Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Following the Booker: The Long Song by Andrea Levy

“You do not know me yet. My son Thomas, who is publishing this book, tells me, it is customary at this place in a novel to give the reader a little taste of the story that is held within these pages. As your storyteller, I am to convey that this tale is set in Jamaica during the last turbulent years of slavery and the early years of freedom that followed... July is a slave girl who lives upon a sugar plantation named Amity and it is her life that is the subject of this tale. She was there when the Baptist War raged in 1831, and she was also present when slavery was declared no more. My son says I must convey how the story tells also of July’s mama Kitty, of the negroes that worked the plantation land, of Caroline Mortimer the white woman who owned the plantation and many more persons besides - far too many for me to list here. But what befalls them all is carefully chronicled upon these pages for you to peruse.”

Author Biography
Andrea Levy is a child of the Windrush. She is the daughter of one of the pioneers who sailed from Jamaica to England on the Empire Windrush ship. Her father and later her mother came to Britain in 1948 in search of a better life. For the British born Levy this meant that she grew up black in a very white England. This experience has given her an unusual perspective on the country of her birth - neither feeling totally part of the society nor a total outsider.

Her novels include the semi-autobiographical Every Light in the House Burnin’ (1994), Never Far From Nowhere (1996), Fruit of the Lemon (1999) and Small Island (2004).

Small Island is the winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Orange Prize for Fiction Best of the Best, the Whitbread Novel Award and Best Book Award, and the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize.

***** (Average rating: 4 stars)
"Thoroughly captivating… As well as being beautifully written The Long Song is a thoroughly researched historical novel that is both powerful and heartbreaking." - The Daily Express

"As well as providing a history of post-abolition Jamaica, The Long Song is beautifully written, intricately plotted, humorous and earthy... Those who enjoyed Small Island will love The Long Song, not just for the insights on the “wretched island”, but as a marvel of luminous storytelling." - The Financial Times

"Slavery is a subject that has inspired some magnificent fiction, but I had some misgivings: might it not, in this case, make for over-serious writing, especially for a novelist as comically inclined as Levy? But she dares to write about her subject in an entertaining way without ever trivialising it and The Long Song reads with the sort of ebullient effortlessness that can only be won by hard work." - The Observer

Following The Booker: C by Tom McCarthy

Serge Carrefax spends his childhood at Versoie House, where his father teaches deaf children to speak when he's not experimenting with wireless telegraphy. Sophie, Serge's sister and only connection to the world at large, takes outrageous liberties with Serge's young body - which may explain the unusual sexual predilections that haunt him for the rest of his life. After recuperating from a mysterious illness at a Bohemian spa, Serge serves in World War I as a radio operator. C culminates in a bizarre scene in an Egyptian catacomb where all Serge's paths and relationships at last converge.

Author Biography
Tom McCarthy was born in 1969 and grew up in London. His creation, in 1999, of the International Necronautical Society (INS), a ‘semi-fictitious organisation’ that combines literature, art and philosophy, has led to publications, installations and exhibitions in galleries and museums around the world, from Tate Britain and the ICA in London to Moderna Museet in Stockholm and The Drawing Center in New York. Tom regularly writes on literature and art for publications including The New York Times, The London Review of Books and Artforum.

***** (Average rating: 2.5 stars)
"Despite the book’s historical setting, Tom McCarthy has written a novel for our times: refreshingly different, intellectually acute and strikingly enjoyable. Whether the Man Booker judges concur remains to be seen, but it seems highly unlikely that anyone will publish a better novel this year." - The Daily Telegraph

"...a beautiful, accessible novel with a thrilling tale. This is one of the most brilliant books to have hit the shelves this year, and McCarthy deserves high praise for an electric piece of writing which should be read and enjoyed as much as dissected and discussed." -
The Sunday Telegraph

"I had a whale of a time with this book, propped on my laptop, Wikipedia open in one window and in another, the OED. It was like being a guest at the dream-party of an extremely well-read host: things read a long time ago and more or less forgotten, things never read that I always meant to, things I certainly will read now, having seen how McCarthy can make them work."
- The London Review of Books

Read the excerpt here!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Following the Booker: The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

He should have seen it coming. His life had been one mishap after another. So he should have been prepared for this one...' - Julian Treslove, a professionally unspectacular former BBC radio producer, and Sam Finkler, a popular Jewish philosopher, writer and television personality, are old school friends. Despite a prickly relationship and very different lives, they've never quite lost touch with each other - or with their former teacher, Libor Sevick, a Czech always more concerned with the wider world than with exam results. Now, both Libor and Finkler are recently widowed, and with Treslove, his chequered and unsuccessful record with women rendering him an honorary third widower, they dine at Libor's grand, central London apartment.

It's a sweetly painful evening of reminiscence in which all three remove themselves to a time before they had loved and lost; a time before they had fathered children, before the devastation of separations, before they had prized anything greatly enough to fear the loss of it. Better, perhaps, to go through life without knowing happiness at all because that way you have less to mourn? Treslove finds he has tears enough for the unbearable sadness of both his friends' losses. And it's that very evening, at exactly 11:30 pm, as Treslove, walking home, hesitates a moment outside the window of the oldest violin dealer in the country, that he is attacked. And after this, his whole sense of who and what he is will slowly and ineluctably change.

Author Biography
An award-winning writer and broadcaster, Howard Jacobson was born in Manchester, brought up in Prestwich and was educated at Stand Grammar School in Whitefield, and Downing College, Cambridge, where he studied under F. R. Leavis. He lectured for three years at the University of Sydney before returning to teach at Selwyn College, Cambridge. His novels include The Mighty Walzer (winner of the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize), Kalooki Nights (longlisted for the Man Booker Prize) and, most recently, the highly acclaimed The Act of Love. Howard Jacobson lives in London.

***** (Average rating: 4 stars)
"Jacobson cunningly crafts sublime pathos from comedy and vice versa. As such, he is the literary equivalent of Tony Hancock, illuminating the conflict, anger, love and dependence created by friendship while wincing at the ignominy and absurdity of the characters' predicament. Jacobson's prose is a seamless roll of blissfully melancholic interludes. Almost every page has a quotable, memorable line." - Christian House, Independent on Sunday

"The opening chapters of this novel boast some of the wittiest, most poignant and sharply intelligent comic prose in the English language, as though the writer, like his characters, is caught up in a whirlwind courtship (of each other, of the reader, of the idea of the preciousness of now in the teeth of time's passing). Jacobson's brilliance thrives on the risk of riding death to a photo-finish, of writing for broke. Exhilaration all the way." - Tom Adair, The Scotsman

"Jacobson answers none of the questions he raises in The Finkler Question, but the path he follows through its thorny issues involves situations which are both very funny and terribly sad, often simultaneously." - Justin Warshaw, The Times Literary Supplement