2009 Chunkster Historical Fiction

The Children’s Book – A. S. Byatt

I had a love-hate relationship with this book and have to admit that there were several points, especially in the middle, where I nearly gave up on it.

The Children’s Book is set in England in the last few years of the 19th Century and ends in during the first world war. The book follows a vast number of characters, mainly children, as they grow up in this often forgotten period of history.

The book is packed with detail about the news events of the period and the lifestyles they led, but it’s richness was also it’s downfall for me. The book was very long (the hardback I read was 600+ pages of tiny type) and the descriptions so detailed that it lacked momentum. I had to become immersed in the beautiful writing  of each paragraph and try to forget that I still had 400+ pages to go, and I didn’t really know where the story was going. It focused on the minute details of their lives, which although interesting, often failed to engage me and led to my mind wandering. I’m still not sure whether I made the right choice in finishing this book. It took a very long time to read, and although I now know a lot more about that period in history I do not feel I have gained much. It didn’t really entertain me, and the ending didn’t merit the build-up.

I’m sure that lots of people will love this book, but although I enjoy a bit of detail this went a bit far for my tastes. It is a beautifully crafted book though, and will probably win this year’s Booker prize. So if you fancy being transported back to the early part of the 20th century – give it a go.



This is the first book written by A. S. Byatt that I have read, although I vaguely remember giving up Possession after just a few pages.

Do you enjoy reading books written by A. S. Byatt?

Which of her books is the best?

2009 Orange Prize Recommended books

The Wilderness – Samantha Harvey

Short listed for the Orange Prize 2009

The Wilderness is written through the eyes of someone with Alzheimer’s disease. I shouldn’t like this book, as on the surface the plot is identical to Gilead – old man looking back at his life in snippets, revealing the wisdom he has learnt, but this book is in a league above Gilead. It captured my heart from the very first sentence:

In amongst a sea of events and names that have been forgotten, there are a number of episodes that float with stiking buoyancy to the surface.

When reading a book I note down quotes which may be suitable for my review. After noting down five different quotes within the first few pages I realised this was an exceptional book, and the bar for quote-quality was raised significantly higher!

This book is heart-breakingly sad. The central character is Jake, an Alzheimer’s sufferer, who is struggling to remember the details of his life. He can remember certain things as vivdly as when he was there, but others things, especially those that have happened recently are very elusive. As the book progresses his condition deteriorates, and even the most important things in his life fail to come to him:

She sits at the kitchen table beating eggs. Embarrassing, but he cannot remember her name. So desperately embarrassing because he sleeps with her, he knows her, she is not a stranger.

The Wilderness really opened my eyes to the suffering of old people. They are subjected to embarrassing situations as their bodies begin to fail them, but their minds are just as alert  as they were when they were younger. I think one of the reasons that this affected me so much is that this situation is almost certainly going to happen to me, and everyone else I know. This isn’t about the suffering of war, which however shocking, is unlikely to directly affect me. Old age and it’s degrading loss of dignity is going to happen, and this realisation hit me with a shocking intensity.

I’m not sure I want to recommend this book to you, as it is so heart-breaking that it will proably make you cry. I was unsure if I could give my highest rating to a book which I struggle to recommend to people, but in the end the power of this book cannot be ignored. I couldn’t find any faults with it. It gripped me from beginning to end, and left me a changed person. My money for the Orange Prize 2009 is on this book.

Highly recommended.



Who do you think will win the Orange Prize 2009?

Have you read this book? Did it change your opinion of the elderly?

Do you recommend depressing books to other people?

2009 Mystery Recommended books

The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters

The Fingersmith is my second favourite book of all time (after A Fine Balance), and so I was so excited about the release of Sarah Water’s new book that I ordered a copy from America, just so I could read it a few weeks before it’s UK release.

The Little Stranger is a Gothic, ghost story set in rural Warwickshire just after WWII. The central character is Dr. Faraday, who one day is called to  a crumbling mansion to treat a maid who is so scared by things she has seen in the house that she wants to leave. Dr. Faraday is intrigued, by both the house and the Ayres family who live there, that he makes an effort to return to Hundreds Hall as often as he can. Increasingly strange events occur in the house, frightening and mystifying everyone who witnesses them.

The Little Stranger is very different to Fingersmith in both the style of writing, and plot development. The plot was linear, very easy to follow and structured like a fast-paced  thriller. The quality of  Sarah Water’s writing is still high, but I think that this book will be much more accessible to the general public, and slightly disappointing to her old fans. The Little Stranger has much more in common with books like The Thirteenth Tale or The Seance, both of which I really enjoyed reading too, but don’t require as much thought as Water’s earlier books.

I was slightly disappointed with the ending, as although it wasn’t predictable, it didn’t have any of the clever plot twists that she is famous for. I shouldn’t really complain though, as the book had me captivated throughout . All the characters were well developed, and the storyline was reasonably plausible. It was a gripping, spooky tale – perfect for a cold, dark Autumn night.



Booker Prize

Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

Winner of the Booker Prize 1981.

