If I Gave the Award

With my review of The Deadman’s Pedal, I have finished reading the shortlisted books for the 2013 James Tait Black Fiction Prize. Therefore, it is time for my feature, where I decide whether the judges got it right. This year the shortlisted choices couldn’t be more different. They range from a very cerebral novel that traces a family history by imitating a classical bagpipe musical form to a less cerebral depiction of a deceptive personality to two novels about young people trying to find their way. Although all of these novels are about personal topics, I have ordered them in this paragraph from the most intellectually removed to the least.

The most cerebral of these novels is The Big Music by Kirsty Gunn. This novel traces relationships between fathers and sons by using a classical form of bagpipe music as its organizing structure. It is a form dependent on repetition and embellishment, so although I found this novel high in concept, it was also a bit fascinating. Still, the repetitions proved a bit much for me.

The next most cerebral of the novels is Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner. This is a novel about a poet who considers himself a fraud and spends his time arranging his face to look intelligent or thinking of profound things to say. The novel is funny at times, but I found myself getting lost in its logical circumlocutions and I strongly disliked the main character (not that that is necessarily bad).

At the beginning of the award-winning The Deadman’s Pedal, I found myself heartily disgusted by teenage boys and the love critics have for coming-of-age novels, those about boys, anyway. Then as the young Scottish protagonist went to work for the railroad, I got more interested until the book became mostly about adolescent sex.

That leaves me with The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan, although I am not entire satisfied with my choice. I was absolutely rivetted by this story of a vivid young girl who has been failed by the system. However, I also believe that in some ways this book is slighter than some of the others. I will say, though, that of these four authors, Fagan is the only one whose other books I have looked for.

Reading Thirkell’s Barsetshire Series in Order: #24 Enter Sir Robert + #23 What Did It Mean? Wrap-Up

For the first time in the series, at the beginning of What Did It Mean?, I felt that the novel may not live up to the rest of the series. Eventually, though, it seemed to get back into the groove except for its obsession with a silly prophecy (hence the title), and I enjoyed it almost as much. My thanks to those who are still striving to keep up:

The next book is Enter Sir Robert, which is a reread for me, although so long ago that I can hardly remember it. It’s the last reread, though, so the rest of the series will be new to me. I’ll be reviewing it on Wednesday, May 31. I hope some people will join me!

And here’s out little emblem.

If I Gave the Award

With my review of No One Is Talking about This, I have finished reading the Booker Prize shortlist for 2021. So, it is time for my feature where I decide whether the judges got it right. This one is going to be difficult for me because I didn’t absolutely admire any of the books on the shortlist.

Sometimes I start this feature with the book I liked least, but in this case, even that is difficult. It’s not that I disliked any of them, it’s more as if I felt detached from several of them and found things that I didn’t admire in others.

So, maybe I’ll have to choose by the book that made the most impression on me, and start with the least. I read No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood several months ago, although more recently than any of the others, yet when I went to post the review, I couldn’t remember a thing about it. I find from my notes that I didn’t relate to anything about the first half of the novel, the thoughts of a media influencer, but was touched by the second half, about a family member with a rare disease. Usually, if I am touched, I remember, but in this case I did not.

On the other hand, I vividly remember Bewilderment by Richard Powers, which is about a single father whose young son experiences fits of rage. It roams into science fiction with an experimental treatment that the desperate father signs his son up for, which sometimes seems a little like child abuse, but the novel has some beautiful moments. This was the novel I read first, and I remember it very well, although I was uncomfortable with it at times.

In terms of novels I felt detached from, there is The Fortune Men by Nafida Mohamed, about the last man sentenced to death in England, an innocent man who just happened to be Somali. This should have been powerful stuff, but I felt disconnected from it and the flashbacks to the protagonist’s life didn’t help.

I also felt detached from the characters in The Promise by Damon Galgut, although I usually like him. This novel was the winner that year, about a promise made to a dying family member, but I felt a lot of distance from its characters. I also thought it was interesting that the two female characters who were the most sympathetic were barely in the novel. It was all about the men.

I found A Passage North by Anuk Arudpragasam interesting in some respects, about a Sri Lankan man who goes to attend the funeral of his grandmother’s nurse. I liked the background about the recent war, even though it assumed a level of knowledge about it, but the novel was too contemplative for me. And even if that was not the case, Arudpragasam’s long, involved sentences and paragraphs and meandering prose were not something I enjoyed.

The book I was most engaged with was Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead, a historical novel about the life of a woman aviator. However, as engaging as I found it, there was something about it that didn’t seem like prize material. I can’t be much more definite than that. For one thing, it was a split-time story, and the current-time story about the actress playing the role of the aviator in a movie wasn’t very interesting. When I judge it by what I remember, though, it does well, as I read it some time ago.

I think I’m going to have to go with Bewilderment. It wasn’t the best Richard Powers book I ever read (that was The Overstory), but it was compelling and sometimes beautiful, and Powers always seems so intelligent to me.

Reading Thirkell’s Barsetshire Series in Order: #23 What Did It Mean? + #22 Jutland Cottage Wrap-Up

I am finding the series just as interesting as we get closer to the end because I like finding out what happens to the characters. Thanks to all the people that persist in either trying to read along or at least comment along. I know some people have had troubles locating the post-war novels. Participators and commenters for Jutland Cottage were

The next book, with only seven to go counting it, is What Did It Mean? I will be posting my review on Friday, April 28. I hope some of you can participate.

And here’s our badge, which I don’t think anyone is using anyway. Oh well.

Classics Club Spin #33!

Classics Club has announced another spin. How does a spin work? Members post a numbered list of 20 of the books from their Classics Club lists by Sunday, March 19. The club picks a number, and that’s the book members try to read and post a review of by Sunday, April 30. Anyone can participate who has a Classics Club list registered with the club.

So, here is my list for the next spin:

  1. Isa’s Ballad by Magda Szabo
  2. Cecilia, Memoirs of an Heiress by Fanny Burney
  3. The Book of Dede Korkut by Anonymous
  4. Love’s Labour’s Lost by William Shakespeare
  5. Miss Mole by E. H. Young
  6. Weatherley Parade by Richmal Crompton
  7. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
  8. A Double Life by Karolina Pavlova
  9. Hero and Leander by Christopher Marlowe
  10. The Tree of Heaven by May Sinclair
  11. The Tavern Knight by Rafael Sabatini
  12. The Prophet’s Mantle by E. Nesbitt
  13. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
  14. The Passenger by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz
  15. Merkland, A Story of Scottish Life by Margaret Oliphant
  16. Tis Pity She’s a Whore by John Ford
  17. The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  18. The Moorland Cottage by Elizabeth Gaskell
  19. Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
  20. The Ten Thousand Things by Maria Dermoût

Hope some of you will join me. Have fun with the spin!