Archive for September, 2007


What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn

In books read on September 7, 2007

This is another book from the 2007 Booker Prize longlist; but it had already been knocked out by not making the shortlist before I began to read it. I liked it better than a couple of the books that made the shortlist. In fact I liked it quite a lot indeed. It's Catherine O'Flynn's first book and I'll be looking out for whatever she writes next.

The first section of the book is written from the point of view of ten year old Kate, living in Birmingham in 1984, and spending her time playing private detectives at the newly opened Green Oaks shopping centre. I often like things written from a child's point of view and this was no exception.

The second and longest part of the book goes forward to 2003 but we're still at Green Oaks shopping centre and the central character here is 30ish year old Lisa, duty manager in a record store with a life that's going nowhere fast.

I thought the two stories linked together nicely, there were a few things I find a bit strange but generally the book was very consistent. I can see why quite a few people seemed to think it wasn't really Booker Prize material but it's definitely been one of my favourite reads.



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Collected on September 6, 2007 Comments Off


Booker Prize Shortlist – Actual Version

In books,rambling on on September 6, 2007

I got 50% of the list, which isn’t a terribly good hit rate. (I’d have done as well with a random choice.)

The shortlist is:

  • Darkmans by Nicola Barker
  • The Gathering by Anne Enright
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
  • Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
  • On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
  • Animal’s People by Indra Sinha

Part is me is quite pleased because I’ve read five out of six and so only need to read Animal’s People in the next few weeks if I want to complete the list. But I’m also disappointed that The Welsh Girl didn’t make the cut, and I really don’t see what McEwan is doing on the list apart from being “hello, I’m the most well known author” as hardly anyone who has actually read the book rather than just looked at the covers thinks it’s particularly great. (I enjoyed reading it, but there are better books here.)


Booker Prize Shortlist – My Guesses

In books,rambling on on September 6, 2007

As I’ve read 8.5 out of the 13 books longlisted for the Booker Prize and have been kind of keeping up with other bloggers who have read more, or have read the ones I haven’t read, I thought I’d have a stab at guessing what will be on the shortlist.

  • Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
  • The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
  • Darkmans by Nicola Barker
  • Self Help by Edward Docx
  • Animal’s People by Indra Sinha
  • The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng

The first two are books I’ve read and loved. The second two are books I’ve read and not liked as much but seem to be favourites with others. The third two are books I haven’t read but seem to be very well regarded by those who have.

Any one of the above could be replaced by Winnie & Wolf by AN Wilson, which is the only book on the long list I have no intention of even trying to read as it sounds dreadful. It was on the New Books shelf in the library yesterday and I didn’t even pick it up for a glance. I can’t imagine how it got onto the longlist so some kind of contrariness will probably lead to it making the shortlist too.

I had no intention of reading so many books from the longlist. I just enjoyed one after the other with only a couple of stumbling blocks and I’ve been pleased to find so much good reading material.


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In links on September 5, 2007


The Memory Box by Margaret Forster

In books read on September 5, 2007

This is the first of Margaret Forster's books that I've tried reading; and it won't be the last.

Susannah died when her daughter Catherine was just six months old, but Catherine grows up happily with her father's second wife becoming her Mummy and never wants to find out about Susannah. However when Susannah knew she was dying she assembled a "memory box" for her baby daughter. Finally opening the box as an adult, having ignored it for years, Catherine tries to piece together this jigsaw of a legacy.

I really liked the premise, I thought it might be a bit of a manufactured sort of a story but it came over naturally enough. The objects in the box aren't obvious and I thought that Catherine could probably have taken a different path through them and found out different things about Susannah. Which isn't the point really, the point is that it was a good story and the characters were consistent.

The narrative reminded me of Barbara Vine a little, possibly because there is a quiet sense of impending doom in the "what will she find out about her mother?" question, but there isn't a hugely terrible hidden secret in here like there would be with Vine. It's more a case of the surprising things that are hidden in ordinary lives.

Enjoyable read, good writing, an interesting plot and great characters. I don't ask for much more than that from a book really!




Collected on September 4, 2007 Comments Off


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Self Help by Edward Docx

In books read on September 2, 2007

I found it a huge struggle to finish this book. I put it down three times and read the whole of another book instead. If it hadn't have been featured in this year's Booker Prize longlist I don't think I would have bothered picking it up again.

Surprisingly, in the end, my opinion of it was fairly decent mostly because I did enjoy the last 150 odd pages and at that point I couldn't put the book down. If I'd found the first 350 pages as turnable then it would have been much better (obviously).

I just found the story very slow to get off the ground. Basically it's all about twins Gabriel and Isabella Glover: aged 30ish; split between London & New York; brought up by a distant English father and a Russian mother; both rather in need of having their lives sorted out. The book begins with the death of their mother in St Petersburg and the story flips around from chapter to chapter between Isabella, Gabriel, their father, a Russian man called Arkady and his English friend Henry. Although the links between the main characters are clear early on in the book for the longest time it seemed like I was switching between different stories. It was only in the later part of the book (where I was enjoying it) that it felt like one coherent story.

I'm glad I persevered to finish the book, and I can see why the author thought the story needed to be so spread out in the beginning in order that everything was set up for the ending, it just didn't really suit me that way.



The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

In books read on September 1, 2007

Ian McEwan is getting a fair amount of stick for being on the Booker longlist with a 160ish page novel; this book, probably because its author isn't so well known, is getting away with only about 20 pages more. And if anything, this felt like a slighter book with less substance than On Chesil Beach did to me.

Not that I didn't enjoy it. It's a first person narrative, talking directly at you as if you are the other person sitting at an outside cafe table in Lahore with the narrator. I like first person stories when you can really get inside the head of the person telling the tale and this device made the book extremely readable to me. It didn't take much longer than the dinner would have taken to read the book.

The narrator is a Princeton graduate from Pakistan telling about his experiences in America before and after the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. Having heard this much before reading I was expecting to find the book a bit tedious and probably a bit much.

Maybe I'm reading the wrong books but too many books lately seem to have characters telling me what they think of America/Iraq/terrorism/Taliban etc; it's got to seeming like a compulsory segment of the 21st century novel. I wasn't sure I wanted to read a whole book along these lines.

I wasn't expecting to find this book composed in large part of a (good and tragic) love story. I did enjoy the book from cover to cover and found Changez, the narrator, very engaging.

All in all though, once I'd finished the book, I didn't really feel like I'd been anywhere or seen anything very out of the ordinary.


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