Midnight’s Children tells the story of Saleem Sinai; born at midnight on the day of India’s Independence, he realises that it isn’t just the time of his birth which singles him out from other people. Saleem discovers  that all children born between midnight and 1am on this momentous day posses special powers of one form or another. As Saleem was born at midnight, the exact time of Independence, his are stronger than the others. Saleem is able to enter the minds of others, and so brings them all together through meetings in his mind. Describing the plot for this book is very hard, as there are so many tangents and subplots, and I don’t want to give too much away, but the book is much more complex than I can summarise here. It contains many different themes, including the politics, fairy tales and history of India. The BBC launched a competition to summarize the plot in 67 words, some of them were quite good – you can see the best here.

I had a love – hate relationship with this book. For the majority of the time I felt I was battling against the words. The shortage of paragraphs and speech to break up the text meant that it was very dense, and I felt myself becoming lost in all the words. It took an enormous amount of concentration, and often a postcard under each line, just so I could keep track of where I was. Occasionally, the writing would absorb me, and for a few pages I would become completely immersed in the story. It was a very strange experience, as normally I find the writing in a book consistent, but the randomness of how much each page appealed to me was really bizarre.

There were certain aspects of this book which I loved. One of the most interesting sections told of how when alcohol was banned in Bombay, people could obtain small quantities from their doctor if they registered themselves as being an alcoholic. This led to many people claiming to be alcoholics, just so they could have some to drink. It was insights into Indian life like this that I loved reading. Everyday life for people in other cultures fascinates me. I don’t need magic tricks or the ability to fly to make someone special in my eyes.

This book is packed with magical realism, something which I find hard to appreciate. I need to be able to connect with the characters, something which I find very hard to do if they are capable of performing impossible acts, and the plot veers off on weird tangents. One of the other things that I didn’t like was that the narrator begins his story before his birth. He describes events he has never witnessed, and ones he claims to remember while he was just a tiny baby. I know this is just another aspect of magical realism, but for some reason it really bothered me.

The book is filled with symbolism, most of which went over my head. I think this book needs several readings, and probably detailed studying in order to fully appreciate it. I have found this free Spark Notes study guide here, and so will try to read through it, to pick up on a few of the points which I’m sure I missed.

The main problem with this book is that the story line is not linear; it jumps around, and is very difficult to follow at times. The plot is so bizarre in places that I didn’t really understand what was going on, until I read the study guide above!

Overall, I’d recommend this to people who love literary fiction, especially those who love symbolism. I’m pleased that I read it, but it wasn’t  an entirely enjoyable experience for me.



Have you read Midnight’s Children? If so, did you enjoy it?

Are you a fan of magical realism?

Would you enjoy a book where a week old baby is explaining what is happening around him?

Booker Prize Recommended books

The Secret River – Kate Grenville

Winner of the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize 2006
Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2006




William Thornhill is born into poverty, in 19th century London; to survive he turns to crime. One night he is caught stealing from his employer, and sentenced to death.  He pleads for mercy, and manages to escape the rope by agreeing to be sent, with his family, to Australia. Once they arrive in this strange, hot country they find that they face new battles for survival, against the mysterious native black people.

This book is really easy to read, the simplicity of the prose was reminiscent of Mudbound, by Hilary Jordan, which although written about a different continent, contains many of the same powerful messages about the humanity of different cultures. 

The Secret River is a fascinating insight into what life was like for the first settlers of New South Wales.  William Thornhill is one of the first white people to cultivate the land, fencing in his crops. This quickly leads to animosity, and ultimately tragedy, as the nomadic society, who gather food wherever they can, object to their land being taken from them. Kate Grenville’s portrayal of the aboriginal people is touching; she shows them as a proud people, at one with nature. She beautifully describes the conflict between the two cultures; showing how each is affected by the others actions, and giving no prejudice to either side.

I really enjoyed reading this book, the characters were well developed, and I didn’t envy the difficult descisions they had to make.  The plot was fast moving, and the end rounded everything off well. I was pleased that it was tinged with hope, as I was expecting it to be very bleak.

Highly recommended to all fans of historical fiction.

This is the first book by Kate Grenville that I have read, but I will be keeping an eye out for all of her other books, as I enjoyed this one so much.

Have you read any books written by Kate Grenville? If so, which one did you enjoy the most?

Booker Prize

Offshore – Penelope Fitzgerald

Offshore won the Booker Prize in 1979.

From the back-cover:
On Battersea Reach, a mixed bag of the temporarily lost and the patently eccentric live on houseboats, rising and falling with the tide of the Thames.

I actually finished reading this last week, but haven’t written a review until now, as I was trying to think of constructive things to say about it. Despite having had a few days, and the help of the amazingly knowledgeable people over at the Booker yahoo group I am still no further towards my goal. The only positive thing I can say about this book is that it is very short!

This book has to be the most boring one I have ever read! The characters don’t annoy me as they are too dull, the plot is barely existent and the setting is dreary and lifeless. This has to be one of the only books that has failed to elicit any emotion in me other than pure boredom! I read all the words, but I didn’t care about a single one. It is not intellectually challenging, thought provoking or poetic. I can see no reason why anyone would like it, let alone why it won the Booker Prize!


If you’ve read this book and can see any merit in it, then I’d love to know what it is!

Is this the worst Booker Prize winner? Or have I got worse ones to come?

What is the most boring book you’ve ever read? Can it possibly be as bad as this?!

Remember the Comment of the Week Competition! I’m looking forward to reading your comments!