2009 Memoirs Orange Prize

An Equal Stillness – Francesca Kay

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Winner of the Orange Award for New Writers, 2009

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Unfortunately this book just wasn’t for me – I’m not a big art lover and rarely read biographies. If this had been a real biography then it would have been OK, but I just don’t see the point of a fictional one – I was bored throughout. Very little happened and her life seemed very ordinary to me.

The fact it was written in the style of a biography meant that I was distanced from the character and so failed to develop any emotional connection with her. Any attempt to guess at her feelings just annoyed me, as I don’t think it is really possible to know what someone else is thinking and so I’m afraid this book went further downhill, the more I read.

It was a quick, easy read and the writing was poetic in places, but I’m afraid I just didn’t care.

The final years of Jennet Mallow’s life were fruitful. After the colour blocks she returned to the more nearly monochrome, making seven large pictures which are untitled, but again evocative of air and water.

If you love art and gentle prose then I’m sure you’ll love this book, but it was just too ‘still’ for me.



I have seen lots of positive reviews for this book, so if you’ve read it:

Why did you love it?

Do you enjoy fictional biographies?

Orange Prize Other

Who is going to win the Orange Prize this year?

I have now read all six books short listed for the  Orange Prize 2009.  Overall, I wasn’t very impressed with the quality of books which made the short list. I think that the judges this year must be fans of literary fiction, particularly books which are reflective and full of wisdom. I prefer great characters and a complex plot, so I didn’t get much pleasure from reading the final six.

So who is going to win the Orange Prize this year?

Here are my thoughts on each book’s chances…..


The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt



My review

I don’t think this has a real chance of winning. Some people enjoyed it, and it does have some interesting literary devices in it, but overall it doesn’t have the feel of a prize winning book.

Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden



My review

There is an outside chance that this could win the Orange Prize. Fans of literary fiction really enjoy this book, and lovers of general fiction (like me) do not find anything wrong with it. It is a nice gentle read, and it does have a great ending. If the judges are a mixture of literary fiction and general fiction lovers then they could well compromise on their favourite book by agreeing to choose this as a winner. 

Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman



My review

I don’t think this has a realistic chance of winning. There is nothing wrong with it, but it doesn’t have that magic spark. It is a reasonable read about an important historical case, but I think it did well to get nominated.

Home by Marilynne Robinson



My review

I think that Home has a very real chance of winning the Orange Prize. Fans of literary fiction love this book, they rave about it being their favourite book of the year, and how amazing the poetic prose is. I didn’t enjoy it at all, but I’ve a feeling that the judges do and so it will probably win.

The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey



My review

This my favourite by a long way. The writing was so moving and thought provoking. It was in a league above the rest for me and I really hope that it wins, but I’m not that sure it will.


Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie



My review

Burnt Shadows has an outside chance of winning. The plot is very ambitious, and I don’t think it quite worked, but everyone enjoyed it to some extent, and there were quite a few literary devices to please those judges. I wouldn’t be overly surprised if this managed to sneak through to win, as not many books try to achieve the things this one does.


The winner is announced on 3rd June, and I really hope that The Wilderness wins, but if I had to place a bet I’d put my money on Home.

Have you read any of the shortlist?

Who do you think will win?

I look forward to hearing your opinions!

Orange Prize

Molly Fox’s Birthday – Deirdre Madden

Short listed for the Orange Prize 2009

It looks as though this year’s Orange judges have a love for books which reflect on life, as this is the third one which does so (fourth if you count The Invention of Everything Else, which does, although to a lesser extent). Molly is an actor, who has loaned her house in Dublin to a friend while she is away. The story takes place on just one day, which happens to be Molly’s birthday. Staying in Molly’s house brings back memories of their friendship, and how their lives have evolved over the years.

The book was quite easy to read, but I found the story quite ordinary. The characters didn’t have that special spark, and so their lives failed to engage me.  Near the end of the book we find out about Andrew, a mutual friend. I found his life this much more interesting than Molly’s, and I wish the book had been concentrating on him throughout, as it was too little too late for me. It did pick up in the last fifty pages, and the ending was very well crafted, but this wasn’t really enough to make up for the average start.

