Friday, 7 October 2011

Peter's Booker round up!

Julian Barnes - The Sense of an Ending
A short novel, almost a novella, but beautifully written. A meditation on memory and history. If all history is subjective then how much more so are our personal histories, what we choose to remember as fact and what facts we choose to remember.

Carol Birch - Jamrach's Menagerie

Starting in Victorian London then launching out into ever darker turns, the plot is impossible to second guess. The writing has been compared to Dickens and Melville but I would add Joseph Conrad to the list.

Patrick deWitt - The Sisters Brothers

The first 'western' to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize is also a bleakly comic novel. Imagine Cormac McCarthy meets 'Bottom'. A bizarre cast of eccentric outcasts thrown into deconstructed western cliches. The most likely of the short list to be filmed.

Esi Edugyan - Half Blood Blues

Set in Paris and Berlin just before and during WWII, it tells the story of jazz musicians, German and American, black, white and mixed race, caught in up the mayhem. A novel full of historical detail and atmosphere but a bit predictable in plot, when they tell you on the cover that it's a story of betrayal you pretty much know where you're going.

Stephen Kelman - Pigeon English

This story of life in a high rise housing estate in London, full of organised crime, gangs and violence, could have been another soul crushing excursion into social commentary, what saves it is it's narrator. Harrison is an eleven year old school boy recently arrived from Ghana with his mother and sister, his fascination and enthusiasm for everything around him make it a joy to read. Asweh, funniest book ever!

A. D. Miller - Snowdrops

Early 21st Century Moscow, corruption, depravity, crime. 'Capitalism with the gloves off'. The author has obviously lived in Moscow and the novel is full of depressing atmosphere and lurid detail but the story of a naive English abroad being done over by wily Russians has been attempted before, as in James Hawes' "Rancid Aluminium".

This year the short list has been much criticised for being 'light weight' but at least it is more eclectic than usual taking in adventure, thrillers, comedy and even a western. If the thrillers run a little to type, the adventures are big, the settings brilliantly evoked and the comedy funny. Julian Barnes is the most likely winner, as this is the fourth time he has made the shortlist and his prose is perfectly honed but only over 150 pages (Ian McEwan's "On Chesil Beach" was criticised for making the shortlist at a similar length). The novel that I'd love to see win is Stephen Kelman's "Pigeon English", a first novel whose narrator allows you to see the world through innocent, wonderous eyes.

 Peter Marsh

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