommended.

Have I persuaded you to try this book?

Do you think it deserves to win the Booker Prize?

Booker Prize Other

The Booker longlist 2009

The standard of writing on the longlist this year was outstanding. I was very impressed with the books chosen, and although I enjoyed some more than others, I felt that every single one deserved it’s place on the list.

Unlike in previous years, when I have occasionally wondered what on Earth those Booker judges were doing, this year I have enormous respect for them. They have chosen an amazing selection of books and I was very pleased to discover some wonderful new authors.

The 2009 Booker longlist, ranked by my rating
(Note: This is no reflection of the writing quality, just how much I enjoyed reading them)

The Wilderness – Samantha Harvey stars51

Heliopolis – James Scudamore stars4h

How to Paint a Dead Man – Sarah Hall stars4h

The Glass Room – Simon Mawer stars4h

The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters stars4

Brooklyn – Colm Tóibín stars3h

Not Untrue and Not Unkind – Ed O’Loughlin stars3h

The Quickening Maze – Adam Foulds stars3h

The Children’s Book – A. S. Byatt stars3h

Summertime – J.M. Coetzee stars3

Love and Summer – William Trevor stars3

Me Cheeta – James Lever stars1 (DNF)

Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel stars1 (DNF)

Deciding which books to put on the short list is going to be a very hard decision for the judges this year. The standard of the writing is incredibly high.

There were four books that stood out for me though. I am certain these four will make it onto the short list:


The final two places are harder to decide. I think it will come down to a choice between these four:


I really don’t know how the judges will make up their minds, but if I had to guess then I think the Booker short list will look like this:


The Booker short list is announced on 8th September.

Do you think my predictions will come true?

Which books do you think will make it onto the short list?

Which book from the long list was your favourite?

2009 Booker Prize

Heliopolis – James Scudamore

Long listed for the Booker Prize 2009

For the third time this year the Booker long list has produced an amazing book that I would otherwise have missed.

Heliopolis is set in a futuristic Sao Paulo and follows Ludo, who was born in a shanty town, but then given great wealth after being adopted by one of the richest men in the city. Ludo then falls in love with his adoptive sister, Melissa, which leads to a clever, humorous plot, as he tries to deal with his conflicting emotions.

I have a recurring nightmare in which Melissa probes around in my belly button with one of the sharp metal skewers my mother used for weekend barbecues. She stares intently into my navel, manipulating the skewer, and I feel its cold metal point enter my stomach. Eventually, she achieves her objective, and unknots my umbilical cord. My intestines gush to the floor like a string of raw sausages.

The main issue the book covers is the social divide between those living in complete poverty, and the elite who can afford everything. Heliopolis is cleverly written to show the difficulty Ludo feels in belonging to his new, rich world.

Loneliness should be hard to come by in the forest, but the white noise of animals getting on with their business was never a consolation. It only reminded me how sure most living things were of their place in the world, while I was not.

Although the squalor is vivid, the poor are described in a dignified way. The result is that I had great empathy for the under-class and at many times felt they had the better life.

This book has everything: humour, great characters, clever plot, a moral message and a wonderful ending. It gripped me throughout.

Highly recommended.


Did you love this book as much as I did?

Have you read his previous book The Amnesia Clinic?

2009 Booker Prize Recommended books

The Glass Room – Simon Mawer

 Long listed for the Booker Prize 2009

The Booker long list has rewarded me with another great book that I would never normally have picked up. The Glass Room has an unusual concept, in that the book is based upon a building rather than a person.

Built on a hillside from glass and steel in the 1930s, the building is famous in it’s small Czech town. The book follows the construction of the The Glass Room, followed by the history of it’s occupants over several decades.

I have to admit that the first few chapters would have normally been enough to return this book to the library. I have no real interest in architecture, so the descriptions of the design and construction of the building, although clearly well written and researched, did not hold my attention. Luckily I persevered, and once the Glass Room was complete, the plot concentrated on Viktor and Liesel Landauer, the rich couple who commissioned the building. The dream life in their beautiful new home is short lived as the threat of war looms closer. Viktor is a Jew, so although I don’t want to give anything a way, you can imagine that his life is going to be difficult.

Over the years, the building has many different uses and it was fascinating to see how things changed. This book does concentrate on the war years and so many of the scenes were disturbing.

How do you dismember a body? There are two fundamentally different approaches – that of the surgeon and that of the mad axeman. The one is cool and calculating and progressive, with the application of bone-saw, scalpel and shears. The other is a frenzy of hacking and tearing, with blood everywhere and the taste of iron in the mouth. But whichever way you do it the result is the same – dismemberment.  

The quote actually describes the break up of Czechoslovakia, but I thought it was a good example of the descriptive nature of the book. It is quite depressing in places, so is the sort of thing you should only read when you are in the right mood.

I loved the writing. It flowed beautifully, but also contained many great observations:

Ever since Man came out of the cave he has been building caves around him.

Overall I found this to be an engaing, well plotted book, with great characters and a lovely ending. The originality and quality of the writing mean that I am sure this book will make the Booker short list.




I had not heard of Simon Mawer before, but he has written quite a few books.

Have you read any of them? Which ones do you recommend?

2009 Booker Prize Recommended books

How to Paint a Dead Man – Sarah Hall

Long listed for the Booker Prize 2009

The great thing about reading the Booker long list is that I read books I would never normally pick up and am occasionally rewarded by finding a gem like this. I shouldn’t have liked this book – it has virtually no plot and has whole chapters about a person who paints bottles. It sounds like the sort of book I’d run a mile from, but for some reason I loved it!

I was transfixed from the first page. The heart-breaking emotions of a woman who has lost her twin brother affected me straight away. I think I had the tissues out within a few pages and it is so rare for me to be moved by a book that I knew this was going to be something special.

The second chapter introduces the life of an Italian painter, and while I found this section the weakest of the three, it was an important lull in the heightened emotions of the surrounding sections.

The final scene describes the father of the twins and his battle for survival after he becomes trapped in the hills. The book weaves together these three separate scenes, and that is all they are really, exceptionally well. There is no plot – just glimpses into the lives of these three characters.

I don’t know how this book managed to grip me from beginning to end when so many seemingly similar books have failed. I can only assume that Sarah Hall has an outstanding talent, or is perfectly in tune with my fears and emotions.

Sarah Hall is from Cumbria, so the occasional snippets of dialect may prove difficult for some to understand, but as I spent my teenage years in the Lake District this wasn’t a problem for me.

Overall, I highly recommend this book. It deserves it’s place on the Booker long list and I plan to seek out all her previous books.


Have you read any books written by Sarah Hall?

Which one was your favourite?