There were a few good quotes, but in comparison to Wilderness this book felt very light.

….everyone gets pretty well what they want in life because they make a point of doing so, but the problem is that a great many people either don’t know what it is they want or they won’t admit it,

This is a nice gentle read, but there is nothing particularly remarkable about it, and it is instantly forgettable.



I have now completed this year’s Orange short list, so I’m off to write a nice comparison post for you.

Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it?

2008 Orange Prize

Home – Marilynne Robinson

Winner of the Orange Prize 2009

I’m afraid that I have to admit I didn’t finish this book. I gave up after about 60 pages. The characters failed to engage me, and I was struggling to concentrate on the words. Maybe the problem was made worse by the fact I had just finished the amazing Wilderness, or maybe it was because I had the memory of how boring I found Gilead so fresh in my mind, but either way I didn’t see the point in wasting my precious reading time battling with a book that I know doesn’t suit my reading taste.

The writing style was different to Gilead, and it had the benefit of not containing the continual bible references, but I don’t think the prose was as good as the Pulitzer winner – it seemed a lot less profound. I think people who love Gilead will find this slightly less satisfying, but I haven’t read very much, so can’t really give a proper opinion.

I’m afraid this just wasn’t for me.



Have you ever liked a book from an author you’ve previously decided was not for you?

This book is favourite to win the Orange  Prize – do you think it has a chance?

Orange Prize Recommended books Richard and Judy Book Club

Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Read-along Complete!

Winner of the Orange Prize 2007





The second half of this book was very different from the first. I actually found it quite difficult to read in places, as it was so emotional. The suffering of the Biafran people, as they were murdered, abused and starved was heart breaking to read. This book really highlights the horror of war, the way people abuse their power, and the depths they will stoop to in order to survive.

Sometimes it was the simplest of quotes which conveyed the strongest message:

“How have you been, my brother?”
“We did not die,” he said.

If any further explanation had been given, it would have in some way belittled the events they experienced. If the only good thing you can say is that you did not die then, the magnitude of the devastation is enforced.

In my first post, many of you said that you thought my high opinion of Ugwu would change when I read the final section of the book. I don’t want to give anything away, as I realise that there are still lots of you out there who haven’t read this yet, but Ugwu remains my favourite character. I know he did a terrible thing, but I can understand how peer pressure and war can make people do things they would never normally do. Ugwu felt immense guilt and remorse afterwards, and because of this I will forgive him. It actually makes me feel more compassion for him, as I think he will suffer from the guilt of his actions for the rest of his life.

In my first post I also stated that the female characters didn’t come across very strongly. I have to say that in the second half of the book they came into their own. Each and every one of them showed an inner strength that I admire. By the end of the book I loved every single character in some way. Perhaps it is just that everyone who has had to endure the horrors that they did gains sympathy in my eyes, and are stronger because of the things they have gone through. Is this wrong? Or do you think that war can turn everyone into better people?

The one thing I didn’t like was the way they referred to the six-year-old girl as Baby. For a long time I assumed she was a baby, and it really threw me when I first realised how old she was. This is probably some symbolism I just don’t understand – so please bear with me!

I can’t say that I ever really enjoyed reading this book. I am really pleased that I read it, but the subject matter was so distressing that I don’t feel I can recommend it to everyone. The fear oozes from every word:

The first explosion sounded distant. Others followed, closer, louder, and the earth shook. Voices around her were shouting, ‘Lord Jesus! Lord Jesus!’ Her bladder felt painfully, solidly full, as though it would burst and release not urine but the garbled prayers she was muttering.

This really is an incredible book though, the writing is powerful, the characters realistic and multi-layered – the only thing this book is lacking is happiness.

It will become a classic. Highly recommended.




What did you think of this book?

Will it still be read 50 years from now?

Did you find it distressing to read?